Earlier this week I was reflecting on some of the challenges of technology stewardship in nonprofit and government agencies. I mentioned that I'd done training for a government client that blocked access to sites such as Google Mail and how this obviously impacts staff's ability to use many of the tools I talk about. (Fortunately the IT department had not been told to block access to Wetpaint or some of the online career assessment tools I used in my training or I would have had a big problem!)
Now I see that Bev Trayner had a similar experience:
"First I couldn't get Firefox to work. And second I couldn't download the new Google groups. These things can only be done by someone from the IT department I was told. So we phoned the IT department who agreed to send someone in two days to do it. He spoke of difficulties and permissions and copyright - but agreed to do it as a special case for these people as they were involved in this particular project.
I had had a similar conversation with him about installing Skype a few days earlier (not in the office, but on a computer we were going to use in a hotel at a meeting) but had let the conversation ride .."
This reminded me of an e-mail conversation I've been having with a nonprofit user in Australia. She pointed out to me that while she sees that social media tools make it easier for non-technical types to integrate technology into their workflow, at the same time there's an ongoing organizational message that says "Leave the technology stuff to the IT department."
I'm seeing a real tension developing between where various new tools are taking us and how organizations are responding. Most organizational cultures haven't caught up to technology and institutional barriers are getting in the way of even experimenting with new technologies. A couple that I've been seeing:
- The Tyranny of the Expert--IT has always been regarded as this very specialized, highly difficult to understand area of expertise. Partially this is because it has been difficult to understand and using many technologies did require a higher level of expertise. But as tools become easier and easier to use, reality is that non-technical people can certainly learn how to use what were once highly sophisticated technology tools. The problem is that there's a mysticism around technology that has developed and I'm not sure too many people within organizations are doing much to dispel this notion.
The problem with this tyranny of the expert is that it breeds user dependence. If I have to rely on someone else to figure out the technology for me, then I'm going to be helpless without that tech person around. I won't think about using tech unless the tech person (or my management) explicitly says I must because thinking about using technology isn't part of my job. It's someone else's. That's not true and I think it's a major barrier to doing work more efficiently and effectively.
- Bureaucracy and Command and Control--Most government agencies and a large number of nonprofits are built upon a hierarchical, command and control organizational structure. This culture requires that people must go through endless layers of permissions to get anything accomplished. It is exactly the kind of environment that kills experimentation and innovation, two attributes that are critical in an organization that is looking to adopt new technological tools. Bureaucracy is about maintaining the status quo. Using new media is decidedly NOT about that.
I think there are others, but these are two that have been on my mind lately because they are so ubiquitous in my clients. I'd be curious to hear more about other experiences and perspectives in this arena. What do you see in your work?