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Community Development Resource Kit

SECTION A: Community Development Practice

SECTION B1: Setting Up A Community Group - Introduction

SECTION B2: Setting Up A Community Group - Legal Structures

SECTION B3: Setting Up a Community Group - Incorporated Societies

SECTION B4: Setting Up a Community Group - Charitable Trusts

SECTION C: Planning and Managing

SECTION D1: Employment Matters - Agreements

SECTION D3: Employment Matters - Support

SECTION D2: Employment Matters - Recruitment

SECTION E: Running Meetings

SECTION F: Project Management

SECTION G: Financial Management

SECTION H: Funding

SECTION I: Keeping Good Records

SECTION J: Technology - The Internet

SECTION K: Political Processes and Submissions

SECTION L: Legislation

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SECTION J: Technology - The Internet




The Internet as a Tool For Your Organisation

Don’t Panic!

Many people are afraid of the Internet, thinking it is too complicated for them to understand. You are not alone: it is an open secret that the Internet is now too complicated for anybody to understand. Fortunately, it is not necessary to understand the Internet to use it. What you see on the screen (or hear) - the “user illusion” - is designed to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible (which is not to say it will not drive you crazy on a daily basis). The best way to learn how to use it is by using it.

The Internet (to simplify in the extreme) is a network of computers all over the world connected by telephone, cable and satellite. “Going online” connects your computer to (and briefly makes it a small part of) the Internet. The Internet can be used to send and receive e-mail and to access websites.

A website is a collection of linked files on a computer that can be copied (“downloaded”) and viewed by other computers around the world (using a piece of software called a “browser”, such as Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator). One website can link to other websites, and the World Wide Web is the term used to refer to all the network or “web” of interconnected websites.

The development of the Internet has opened up a wide range of opportunities for community organisations. These include networking with like-minded people and groups, enhancing lobbying and political advocacy, identifying funding sources, obtaining current information about programme ideas, and saving time by not “reinventing the wheel”.

The development of the Internet has also seen the creation of websites that are devoted to the work of community organisations and the Third Sector (the non-profit, community and voluntary sector) in general.

Searching

The Internet can be the quickest and least expensive way to find information - as long as you know how to use a search engine. It can also be extremely frustrating and time consuming. A search engine is like an indexing system in a library (or an endlessly willing but totally brainless librarian) that helps you find what you are looking for - if you ask properly. You use a search engine by typing key words, phrases, or questions into a search box.

There are many search engines and each is different. For example, some ask for a key word while others require a phrase. Read the “hints” or “help” for each search engine. This will explain exactly how it operates. Experiment with different search engines to find the ones best suited for your needs. Some of the best search engines can be found at
www.xtra.co.nz. Other popular search engines can be found at www.community.net.nz.

Some common search engines are:

  • Google (www.google.com). Uses a very sophisticated system to find the most-visited sites and “fuzzy logic” to suggest alternatives to misspelt words. Can be set to search within New Zealand only.
  • SearchNZ (www.searchnz.co.nz). This local search engine is easy to use and provides a good list of sites.
  • AltaVista (www.altavista.com). Web and Usenet News searcher, indexing over 100 million pages. Categories are: simple, people, business, subject and advanced searches.
  • Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.com). Features a question-answering system allowing anyone to ask a question in plain, simple English without having to use key words. Great for beginners.
  • Excite (www.excite.com). Search by keywords or text strings or browse the categories of reviewed sites.
  • Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). Original search engine and directory of the Web.

This is a technology that is developing very quickly. At the time of writing, Google has outstripped the others in its ability to provide useful results, but it is being challenged.

Remember to be careful of what you find using search engines – they are mindless robots that cannot distinguish the good from the bad, or truth from propaganda.

For organisations wishing to get started with the Internet:

CommunityNet Aotearoa (www.community.net.nz)

The CommunityNet Aotearoa website is a source of information and advice to support communities. Information is available on all aspects of setting up and running community organisations and projects, including using the Internet.

Getting Online

Dozens of books on getting online are available. Two New Zealand books worth looking for are:

  • SeniorNet tutors Mike Read and Malcolm Bailey’s “Beginners’ guide to the Internet” (2000)
  • The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand User Education Librarian Virginia Earle’s “Searching the Web: a Smart Guide to Online Skills” (1999)

Information about choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and prices is online at the NZ Consumers’ Institute website: www.consumer.org.nz

The Internet Safety Kit is an online resource to help parents, schools, and community groups use the Internet safely: www.netsafe.org.nz

Low cost recycled PCs (Personal Computers) are available to community groups from companies accredited by the Computer Access New Zealand Trust: www.canz.org.nz

Webwise is an easy to use Internet guide featuring tutorials, beginner guides, questions, commentaries and much more: www.bbc.co.uk/webwise

Learn the Net – how-to guides, animated tutorials, comprehensive glossary and news: www.learnthenet.com

Advice and Support for Non-Profit groups

Techsoup – a US based website featuring information about everything IT tailored to non-profit organisations: www.techsoup.org

Making the Net Work – resources, guides and links to help those planning to get their organisation or neighbourhood online: www.makingthenetwork.org

Using E-mail for Community Action

“Virtual Activist 2.0: Using E-mail for Outreach, Organising, and Advocacy” is a detailed guide from Netaction, a US organisation dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for effective grassroots citizen action campaigns: www.netaction.org/training

The following articles are at Techsoup (www.techsoup.org):

  • “An Introduction to E-mail Listservs and Internet Mailing Lists”,
  • “Using E-mail Effectively”, and
  • “Using E-mail as an Advocacy Tool”.

Developing a Website

Steps to successful use of the Internet are familiar from any community project: vision, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate, and revise. There are lots of general guides to developing a web presence (eg Web Design for Dummies, Sam’s Teach Yourself to Create Web Pages in 24 Hours), and some listed below that are specifically targeted at community organisations.

Not every library will have these books. To find them you may have to try interloans:

There is lots of advice available online about developing websites. Have a look at the websites listed above: Webwise, Techsoup and Making the Net Work. Charity Village’s section Online Training and Online Fundraising sections have some useful articles:
www.charityvillage.com/research/

The TrainAgain website offers free interactive tutorials to help you develop better web strategy, content, credibility and search results: www.trainagain.com

One of the most comprehensive guides for not-for-profit organisations available online is “Building an Effective Website: a Guide for Non-Profit Organisations”: www.oxygenate.com/web101

- thanks to Viv Sherwood and Jenny Chilcott, Dunedin CDG



Some tips:

Try to think like the people who will be using your website. What will they know already? What will they need to know and want to know? (Assume too little rather than too much.)

Have regard to people with disabilities using your website. For example, blind and sight-impaired people can not use a mouse, so provide keyboard-based alternatives to clicking on images. Their browsers read out links separately from from text, so offer more information with links than “Click Here”. Use captions (and the “ALT” command) to tell them what is in pictures. For Deaf and hearing-impaired people, provide text alternatives to speech files. One standard that provides automatic accessabilty testing is Bobby, at
http://bobby.watchfire.com/

Have regard to people accessing your website with slow connections (as in rural areas). If you must include large files, such as big pictures, make them open on new pages, and provide thumbnail images so users can decide whether they want to open them.
Keep yourself informed about the risks of using the internet, such as viruses (software maliciously designed to corrupt or destroy files), and nuisances such as spam (junk e-mail). Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is on your side and will help protect you against these. Avoid contributing to the nuisance by replying to messages with huge "To:" and "Cc:" lists or passing on hoax virus warnings or chain letters, no matter how urgent or appealing they seem.

E-mail makes it easy to communicate in haste, but e-mail is just as subject as “snailmail” to the laws of libel, defamation, slander, harassment, etc. Because e-mail is not face-to-face, subtleties and irony are easy to miss. Make it a routine to pause before you send an e-mail, especially if you are feeling any strong emotion, and re-read it from the point of view of someone likely to misunderstand it. When replying to messages, be careful you do not include recipients you did not intend. There are many true stories of intimate messages reaching wide audiences, and gossip reaching the people it was about.

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Last updated: 13/05/2005