Some Thoughts on Professional Development in the Nonprofit Sector After Our Career Retreat

Hope_elizabeth_and_danielle_2 Yesterday was the "Take Back Your 9-5" Career Retreat that Rosetta Thurman and I began planning for a few months ago. Quite simply, it was amazing. Just incredible to be in a room with 18 professional women, most of them in their 20's and 30's, taking a day for themselves to really explore where they were at and what they wanted to do. It became much bigger than talking about careers. It was about how do you build a LIFE that's interesting and satisfying and that helps you feel like you're making a difference.

Things are still a bit jumbled for me, but I wanted to blog this while it's all fresh. Moments/thoughts/themes that stood out for me. . .

Women need a place and space of their own for professional development. One of the reasons that I originally approached Rosetta about the retreat was because I've had a feeling for a long time that women need a space of their own for career and professional development planning. Our needs are the same as men in many ways, but we approach things differently and place value on different things. We're also more likely to be juggling work/life balance and we still (sadly) fight all sorts of discriminatory attitudes and behavior in the workplace, including the things that we do to ourselves. What was amazing about the retreat was the positive, supportive energy in that room and the ways we were able to bring together a group of relative strangers and end the day feeling like we'd done something huge, both for ourselves and collectively. One of the overriding themes was that it was necessary to do this as a group of women because it brought new and different insights from what occurs in professional development venues that include women and men together.

This space to think and plan for personal development is particularly important in the nonprofit sector.  All of these women are incredibly dedicated to both their causes and to their profession. As we discussed, the difference between working for a nonprofit vs. a for-profit is that non-profit staff tend to have a sense of zeal about their nonprofit's mission that can lead to burnout quickly if not moderated by other things. This is compounded by the lack of resources in many nonprofits that has staff performing many different and important functions that will quite literally make or break the organization. That's a lot to be dealing with and these women do it day in and day out without getting the opportunity to take a step back and see what's working and what isn't. I think a lot of people yesterday saw places where their lives needed to get more into balance. It's like we discussed, you can't help anyone else until you put your own oxygen mask on first.

Jee_before Visual tools can bring some amazing insights. Most of the group were hardcore left-brainers. They've had to be because it's the logical left brain that is generally most valued in the work that we do. But the problem with the left brain is that it's the "judging" part of the brain--the part that has everything figured out already and isn't interested in understanding what you REALLY want to do. It's also less creative, less able to see new solutions to old problems.

Pictures help bypass that left brain, so we used them a lot in yesterday's session. Everyone LOVED Christine Martell's VisualsSpeak tool for exploring their career visions. For many, they gave some fresh insights into what they'd thought was well-traveled territory. Most also elected to use collage to develop their mission statements. What was wonderful was seeing how the hard-core wordsmiths took to using visuals and their excitement in seeing how it brought them fresh perspectives and new options to explore.

Reflection is CRITICAL. Probably the biggest thing that stood out at the retreat was the value in taking 8 hours of uninterrupted time to explore these questions about career and life. We probably could have taken more, but just this one day boosted many of these women past what had felt like hardcore obstacles in their paths. By taking the time to truly reflect and explore some different questions, they got much greater clarity and understanding about ways to move forward. This doesn't happen when you take a piecemeal approach.

Img_1262 So is a support group. People spent a lot of time on solitary reflection, but we also took time to share what we were learning about ourselves and to give advice and support to each other. I also think that there's something to be said about engaging in solitary activity in a group setting. There's a certain energy in the room that makes you realize you aren't alone in your quest--energy that isn't available when career and professional development planning is done alone or with just one another person like a supervisor or career coach. One-on-one and alone time are certainly necessary parts of the overall equation, but I think that group support is a critical piece too.

Build It and They Will Come. The final big insight/thought here. My belief is that while we can all benefit from feedback and advice from others about our growth and development, in the end, we're the ones who have most of the answers that will work for us. I believe that if you provide people with the right space, the right tools and the right questions, they will take those things and use them to transform their understanding of themselves and of their world. This retreat proved that to me.

In my career, there have been a few transformative experiences that have changed my direction and path. This was one of them. I actually did the retreat as another one of my personal learning experiments, to test my hunch that there's a need for this kind of career and professional support done in a group environment using tools and processes that aren't the usual "take this interest inventory" kind of approach. The reaction and feedback I got yesterday told me that I'm very much on the right track with this. Not only is there a need, there's a way to have impact on people's lives that is powerful and exciting. And who DOESN'T want that?

One more thing--huge props to Rosetta for all of her help in planning and organizing this. She was amazing. Also, thank you to Maryland Nonprofits who rented us the space for the retreat.  And, of course, the biggest thank you of all to the women who participated in yesterday's retreat. You were a HUGE inspiration for me on a lot of different levels and it was wonderful to meet and spend time with such a pool of amazing women. Thank you!

Watch Out Boomers--This is How Gen Y Gets It Done

Kiva5_2 A few months ago I wrote a post entitled, Note to the Next Generation of Leaders: Don't Wait for Baby Boomers to Hand Over the Reins. In it, I suggested some strategies for Gen X and Y leaders to develop themselves. One of my thoughts was to get "disruptive"--start your own organization to do it better, rather than trying to get your foot in the door of an existing one.

Now I see,  via Guy Kawasaki,  a great profile on Matt and Jessica Flannery, the 20-something founders of Kiva, which in a few short years has become a powerhouse of micro-lending:

What makes Kiva different from other microlenders? “If you have $10,000 to lend, you have many options,” says Matt, ’00, MA ’01. “If you have $25 to lend, this is the only option.”

People are lining up. In fact, Kiva has so many lenders—more than 123,000 extending $12.4 million to some 18,000 entrepreneurs in 39 countries—that it recently limited each participant to $25 per business, “so that everyone has a chance to make a Kiva loan.” After two years in operation, Kiva attracts $1.5 million a month, Matt says. The impact is bigger than it looks, notes Jessica, MBA ’07, because “each loan is touching 15 people, whether it’s other workers in the business, or family.”

A great story, but what really caught my attention was this:

Significantly, the 16 full-time employees at Kiva’s offices in San Francisco’s Mission district are mostly in their 20s and 30s. (The organization has some 250 active volunteers.) This generation’s idealism tends to be more global, more strategic, more entrepreneurial than previous generations, with a good deal of media/marketing savvy. Matt says his contemporaries are “not looking to make a lot of money, retire and give it away. We’re looking to live our whole life in an integrated way. It’s not a binary approach.”

Seems like those Gen X and Gen Y folks are figuring out that they don't necessarily need to "pay their dues" or wait their turn. They're seizing their own opportunities. And doing a lot of good in the process.

I think it's something for existing organizations to consider--aren't Matt and Jessica exactly the kinds of people you would have wanted working for you? The bigger question is are you creating the kind of environment that appeals to young people with this kind of initiative and talent?

Do People Heart Your Organization?

Hearts Here's a question for you. Would anyone in your organization feel like they had the authority to do this?

When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.

Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is.

I'm guessing no. I'm guessing that there are probably a lot of layers of authority and permissions in place that would make most staff not even consider this an option. I'm also betting that your organization would feel like you didn't have the resources to do something like this.

But here's the thing. This is the kind of activity that sets people's expectations for how organizations SHOULD behave. Once you've had this kind of experience, mediocre service just doesn't cut it anymore. And people are talking about it so even if they haven't had the experience themselves, they see what's going on with other people so their expectations are higher, too.

The bar is being raised.

What are we doing to keep ourselves in the game? What are we doing to make sure that people heart us?

Photo via cybele-la

Let's Get Naked

Wired_cover Like Christine Martell I've clearly let my magazine reading fall by the wayside more than I realized, because the article I'm about to reference was published in April 2007, which in Internet time might as well be April 1997. At any rate. . .

Last week I finally got to read Wired Magazine's The See Through CEO, which is a must-read for everyone. Some choice quotes:

Google is not a search engine. It's a reputation management system. . . Online your rep is quantifiable, findable and totally unavoidable.

A single Google search determines more about how you're perceived than a multi-million dollar ad campaign.

Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting materials frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Google reputation.

The reputation economy creates an incentive to be MORE open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it.

The entire premise of the article is that 1) your reputation is made and broken by your Google search rank and results and 2) the only ways to positively influence your results are to use social media (like blogs) to be as transparent and authentic as you can be--radical transparency as the order of the day.

What does it meant to be radically transparent?

  • Opening up the inner workings of your organization for other people to see. That means blogging about the goings on in your organization, allowing people to comment on what they've experienced, letting staff have a voice and putting leaders out in front, instead of behind the front-lines.
  • Publicly acknowledging when you screw up--and having a sense of humor about it.
  • Being willing to honestly share bad news without sugar-coating it or trying to spin it a certain way.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about online identity and it seems to me that a big part of it has to be about transparency. Some people think they can escape the need for transparency by escaping being online, but which is worse--having someone see you and know that you have some flaws or being invisible? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Transparent_2I know that it's really hard to be this transparent. It's scary--what happens when they find out you've screwed up? Or if you show them that the process of doing what you do is really messy? But the thing is, someone will inevitably discover it anyway, so it's better for you to put the story out there first and to admit where you went wrong or that you aren't perfect than it is for you to pretend like everything is always great. Then you control the message. You control how the situation is perceived and handled.

One of the great advantages to this kind of transparency is that people like you more. They see you as human. They want to help, to provide you with their advice and good ideas and support. It's crowdsourcing at it's best. I think it's because we relate more to people who share their vulnerabilities, rather than to those who pretend they always have their act together.

I think we learn more from transparency, too. One of the things I find is that when I'm trying to hide things from other people, I'm often trying to hide them from myself, too. If I don't want others to know my process, then I'm also not thinking very much about it. A policy of transparency helps me become transparent to myself, too--I'm more willing to take a hard look at what I do and how I do it because I'm trying to make it comprehensible to others. In that process I help both myself and other people. It improves my learning.

So here's the question--do you and/or your organization have the courage to get naked? The rewards are rich, but it can also be a pretty painful process, especially when you first start to expose yourself.

Transparent photo via raindog.

The Habits Of High Impact Nonprofits

Forces_for_good_2_2 The Stanford Social Innovation Review has an excellent article summarizing the findings of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield.

Chronicling four years of research into 12 highly successful nonprofits, including Teach for America and Habitat for Humanity, the book dispels some common myths about what makes a nonprofit successful, as well as identifying six successful practices.

The Myths and Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits
According to McLeod Grant and Crutchfield, most nonprofit literature focuses on issues that actually have nothing to do with creating a high impact nonprofit--what they call the myths of successful nonprofits:

  1. Perfect Management
  2. High Brand Name Recognition
  3. A Break-through Idea
  4. Textbook Mission Statements
  5. High Ratings on Conventional Metrics
  6. Large Budgets

Instead, real nonprofit impact is the result of six practices:

  • Combining both service and policy advocacy
  • Tapping into the powers of the market, self-interest and economics rather than relying on altruism alone.
  • Building strong communities of supporters who can act as evangelists for the organization and the cause.
  • Nurturing the creation of networks.
  • Learning how to be exceptionally adaptive, responding immediately to changes as they occur.
  • Sharing leadership rather than relying on the charisma of a strong founder.

Not all of the 12 nonprofits studied used all of these practices, nor did they use them in the same ways. In some cases they used them to different degrees and at different times, depending on their particular circumstances and development.

What's striking about these findings is that the "myths" of nonprofit success are based on inward-focusing practices, while the practices that really lead to high impact force nonprofits to look outside of their organizations to leverage external factors. These are also practices that work better in a 2.0 world where networks, adaptability and harnessing the power of the crowd are critical to success. The lessons these nonprofits are learning are lessons that businesses are learning, too.

Some interesting info here that's well worth a look. Looks like I have a new book to add to my reading list.

My Personal Learning Environment Mindmap Revised

The last day of Reader Questions and this morning I had something from Sky who asked me for a clearer version of my Personal Learning Environment Mindmap from April.

Since this is about the fifth time someone has asked me for it, I decided that I needed to create a version that is more easily readable. With the first version I had to resort to a screen capture, but that wasn't doing it, so I headed over to Mindomo, about which I've heard many great things. It worked great (I'll go into details in a later post) and in no time I had a re-do of the map which you can see here.

In recreating that original map, however, I realized that I've made some changes in the past several months, so I did a revised version of where I'm at now, highlighting the new tools I'm currently using. Below is a screencapture and the full version of my revised PLE mindmap is here.


You'll see that I've stopped using  Google Notebooks and Tumblr and have been making more use of Slideshare, StumbleUpon, Facebook and Ning. I also added Firefox as a separate item, since it's so important to getting everything else going. And I found Mindomo so useful, I'm putting it into my toolkit as well.

I'm not going to go into a lot of details on how I'm using everything, as I've talked about all of this before:

Just thought it was interesting to go back and re-map things and thought I'd share.

While We're On the Topic of Personal Learning . . .
Rosetta Thurman of Perspectives from the Pipeline has an AWESOME post on using blogs as a low-cost professional development strategy. It's a must-read if you're at all interested in using social media to support personal learning.

And stay tuned for Monday's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants when we'll see everyone's favorite learning resources in honor of back to school. 

Seven Strategies for Supporting Personal Learning Environments at Work

Learning_gateway_2 Yesterday I started to answer Glen Ross's question about how to support staff in developing and using personal learning environments (PLEs) by defining what I mean when I talk about a PLE. Today I'm getting to the real meat of Glen's question, which is how to support staff in creating and using their own PLEs.

Nurture a Culture of Learning
Staff have to feel that learning is part of their jobs and that the organization they're working for truly supports their professional development. I've written before about how to create a learning climate here and here and I think that without this critical component, PLEs are really dead in the water.

As part of this process, I would also suggest helping staff understand and develop the skills of personal learning, which I think many of us lose along our way through academia and the work world. And your organization will need to cultivate a tolerance for taking risks and making mistakes, assuming that it hasn't already done that.

Show People What You Mean by a PLE
Stephen Downes put together a great video to show people how to create a PLE. It explains the concept of a personal learning environment and it also describes and demonstrates how to use a number of different tools.

There are also some good resources at the Learning Technologies Centre PLE Wiki, including some images and descriptions of other people's PLEs. Mine is here.

Remember, though, a PLE is as much a state of mind as anything else. What we're talking about here is how do people gather and process new information and develop new skills and knowledge as a result. This isn't an LMS or a VLE. A PLE is for learners. The organization can benefit from the learning, but they should avoid controlling or requiring it. That really defeats the purpose.

Start Introducing the Tools
Yesterday I said that I believe in the idea of small pieces, loosely joined. That is, we introduce people to various tools that can be used to support personal learning and we let them figure out which tools work best for them. Imposing tools on people is a recipe for resentment and confusion in my opinion because everyone has their likes and dislikes. You may love Google Reader, but I still want my Netvibes--and I'll fight you to the death for it.

As part of Jane Hart's recent project to identify the top 100 Elearning Tools, she's also put together a Learning Toolbox that recommends a variety of tools for different personal learning activities. I'd start there. I'd also make sure that you get with your IT Department so they can unblock any sites that might be on the list.

And be sure to check out the Common Craft Plain English series of videos on RSS, Wikis and Social Bookmarking--in 3.5 minutes for each, staff will start to know what you're talking about.

Technology Try Introducing Tools in the Context of Productivity and Making Work Easier
A lot of staff feel overwhelmed by their workloads and may see the introduction of PLE tools as another thing on the To Do list. It may make sense to introduce tools as part of better, more efficient ways to get work done, rather than as tools of personal learning. Not everyone gets excited by learning, especially if they think it's on top of their regular work load. For example, I've used wikis to manage my own projects and RSS as a way to stay on top of information I need for my job. This approach might be more appealing to some people. You can point out to them later that these same tools can be used to learn--or that they're already learning without even knowing it. Kind of like hiding the vegetables in the spaghetti sauce as I used to do with my girls.

Have Staff Play Around with Mini Lessons and Using the Different Tools
Some people will take to new tools like ducks to water. You just have to show them something and they're off and running. Other people may need a little more guidance. The 23 Things series Web 2.0 lessons is a fun way to start introducing tools and letting people play around with them.(I'm working on a remix of the lessons, but still have a long way to go)  Depending on your organizational culture, you could turn the lessons into a friendly competition between departments or provide prizes for completing certain milestones.

Reward Staff for Being Learners
If you want staff to become learners, especially if they haven't been encouraged to learn before, you need to reward their new activities. Find ways to positively recognize people who are learning new things and to help them use new skills on the job. This will further encourage them to use the tools.

Find Some Champions and Support Them in Using the Tools and Spreading the Word
Depending on the size of your organization, I'd start looking for some of your top influencers and get them using some of the tools. Encourage and support these folks and see if you can have them coach those who may be more reluctant to try things out. Also have these people talk up their experiences so that others will learn from them.

That's my thinking on how to start supporting staff in any organization to create and use their own personal learning environments. If you have other ideas, please email or leave me something in comments. And Glen, I hope I finally answered your question. I know it was a long time coming.

Note--The photos I used here are from a Flickr set on using space, furniture, technology, etc. to encourage learning. Some cool stuff here with interesting commentary.

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Supporting Personal Learning Environments--A Definition of a PLE


As part of answering Reader Questions this week, I'm going back to something that Glenn Ross asked me awhile ago:

If I'm responsible for L&D in my organization, how can I help my employees identify their PLEs (personal learning environments) and what resources do I need to provide for them?

Apparently Glenn likes to ask the tough questions. But I'm feeling brave, so I'm going to try for an answer here.  It actually will take two posts to do this, so let's start with my definition of  a PLE.



The Elements of a Personal Learning Environment
There is a lot of discussion about what exactly constitutes a personal learning environment. To write about how to support PLEs, I want to first make sure we're on the same page as far as what I mean by a PLE.

It's Personal
Personal means two things to me.

A personal learning environment is personal in the sense that WHAT is learned has to be based on what interests the learner. We're hoping, of course, that learning about work-related things is going to be part of what interests people, but we also have to accept that people are more than their cubes, so a personal learning environment has to start with embracing the personal aspect. People simply won't learn if they aren't interested in the topic. 

A PLE also has to be personal in terms of the tools. That is, the learner should have some ability to select the tools that work best for his/her learning style and needs. The learner should also have maximum flexibility in how he/she uses those tools. If the tools of a PLE are imposed on the learner, then in my book, you've lost one of the key benefits of personal learning. People will simply balk at using them.

It's About Self-Directed Learning
I'm sorry to report that most people don't really know how to learn. School and training programs have taught them that "learning" is simply the passive transfer of knowledge from an "expert" into their waiting brains. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly successful strategy for learning.

For a PLE to be successful, a person needs to know how to learn. This means that he/she needs to have some key skills, such as an ability to do research, process information, etc. I started to do some brainstorming on these skills based on a presentation by Stephen Downes. If an organization is going to seriously work to implement PLEs with their staff, I think that they need to consider ways to boost some of these key skills as part of that process.

It's About the Environment
Again, this means two things to me. First, there has to be an organizational culture of learning, not a culture of training. Without a learning culture, you might as well forget about implementing something as radical as a PLE. People have to feel supported and nurtured as they try out new tools and ways of doing things and this doesn't happen in organizations that don't think carefully about creating a culture of learning.

The second aspect of the environment is, of course, having access to the tools of PLEs. Typically we're talking here about online tools, such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, etc., although a PLE isn't strictly about online learning. It also includes face-to-face interaction, reading real-world books and magazines, going to conferences, engaging in activities, writing in journals, etc.

An important point here--I'm of the "small pieces, loosely joined" school of thought on tools, so when I'm talking about an environment that provides the tools, I'm talking about people having access to a wide range of options that they can pull together as they see fit.

One final note on my approach--I'm with Tom Haskins that PLEs should be regarded as power tools. I see PLEs as a strategy of empowerment that allows staff to become more self-directed in their learning. I personally believe that most organizations benefit from knowledge workers who roam far and wide in the learning landscape and that PLEs should be used as a way to support both personal and professional development, not as a sort of organizationally-driven way to control learners. That's what LMS systems are for.

So that's how I define a PLE. Next time, I'll write about how I think we can support staff in developing and using their own PLEs.

Some Readings on Leadership and Finding Your Passions

Good Monday morning from Philadelphia, where the sun is just starting to peek through the clouds and we're preparing for yet another muggy day. A few quick reads for you:

Facebook, MySpace and Class Divisions

Danah Boyd has posted a provocative essay on the class divisions she sees in the users of MySpace vs. Facebook. This is actually a phenomenon I've noticed myself in the past several months as I watch my 15 year old move from MySpace to Facebook and get her perspective on who in her high school is making the shift to Facebook and who is staying on MySpace.

Danah's premise, in a nutshell:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Danah calls the first group "hegemonic teens" and the second "subaltern teens." And within the subaltern group, she notes a further class division, with the "alternative kids, art fags, emos, goths" and similar groups being aware of Facebook, but rejecting its values, while Latinos, immigrants and more disenfranchised groups are often unaware of Facebook.

In comments on the essay, Danah makes clear that she is looking at high school students only and that she's not drawing inferences about college students or adult use of the two sites, although she does note that signing up for Facebook seems to be a rite of passage for those entering 4-year institutions, while MySpace is the social network of choice at community colleges.  She's also clear that this is an essay, not research, although it's raising questions she intends to look at more closely.

Danah's observations interest me for a few reasons. From a purely practical standpoint, it underscores the need for organizations that look to operate in social networks to think clearly about the audiences on those networks and what they hope to achieve by operating there. But on a deeper level, there are disturbing implications that concern me for the future.

I've talked previously about the digital divide.  I'm afraid that this is another form of it at work.

The beauty of the web is that it makes previously inaccessible networks available to us. People I would not connect to in the physical world because of geography or other differences are often more "reachable" online. But for me to enter those networks, I must 1) know that they exist and 2) know how to navigate them. Furthermore, every social community has specific values, conventions and codes of behavior. Being proficient in these codes marks you as a member of the community, while violations of these conventions mark you as an outsider.

If what Danah says is true, young people who are not headed to college (and who may, therefore, already be at a disadvantage), will be unaware of a digital space that could do much to support their future success. Further, they will not learn the conventions and values of that other space and so if they do enter it, may have difficulties finding their way.

Why should this matter? Because many businesses are increasingly reporting that they are using Facebook as a recruiting tool. If you're not there, then you won't have access to these connections and opportunities. Further, Facebook's move to an open API has developers making a mad dash to create applications and plug-ins to the Facebook platform that will increase it's value as a networking and life-long learning tool. Again, if you're not there, then you won't have access.

Another concern--Danah notes that the military has recently banned use of MySpace (the online home of most enlisted personnel) but not Facebook, where officers tend to congregate. Again, one of the beauties of the web is its ability to allow for a collective voice and collective action. Yet, just as we find that the disenfranchised are silenced in physical space, it seems that its happening in the digital world.

Maybe I'm worrying needlessly about all this. Maybe we're just at a particular point in time between what appears to be a divide on our way to a more inclusive environment. But even so, I think the issues Danah raises deserve attention and discussion as we consider ways to both support people in developing the skills to navigate online social networks, as well as when we look at our own organizational uses of the tools.