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Microvolunteering in Developing Regions

Back in late Feb, 2013 the CSCW 2013 Conference in Texas hosted a session on microvolunteering entitles, ‘Microvolunteering: Helping the Helpers in Developing Regions’. As it’s focus suggests, it was a discussion on whether the microvolunteering concept could be transferred to the developing regions of the world.

Seven panellists were invited to participate including representatives from IBM, Microsoft amd myself from I skyped in from the UK and it must be said the line quality prevented me from taking part in any meaningful way. However a week before the session got under way, all panellists were invited to share their views on various questions within a dedicated online wikispace environment so that the actual conference discussion could kick off with a healthy start.

It’s exciting to see IBM and Microsoft taking an interest in the subject, particularly as the focus was on moving the concept into the developing regions of the world. That said I present below some of the points that came out of the wikispace discussion.

1) What’s different when using it for developing regions

- Lack of access to internet enabled devices
- How regular is electricity supply to power up devices
- The emphasis of the nature of the tasks / questions may be slightly different
- The focus of participation might be in actions that benefit developing countries themselves. Here in the ‘West’, we tend to focus on both developed and developing countries
- Maybe the incentive for participation will be different, as in the rewards offered by current microvolunteering / volunteering platforms may not be the incentive to get people to microvolunteer
- There may be a different take on red tape issues like health + safety, security checks
- There may be an more of an emphasis on people volunteering at the very localised community level

2) What is holding us back to replicate the concept worldwide (primarily the developing countries)

- language barrier might be a problem. Most microvolunteering actions and platforms are written in English
- the infrastructure for promoting the concept in developing regions may not be so ubiquitous as it is in the West, ie bloggers, voluntary orgs to discuss the concept, Twitter
- there might be a different cultural attitude towards volunteering which has to be crossed first
- lack of funding to develop a platform that is not designed to make a profit
- lack of interactive consultation with other dedicated microvolunteering platforms who may have different takes on things

3) How can we use microvolunteering to it’s best potential to help non-profits worldwide, ie what methods and support do we need?

- Volunteer Centres promoting the concept to their local charities to create micro-actions
- Volunteer Centres encouraging local firms to engage their employees in micro-actions
persuading nonprofits that the amount of input on their side does not have to be high to justify the end result
- persuading nonprofits that the ‘micro’ tag creates a buzz and a different set of expectations in the volunteer
- incentivising involvement
- explaining the impact of actions to individuals, eg what each action achieves ‘on the ground’
- what benefits are there to individuals
•    gain skills to add to an ePortfolio
•    gain kudos amongst peers via league tables as an individual or part of a team
•    gain knowledge / pride that they’ve made a difference
- incentivise the spreading of awareness of the microvolunteering concept by individuals, eg HelpFromHome’s ‘Join Me’ campaign (now defunct – June 2014)
- devise a platform that contains both skilled and non-skilled micro-actions
- promote it as an all inclusive platform for disabled, housebound and deaf
- create a platform that is global in operation, but can be used at the local community level
- set up a Global Microvolunteering Awareness Day
- get local politicians to ‘buy in’ to the scheme, eg Walthamstow’s 7days4Stow campaign organised by local MP Stella Creasey
- get teachers to ‘buy in’ to the concept and create inter school competitions

4) Crowdsourcing platforms – what kind of design issues are faced and key lessons learnt.

Design issues
- Consider three categories of micro opportunities
•    online, one off actions eg
•    repeatable actions online and offline, skilled and unskilled eg
•    Online and offline local community actions eg Barry Ideas Bank for improving community
- Consider opening platform to non registered worthy causes, which can be personally vetted
- Include in the description of a worthy cause, the ability to state what impact they’re making
- Provide facility for individual and teams to participate.  Teams could be from schools, workplaces, Rotary clubs etc.
- Alongside categories of skills, consider including categories for approx time to complete action and main countries it benefits.
- Incentivising platform eg league table measured in points, levels reached, badges attained, time volunteered.
Key lessons learnt
- Refrain from using business speak or conveying yourself as a business.
- consider enabling people to count their microvolunteering actions towards community service
- consider promoting the benefits that an individual could attain whilst microvolunteering. What personal development or work based skill can they acquire to put in an ePortfolio that could accompany the site.