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Connecting With Customers Through New Media


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Last night was our last class of the semester. Now I just have to finish a very important paper. As well as wrapping up two other papers from our ongoing LearnComm class. But it still feels fantastic to be on break. I plan to recap soon some of the highlights from the semester as well as a recommendation of which readings I found to be most thought provoking. For now though, it’s time to sit back, eat a cupcake, and toast to another round of classes under my belt.

Cupcakes for class made by Justino Abad

Cupcakes for class made by Justino Abad

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Yesterday, I attended the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival on the National Mall.  On the metro ride there I happened to be reading Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book, The Networked Nonprofit.  In fact, I was reading the vignette about the Smithsonian and how since 2008, under the direction of President G. Wayne Clough they have moved toward becoming a transparent organization and embracing new media.  Well, it is one thing to read it in a book and quite another to see that new direction with your own eyes as I did when I reached the Mall.

This year, the Smithsonian decided to devote one section of the festival to “Smithsonian Inside Out”, in which many different departments were represented with staff, volunteers, and displays to educate the public about the inner workings of this institution.  I was surprised by the diversity of what was on display and the enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers who represented SI.  In general the displays were demonstrating the great things that SI is doing, but the staff and volunteers that were on hand were also being authentic in answering tougher questions about the institutions past and more controversial issues such as exhibits on indigenous cultures being housed within the Natural History Museum.

A surprising highlight for me was a staff member from the Facilities division showing different faux finishing techniques that he uses on the walls and interiors of Smithsonian buildings.  He was so enthusiastic as he explained that the type of bag that carries onions can be used to create a snake-skin like finish!  It was great to see facilities staff being represented alongside world renowned Ph.D’s (like the entomologist in the next tent over).

Panda CrateAnother great show-and-tell was the hippo crate.  Recently the National Zoo (part of the Smithsonian) had to move their hippo to make room for an expanded elephant space.  I remember there being some hubbub surrounding the move and concern about the hippo.  What better way to be transparent than to have the actual hippo crate on hand for members of the public to walk inside and ask questions about.

The institution’s move towards new media was also on display in the Exhibits tent.  In an interesting experiment with crowd sourcing, the Smithsonian is hosting a game by which members of the public take pictures of Smithsonian buildings and then upload them to Photo City to create a 3D rendering.  You can see the details here: http://photocitygame.com/smithsonian/

There was a staff member demonstrating how the game worked and I mentioned Extraordinaries to him as a possibility for future crowd sourcing projects.  He mentioned that if they were able to do more photo imaging projects like this one, the 3D renderings could be made available on their website for visitors and researchers alike who were not able to view them in person.

I hope that the Smithsonian Institution continues in this direction towards becoming a Networked Nonprofit.  If you know of other examples of projects they are doing in this space I would love to hear about them.

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This post is republished from the HandsOn Blog

How fast does three years go by?

Three years ago I was joining AmeriCorps in hopes of getting training in the career of volunteer management.

In 2007, I was serving as an AmeriCorps member in northern Arizona and it was my responsibility to launch a volunteer program to help homebound seniors and disabled adults.

Just out of college with a history degree I found myself in charge of recruiting people, matching them with opportunities to serve, orienting and training them, as well as supervising and recognizing them.

I had jumped right into the volunteer management profession, without a single course in management.

Typical, I know.

It was my great fortune that Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley, co-authors of the best selling book on volunteer management and legendary for their training in the field, came to Arizona that year and presented a two-day training on volunteer management.

Over those two days we went through theory and practice on the soup to nuts of volunteer management.

Their insights about how people relate to one another, why people volunteer, and what the role of the volunteer manager is, were critical to my personal and professional development.

The binder I got that day has become my volunteer management bible which I carried with me through the next three years.

Jumping ahead in time to today; I am still in the field and now have the unique opportunity of bringing Rick Lynch to my new network of volunteer managers in the DC area.

I now work at Volunteer Arlington, a HandsOn Network Affiliate and we provide support to volunteer managers.

Having been in their shoes, I know how valuable it is to get the chance to participate in a well-designed and well-researched training with peers who are experiencing the same sort of challenges that are unique to this profession.

I am very excited about this training event and hope that it will serve as a key part of my peers’ professional development in the way that it did for me.

Volunteer Arlington, along with Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Alexandria, and the Northern Virginia Association of Volunteer Administrators are pleased to present Management 2011: Advanced Volunteer Management Training with Rick Lynch on Thursday July, 22, 2010 in Arlington, VA. Visit the website for more details.

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In last night’s class we were talking about the Machine metaphor, scientific management, and the way this metaphor has had tremendous impact on organizations and the way we think about them.

Here is a recent podcast and blog post from my favorite show, Planet Money: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2010/02/our_messy_inefficient_economy.html

The reporters are interviewing an efficiency expert (modern day Frederick Taylor).

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Organization as Organism

After reading the chapter from Morgan on organizations as organisms I was explaining the metaphor to my boyfriend who has a lot of interest in evolutionary biology. I asked him to explain things that happen in the animal world to see if I could make the connections to the business world. One process that he was talking about was selective pressures. We decided that there were many examples of selective pressures in the business world, such as a strong union presence that blocks an industry from changing its structure in one area.

One of my favorite evolutionary biology stories is about the squirrels in the grand canyon. There are 2 different species of squirrels. One lives on the North Rim and one on the South Rim. They are very similar because long long ago they used to be of the same species. Then something happened (geologists still don’t understand the whole reasoning) and a mile deep, four mile wide canyon opened up in their habitat (gross oversimplification). Being now physically separated they evolved to be 2 separate species with slightly different traits, adapted to their now different environments. Anyone see any parallels in the business world?? This one stumped me.

Another concept from evolutionary biology that I thought would be interesting to make connections with is the difference between “source” and “sink” populations within a specific species. Source populations are ones in which the birth rate is higher than the death rate (growing, healthy). Sink populations are the opposite (they are sinking). This becomes important in conservation, because a conservationist may look at a big area of habitat and say ok, we can’t save it all, but we will protect this area on the East side. Well, if it turns out that the east side was a sink population, then you just saved a sinking ship. I’m wondering again, if there are interesting parallels to the business world here. Maybe with foundations putting their monies into business models that are outdated or losing ground in a particular industry?

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It’s been quite a winter for us here in the DC area. In fact, the weather all year has had an unusual nature, last spring we got more rain one month than in Seattle. Now we’re getting more snow than Vancouver! Lesson to be learned: we should move?

Well, one point of local pride at the moment has been Arlington County’s response to the snow. I am proud to be a County employee right now, what with both their street clearing efforts as well as the efforts of the communications team.

They just produced this video of a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on with “snow fighting” as they call it:

Check out my own photos from the storm here:


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