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How do you choose new software? For many people for many years it’s been pretty simple – go for whatever Microsoft does and get on with it. However some problems just can’t be solved that easily, like buying a website or database, which are more about buying a service than a product. And the growth of open source has also shifted the goalposts, as has the rapid growth in online services, such as Google Docs or online meeting planners such as Doodle.ch. So is there a simple process everyone could can follow?

It very much depends on what you want, when you want it and who you’re asking, but US-based IdealWare has suggested six simple steps for when you’re in a hurry and have specific needs – “something that’s neither a big investment nor particularly strategic”. It offers a very useful starting point, and I particularly like the fact that Step 2 suggests that you investigate whether your current software can do the job.

This is a really useful point, especially given the wealth of features in Microsoft Office. So as well as suggesting you check out their Six Steps I would add that it’s always helpful to have reference books available, especially books such as Office 2003 Timesaving Techniques in the Dummies series. This goes beyond the basics and includes tips for Excel, Word and the rest of the Office suite and I use it at least once every month for fiddly things I don’t do very often.

Of course for more advice on just about every topic I’d always recommend looking at LASA’s ICT Knowledgebase, especially for larger projects such as websites and databases.

Idealware: Selecting Software on a Shoestring

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How do you choose new software? For many people for many years it’s been pretty simple – go for whatever Microsoft does and get on with it. However some problems just can’t be solved that easily, like buying a website or database, which are more about buying a service than a product. And the growth of open source has also shifted the goalposts, as has the rapid growth in online services, such as Google Docs or online meeting planners such as Doodle.ch. So is there a simple process everyone could can follow?

It very much depends on what you want, when you want it and who you’re asking, but US-based IdealWare has suggested six simple steps for when you’re in a hurry and have specific needs – “something that’s neither a big investment nor particularly strategic”. It offers a very useful starting point, and I particularly like the fact that Step 2 suggests that you investigate whether your current software can do the job.

This is a really useful point, especially given the wealth of features in Microsoft Office. So as well as suggesting you check out their Six Steps I would add that it’s always helpful to have reference books available, especially books such as Office 2003 Timesaving Techniques in the Dummies series. This goes beyond the basics and includes tips for Excel, Word and the rest of the Office suite and I use it at least once every month for fiddly things I don’t do very often.

Of course for more advice on just about every topic I’d always recommend looking at LASA’s ICT Knowledgebase, especially for larger projects such as websites and databases.

Idealware: Selecting Software on a Shoestring

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Jill Ferguson at Hastings Voluntary Action [HVA] has posted a useful reminder that grant funding from Government remains a vital part of the funding mix at a local level. She welcomes a recognition of the role of grassroots activity at a neighbourhood level but fears that the emphasis on contracting services and tendering for funds will undermine funding for work which is best delivered on a small, very local scale.

This echoes a campaign being led by NAVCA called Sustaining Grantswhy local grant aid is vital for a healthy voluntary and community sector and thriving local communities.

Jill’s article can be found on HVA’s website: HVA – paper_030

More details of the NAVCA Campaign can be found on its site http://www.navca.org.uk/publications/sustaininggrants/

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Win £2,000 for your technology related project. Talk Talk logo

TalkTalk Innovation in the Community Awards

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The Big Lottery Fund has announced £190m of funding to create new spaces for young people. Looks like a great new initiative but it will be interesting to see in what ways computers, the internet and other technologies feature in the projects that are funded.

It’s often assumed that young people know everything about technology and that us adults are lagging far behind. My experience, however, is that many young people do not have access to laptops, wifi or home computers. They cannot afford them, or they can only use them at school, where they may be face all sorts of restrictions in their use.

They may be evolving massively muscular thumbs but beyond the social aspects of texting, mobiles phones and Instant Messaging there can be a distinct lack of opportunities for more meaningful use of new technology. They may also be short of teachers, parents or carers with enough confidence or creative skills to help them.

I did some work many years ago in Brighton Young People’s Centre. They have had an IT suite for many years – originally ste up with UK Online funding – and recognise that although many kids have Playstations very few will have had a chance to ‘play’ with creative tools like video, music or the web.

The young people I worked with wanted to work together on a video project, or learn about music technology and make songs with their friends. What they needed was a space where they could access cameras, keyboards and editing software, which is those days was not available in schools.

More importantly they were lucky enough to be in a space where the youth workers considered these activities to be an important part of their work. They recognised that it help gives them confidence, build relationships and create stories which reflect their lives. It helps create the sort of buzz which draws in young people who are put off by formal education and can help tackle social exclusion.

They could build on their youth work training to learn relevant technical skills, or see when they needed to bring in experts to help with things like DJ skills, video editing or web design. In contrast to my work in schools at the time they seemed more open to these ideas than the formal education system, where technology was often seen as creating as many problems as it solved.

That was all before MySpace and bebo and IM and even texting, so the landscape has no doubt shifted enormously. There may be more ready access to the web but that brings new issues into play, such as personal safety and responsible uuse of social networks.

What hasn’t changed is that young people will continue to benefit from access to high quality technology, supported by knowledgeable and supportive youth workers with relevant skills. I know there are lots of young people’s projects that have seen how IT can help transform lives. Hopefully the BLF will see that and encourage applicants to think big when it comes using new technology.

myplace

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Good article in the Guardian about how to reach the 30% of people who don’t have regular access to broadband or related digital technologies. Some don’t want it of course, but many are prevented from having it through cost or lack of access.

The Digital Inclusion conference last week highlighted growing Government action in this field, linked to recent research activities funded through UK Online looking at the social and economic impact of digital inclusion projects. As the author of the article Michael Crossnotes it’s not about giving things away to the poor and needy but tackling market failure in a service area which is entirely privately owned and run.

And as well as getting suppliers to play fair it’s about a bit more joined up thinking about grant funding to actually get people in front of PCs and getting the help they need in their local communities.

At ground level SCIP works with many community groups who have suites of computers paid for by funders eager to hand over capital, but whose doors are shut because they can’t get grants for the costs of keeping them running. Stuff like insurance, broadband connections, materials, let alone salaries and trainers’ fees.

New UK Online funding was announced this week and seems to be headed in the right direction ie revenue funding and reasonable sized grants of up to £10k. Let’s hope this is a sign that Government is realising what makes a difference at community level, as well as getting the big telecoms providers to put their weight behind solving the big problems.

Digital inclusion isn’t just about playing Santa Claus | Technology | The Guardian

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I’m working as a member of the team at Brighton University on the Net.Weight project, which is looking at how ICT can help people manage their weight. It’s funded by the Department of Health and led by Professor Flis Henwood, with colleagues from a across a range of disciplines.
Lots more details about what we’re doing and how the project is going can be found on the rather lovely new site.

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