Alec Sprague is not an IT guy. His background is in consumer advocacy, but in his position as database developer for Work for Progress, he has instituted a culture of citizen development at the fast-growing nonprofit organization.
“Our organization is scrappy,” Sprague said. “We operate on shoestring budgets to maximize our benefit to society and our return-on-investment for our funders and donors.”
At the beginning of his tenure with Work for Progress, Sprague struggled with outdated systems and felt the organization’s issues were too important to waste time with antiquated technology. “In the past year, we’ve made a more intentional push atdigital transformation, moving a lot of our data out of siloed systems and into the cloud so that we could save everyone’s time andproductivity,” he told an audience at QuickBase’s #EMPOWER2016 user conference in Nashville, TN.
In the last year and a half, Work for Progress has developed 22 applications, including 12 apps that are each used by more than one department and more than 80 people. This from an organization that doesn’t even have an IT department!
App Progress at Work for Progress
One example of this citizen developer led transformation took place within Human Resources. The group was working with paper files and using a clunky database. Sprague taught a representative to build an app that would bring all of the group’s data online in one place. He followed up with weekly calls to workshop questions and problems. The whole department now uses the app, with several team members working on front-facing dashboards and workflows so that supervisors can take action on benefits and other HR-related items.
A second implementation involved grant reporting. Sprague surveyed end-users and determined that reporting grants fundraising was a complex and confusing process. He worked with the grants department on an application that could quickly and easily report grant proposals, income, and deliverables so the organization could better keep track of fundraising work and communicate with donors.
Why Citizen Development?
“My job is to motivate and inspire people and give them the right tools to do their jobs,” said Sprague. “The fact that 68 percent of all IT projects fail underscores the need for bottom-up system creation.”
Bottom-up system creation can be explained by breaking down the term “citizen development.” Citizens are recognized and have rights and responsibilities. Development can be a process of growth, creativity, and suffering. Citizen developers are permitted to create something meaningful and productive, but the journey often isn’t easy. Sprague’s best practices for encouraging them are as follows:
Empower Everyone at Whatever Level is Right for Them
Sprague noted the different types of people within an organization. You have system-minded people who need permission to act, people who have permission but might not understand the best path forward, admins or people with extra time on their hands, and end users. The needs of these groups vary.
“Some people have good ideas but not the time or the skills to follow through on them: you need to empower them to share their ideas,” Sprague said. “On the other hand, some people have good ideas and could follow through on them if they just had the skills: you need to empower them by building those skills. Some people have good ideas and the skills to implement but need to be allowed to move forward: you need to empower them by giving permission, space, and tools.” Sprague suggested looking for intersections within these groups and understanding where to find particular individuals.
For more where this came from, check out the QuickBase Fast Track blog.