A Global Web Enablement Framework for Small Charities and Voluntary Sector Organisations (Paper)
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A Global Web Enablement Framework for Small Charities and Voluntary Sector Organisations (Paper)

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With more people gaining access to the internet every day, the web enabling of core services and business processes is becoming essential. There is a great deal of existing research covering ...

With more people gaining access to the internet every day, the web enabling of core services and business processes is becoming essential. There is a great deal of existing research covering techniques and approaches to web enablement for commercial and public sector organisations, but very little that is aimed specifically at small charities and voluntary sector organisations. Numerous studies have shown that charities often lag behind commercial organisations when it comes to their internet infrastructure and the extent of web enablement. This dissertation investigates the needs and issues which charities face, in order to define a number of key web enablement aims and objectives. Some problems are unique to the charitable sector whilst others apply to all types of organisations.

As most web applications can be accessed from anywhere in the world, globalisation is an inherent web development issue. A number of the most common issues associated with globalisation are examined and current best practice solutions suggested.

The Foundations, Fundamentals, Features and Future (F4) Framework is the outcome of the research into the situation, needs and issues faced by charitable organisations. It offers a simple but detailed framework designed specially for web enablement projects within charitable organisations. The framework is broken down into four key stages of web enablement – foundations, fundamentals, features and future possibility. Through the four layers, the framework covers key business drivers, internet access and security, error-handling techniques through to global database access and undeveloped future technologies.

The framework was developed and refined through research and work undertaken with GAP Activity Projects, a worldwide gap year charity. To demonstrate the implementation of the framework, GAP is used as a case study. A number of web and related applications are developed and evaluated including an online application system, mass mailing tools and an extranet application. The case study demonstrates a number of novel techniques that have been developed to solve some of the problems which were faced, including the use of XML as a data storage method and a unique form validation technique.

Although the evaluation of the framework shows that it meets well the objectives it set out to achieve, there are opportunities for improvement and future work. A number of future expansions possibilities are examined including the use of mobile technology and content management systems.

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A Global Web Enablement Framework for Small Charities and Voluntary Sector Organisations (Paper) Document Transcript

  • 1. A GLOBAL WEB ENABLEMENT FRAMEWORK FOR SMALL CHARITIES AND VOLUNTARY SECTOR ORGANISATIONS Tom Robinson MSc Engineering & Information Sciences, tom@tjrobinson.net ABSTRACT advertising are expensive to produce and physical items can’t reach a worldwide audience. By using the web as a With more people gaining access to the internet every marketing and communication tool, costs can be kept day, the web enabling of core services and business down and new markets can be reached. Rather than processes is becoming essential. There’s a great deal of posting documents, charities can use email and websites existing research which covers techniques and to distribute material to almost anywhere in the world at approaches to web enablement for commercial and a very low cost per transaction. public sector organisations, but very little is aimed Many charities rely on volunteers to perform key specifically at small charities and voluntary sector tasks. As voluntary staff, they are likely to be part-time, organisations. The F4 Framework is the outcome of the often retired and may not work in the charity’s office or research into the situation, needs and issues faced by even in the same country. The web can be a useful tool charitable organisations. It offers a simple but detailed for communicating with voluntary staff and integrating framework designed specially for web enablement them into the core of the organisation. projects within charitable organisations. Many charities are either globalising their operations or looking to do so. This brings a completely new set of 1. INTRODUCTION challenges which the organisation must face. Globalisation also brings many opportunities for growth 1.1. Purpose and the ability to spread an organisation’s message overseas. By harnessing the power and abilities of the While many businesses now use the Internet as a core World Wide Web, a charity can expand its reach at a part of their operations, charities and smaller very low cost, provided that the technical and cultural organisations can find it more difficult to find the time aspects are taken into account. and resources to successfully web enable their business processes. Most previous work on web enablement has concentrated on commercial organisations where 2. LITERATURE REVIEW funding and resources are less scarce than in the charitable sector. This paper looks at the key issues There have been a number of studies and reports on driving charities to web enable and demonstrates a Internet and ICT use within charities and voluntary framework to guide the process. sector organisations. The majority of these studies are based on surveys. To date there has been very little, if 1.1.1. Key web enablement drivers any, research into web enablement specifically for the charitable sector. All voluntary sector organisations have a number of key business drivers which must be taken into account when 2.1. Existing research and studies developing a web enablement strategy. Charities often compete against commercial The results of Goatman’s 2004 [1] e-communications organisations in the market place. Smaller organisations survey revealed that larger charities tended to be more also compete against larger charities with bigger positive about the potential impact of their website. They spending budgets. Although not all charities are a perceived the costs and barriers to entry to be lower than competitive market, those that are need to be able to smaller charities did. They were positive about the keep up with other organisations in their market area. potential of their website and the possibilities for Web enablement is an area where larger and commercial extension and improvement. Again, larger charities with organisations tend to be ahead of smaller organisations a bigger fundraising income were more positive than who have more limited resources. those in lower income brackets. Charities are always looking for ways of keeping The most recent Virtual Promise [2] survey found costs down. Traditional methods of communication and that 78% of charities now have a budget dedicated to
  • 2. their website, an increase from the previous year’s 65%. This demonstrates that more charities are realising the importance of setting aside resources for web enablement. The majority of respondents had the following features as standard features of their websites – information, links, news, downloadable files, an email enquiry services and job vacancies. Whilst this shows good progress, it’s still static content. Worryingly only half of the responding organisations had websites which conformed to the accessibility guidelines [3] of the W3C1. E-enabling the Voluntary and Community Sectors comprised of a telephone survey of 1,400 organisations and is arguably the first large scale survey of ICT use in the sector. There were concerning findings regarding the Figure 1. The Technology Trap ICT infrastructure of many organisations; the worst being that 60% of organisations with 25 to 49 employees Application Service Providers are businesses that offer had less than nine computers between them. Compared services, which customers can access remotely through to commercial businesses, the number of organisations the Internet and web. For charities without the resources with an Internet connection was found to be significantly to have complex or expensive systems in-house, an ASP lower at 78% compared to 94% of businesses. In general can provide very useful services at a good price. ASPs the voluntary sector was found to be behind business in a work best with services that can be used by a large number of key areas. number of different organisations but would be too The National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s expensive or difficult to be provided and managed (NVCO2) report [4] found that although 61% or internally. organisations had Internet access, 14% of organisations only had a single point of Internet access and 22% only 2.3. Globalisation research had access for key staff. This demonstrates that some organisations neglected or were unable to fund a network As the issues surrounding globalisation have been infrastructure to support their Internet connection. Web around since the birth of the Internet there’s a great deal enablement requires organisation wide internet access, of existing work in this area. Internationalisation is the not just access for key staff or a single terminal. process of design or modification of a software project so that it can be later localised. The aim is to produce 2.2. Existing models and frameworks software that is free of any dependency on language, culture, script, and coded character sets. Localisation Wilcox and Grunwald [5] use a matrix in Figure 1 to (l10n) is the process of converting a, preferably explain that in order for an organisation to make a internationalised, application so that it is suitable for change, such as successful web enablement, there needs another language, culture or location. to be change in at least two dimensions of the matrix, It’s important to think about the long-term plans for from “old, old” to “new, new”. the website structure, even if there are currently no plans to have localised sites. Country Coded Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) are the approach taken by Google and many other companies. Each localised website is hosted at the root of its own dedicated domain. Where it’s not practical to obtain a ccTLD for each localised site, a common approach is to obtain a Top-Level Domain (gTLD) such as ibm.com and then use sub domains for each localised site. Directory based is another common technique used by a number of sites. It’s similar to the sub domain approach, but the localised site is referenced as a directory, rather than a sub domain. 2.4. Targetting global audiences Many sites use an international gateway page to direct users to the most suitable localised site. There are two 1 http://www.w3.org/ routes which can be taken to reach a gateway page. 2 http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/ Using direct access, the gateway page is held at the root
  • 3. of the site. This means that when the main site URL is 3.1.1. Email entered, e.g. ford.com then the first page to appear will be the gateway page. The second option is to have a link There are few modern organisations which don’t have to the gateway page somewhere on the site’s front page. email access to some degree but previous research has shown that not all of them will be fully utilising email as To automatically redirect a user you must determine a communication method. Email is one of the cheapest the location of the user and the language they prefer to and simplest ways of actively communicating to a large use. The IP address of a visitor can be determined with audience. The results of Goatman’s study [1] showed each request that visitor makes. Geolocation software that there were concerns, across all sizes and types of can use this information to determine the geographical organisation, that external emails may be regarded as location of a visitor by comparing it with databases of junk mail and blocked by spam filters. As email becomes the IP address ranges and their location. more important to a web enabled business, it’s important When a web browser makes a request for a page the to be able to send large numbers of emails without them HTTP header can contain data about the preferred being blocked before they reach the recipients. language of the browsers user. This is normally based on the language settings of the operating system, but it can 3.1.2. Non-technical issues be altered in the browsers settings. If an organisation has staff who are inexperienced with 2.4.1. Language and culture modern technology, particularly Internet and computing skills, then this can be a major issue in IT development. The localisation of a web application requires more than Wyatt [4] discovered that middle aged and older people just direct translation of content. There are many were often reluctant to use ICT. differences in local culture which need to be reflected in Cravens [7] suggests that one of the barriers a localised web application. preventing organisations from becoming web enabled is There are many hundreds of languages which require a fear of failure and a perceived waste of already scarce special characters, accents and completely different resources if a high-risk web project fails. There may be a language structures and writing systems to English. tendency for an organisation to stick to what it knows Although some languages share similarities, other but this can leave it behind when it comes to taking slanguages are completely undecipherable to non-native advantage of web technology. Cravens even suggests users. that some people may see the use of new technology as a ‘fad’, perhaps this is understandable given the speed at which technology and particularly the Internet has 3. PROBLEMS TO BE SOLVED developed. Many of the issues and problems to be solved apply to 3.2. Legislative compliance both businesses and charities. There are also issues which only apply to businesses or only apply to charities. 3.2.1. Data protection Selby [6] states that it’s important to recognise that commercial and non-commercial organisations have The Data Protection Act 1998 [8] applies to all UK their differences, even though they can also be businesses, including charities. The act was created to considered similar in many respects. protect the privacy of individuals and businesses by setting rules for the use and storage of personal data. To 3.1. Communication comply with the act anyone processing personal information must follow eight principles of good Communication is the passing on of ideas and information handling practice. information. In business, it is essential to have good clear channels of communication. Communication in an 3.2.2. Disability Discrimination Act organisation where there are a large number of people The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 [9] covers a who need to be contacted and a small staff to handle number of topics but the most relevant in the context of communications can be helped a great deal by a good this dissertation is “Part III - The provision of goods, web enablement strategy. Traditionally organisations facilities and services” which specifically mentions would communicate either face-to-face, over the websites (Pages 7 – 71). If a service is provided via a telephone or by letter. This list of potential website then it must be made accessible to all. The communication mediums was later expanded to include World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content faxes and then email. A charity will want to be able to Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG) [3] define three communicate with a variety of people and the more it suitable levels of conformance. can use email or other electronic systems to do this, the more it can cut postage and phone call costs.
  • 4. 3.2.3. Globalisation 4. THE F4 FRAMEWORK For the scope of this paper, an international charity is The F4 Framework is a generic framework for web defined as one which has voluntary or salaried staff development, designed primarily for charitable working away from the country of origin for extended organisations, but also suitable for many small periods of time. It also includes any charities which are businesses. The framework uses a modular approach to reaching out to a global market place. International web enablement and covers suitable approaches and charities face the additional challenges of long distance techniques for web enablement of a number of key communication, language barriers and variations in business areas. infrastructure. 4.1. Framework model 3.2.4. Local infrastructure Local infrastructure will affect the speed, reliability and Figure 2 represents the order in which progress must be ease of access to information. Although many countries made for the successful implementation of a web now have widespread broadband connections, others enablement strategy. Like a real Egyptian pyramid, the have very limited access and slow, unreliable lower stages must be built first in order to support later connections. Another problem is the age and ability of work built on top. For this reason, it’s important to make computer hardware and software. Many technologies for sure the foundations are in place for the implementation information sharing depend on new standards which to be both scalable and supportable. aren’t always supported by older software. The second layer is the Framework (F2) layer, which consists of the components which are built upon the 3.2.5. Language foundations. This layer relies heavily on the Foundation (F1) layer as it is primarily software based whereas the Information presented in a language that isn’t understood foundations will include hardware components as well as by the reader is likely to be either indecipherable or at suitable software. best, difficult to understand. The Features (F3) layer contains features which Cultural differences mean that it takes more than just build upon the framework layer and which are most straightforward translation to make something suitable likely to be developed a module at a time. for use in another culture. A major factor in translation complexity is the number of regional variations. The The top layer of the pyramid is the Future (F4) layer. French spoken in Canada is different to the French A well-planned web enablement project should leave spoken in France so language that’s suitable for one room for future possibilities and new technologies which region may not be suitable for another. Each additional aren’t available at the time of the initial implementation. language that must be catered for adds to the time Unlike some projects with a fixed tangible deliverables, needed to translate and manage a web application. web enablement projects are usually ongoing concerns and it’s important to allow for the fact that there will be a 3.2.6. Culture constant need for change and refinement during the lifecycle. Culture is a difficult aspect of information sharing as, although languages can be translated, it’s more difficult to translate the overall content of the information so that it’s suitable for another culture. Information can either be translated directly, possibly causing problems if it doesn’t come across well to another culture, or it can be translated indirectly. 3.2.7. Designing for technical limitations Although the growth of new technologies has been fast, not everyone is able to keep up with the latest developments in hardware and software. This can restrict the technologies used, especially if it needs to be used in developing countries or organisations with older technology such as schools and other charities. The infrastructure and age of resources is a limiting factor and may mean that some of the advanced features Figure 2. The F4 Framework Pyramid available in modern web browsers can’t be used until they are mature enough to have a wide and global penetration; this can take many years.
  • 5. 4.1.1. Content of each layer 4.2. Foundations Each layer of the pyramid can be broken down into a The basic IT Foundations, which the framework depends number of key elements. on, consists of items such as a LAN, client PCs, servers, Foundations: Internet access, email, security, software, software and Internet access. The programming platform data storage chosen must also meet suitable generic requirement such as object orientated programming features. For the layers Fundamentals: Industry guidelines, best practices, Code built on top to work effectively, there needs to be a solid library, error handling, membership, testing, and reliable infrastructure underlying the systems and documentation processes built on top. Features: Online community, dending multiple emails, online forms, extranet, global data access, global file 4.3. Fundamentals access Fundamentals are a combination of software Future: Mobile features, new technologies, expansion of development, research and best practices which must be current features applied and put in place before features are developed. 4.1.2. Why a pyramid? 4.3.1. Standards and best practices By showing the higher layers as smaller than the layers Before beginning development work it’s important to be below, it demonstrates that the size of the underlying aware of, and to follow, best practices in terms of the layer has a direct affect on the size and scope of layer way code is written and technologies are used. While above. For example, if the IT infrastructure can only creating a web application it is also sensible to follow cope with 25 concurrent database connections then the current web standards, essential for compatibility, layers built on top of those foundations will also be maintainability and long-term success of a project. limited, unless the Foundations layer expands. There are a large number of existing websites which The pyramid model has no units of measurement and make use of proprietary software on their sites. This is can therefore be scaled to fit any size of web enablement something that should be avoided wherever possible to project. The higher layers will only ever be able to grow ensure that web applications will work on a wide variety if the underlying layers allow them to do so. of computers in different countries. 4.3.2. Code Library By developing an organisation-wide code library, it gives new projects a head start as there’s already a foundation of code that can be used to perform common tasks. Rather than rewriting the database access code for each application it can be useful to have a number of common methods for selecting, inserting, updating and deleting database records. By putting this code into a library it also means that any changes in the data layer don’t require a rewrite of existing applications, only the library needs to be altered. 4.3.3. Error handling Errors and exceptions should be dealt with appropriately. Showing the user the raw error message is a security risk and won’t be of any use to the majority of users. The Figure 3. Direction of expansion and progress most friendly and secure approach is to display a friendly error message to the user whilst alerting the The converging tip of the pyramid demonstrates that development team of the error in as much detail as the possibilities for future progress are going to be finite possible. As well as a general error message for and limited by the lower layers. The wider and more unexpected errors there should also be specific error supportive the rest of the pyramid is, the further away messages for expected errors, such as a temporary the limiting tip becomes. problem connecting to a database. 4.3.4. Membership In order to provide many of the features of a modern website it’s essential to have a system for allowing
  • 6. anonymous visitors to become authenticated members. 4.4.2. Sending Multiple Emails The most flexible approach is to assign one or more roles to a user. This allows access to be granted to a user to Without a suitable system for sending bulk emails, the they can perform a restricted action. only alternative is often to send a standard email using the “To”, “Cc” or “Bcc” fields to hold multiple 4.3.5. Testing addresses. As well as exposing the email addresses of other recipients it’s also more likely to be flagged as Testing should be done throughout the development of spam and also comes across as a lot less personal. each module as well as before the module goes live. Ideally there needs to be a way of easily sending large Web applications have the unique and often awkward numbers of emails, to customise them for the user and feature that they may be used on a range of browsers, for them to be sent as individual messages. There are a operating systems and devices. Browser testing is an number of applications and websites which can do this important but often overlooked part of the testing for an organisation but for advanced customisation and process. If possible an application should also be tested control a custom application might need to be written. by users who aren’t directly involved with the project. 4.4.3. Online Forms 4.3.6. Documentation Online forms have a variety of uses, from an online job Documentation and comments inline with code is a very application form to a request for literature. quick and easy way of documenting a large and constantly changing project. There are documentation The care and attention which different users take generators available for both Java and the C# when completing forms varies considerably. Where programming language which take specially formatted possible the use of free text fields should be limited and comments in code and convert them to a more easily dropdown selection lists or tick boxes should be used readable format, commonly HTML. Wikis are another instead. The problem with traditional approaches to useful method for documenting systems as they are easy validation is that each time a new validation check is to edit, are accessible via the web and changes can be added to a form, it increases the strictness of the rolled back. validation procedure. For forms with many data items, this may stop the form from being completed and result in a confused user and an email or phone call to the 4.4. Features administrator asking for help. The features of the framework are split into a number of A solution to this is to keep existing validation modules. This approach is suited to small organisations methods, but not to restrict the form from being for a number of reasons. Taking a modular approach to submitted even if there are validation problems. The web enablement allows the work to be broken down into intention is to encourage as many valid entries as manageable work units. Each module can be treated as a possible but not to make the process so rigid that there’s separate project and should only rely on previously no way of submitting a form which has failed some completed modules of the framework foundations. By validation checks. concentrating on one module at a time, it reduces the complexity of ensuring that new systems are compatible 4.4.4. Global data access with existing systems. Any existing modules should have been documented and tested before new modules are An extranet allows an organisation to have a central developed. As charities can’t always afford to make information repository for all web users. As the entry large investments for a single large project then modular requirements for an extranet are low, it’s a good idea for development can allow funding to be gained gradually, any organisation to implement one if they have the as confidence in the success of each web enabled module technical capabilities. grows. The web enablement of a database may be required for many different purposes: Allowing volunteers and 4.4.1. Online Community overseas staff to view and edit data; letting people book places at an event; recording the results of an online An increasingly popular way of attracting regular visits questionnaire; displaying data on a website to show to a site is to make sure that it contains fresh and current status or historical data. regularly updated content. Forums and message boards are a proven way of providing regularly updated content, Before the arrival of the Internet the only way to by encouraging the users to contribute themselves. transfer data from one site to another was to physically Forums can also increase the sense of community, which transport it on disk, tape or optical media. The Internet in turn leads to a valuable form of free marketing – word allows sharing of data to be performed between multiple of mouth. sites in a much faster and easier way than before. A common method is to allow direct access to files, usually through the Internet using FTP or via the web using HTTP. It’s important to ensure that, before this is
  • 7. considered, there are adequate security features in place example. Mobile devices tend to have small screens and to make sure that only authorised users can access files a limited number of input controls. TV based web belonging to the organisation. browsers tend to be more basic and restricted than their PC based equivalents and may be controlled by simple remote controls, rather than keyboards or mice. 5. EVALUATION & FURTHER WORK 5.2.2. Text messaging 5.1. Evaluation In Western Europe, there are currently over 381.3 million mobile phone connections [12] and as of Web enablement is a large and complex subject and it’s December 2004 the number of phone in circulation in outside the scope of this paper to provide solutions to all the UK exceeded the UK population size [13]. Many aspects of the subject area. The framework offers a owners of mobile phones don’t have regular access to simple, yet powerful, set of guidelines for web email or even a computer so text messaging offers the enablement and is suitable for many organisations, not ability to communicate with a much larger potential just small charities. audience. 5.1.1. Did it meet aims and objectives? The framework has been proven as a suitable web 6. REFERENCES enablement methodology in a business critical environment. The framework is intended as a guideline [1] A. Goatman, “Giving (in) to the Internet – Results of and would need to be adapted for different organisations, 2004 e-communications survey,” Manchester Business the framework pyramid model allows for this with no School, 2004 mention of specific features, sizes or platforms that must be used. The key concept of the framework is ordered [2] A. Spigelman and E. Evans, “Virtual Promise – From progress. Rhetoric to Reality, A report on charities’ use of the Internet between 2000-2004,” nfpSynergy, September 5.1.2. What makes the framework unique? 2004 Unlike existing frameworks for web enablement, this [3] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, World framework has been developed from the ground up for Wide Web Consortium (W3C) charitable organisations. It concentrates on the most important aspects of web enablement and assumes that [4] J. Wyatt, “E-enabling the voluntary and community costs must be kept low. The framework doesn’t make sectors”, Hall Aitken, November 2001 any assumptions about existing infrastructure which must be in place, it’s also possible to use the framework [5] D. Wilcox and T. Grunwald, “Avoiding the model if web enablement work has already been started technology trap”, Making The Net Work; as the pyramid structure still applies. http://www.makingthenetwork.org/tools/matrix.htm A successful implementation of the framework by [6] C. C. Selby, “Better performance from ‘nonprofits’”, GAP Activity Projects has been entered and shortlisted Harvard Business Review, 56(5), pp. 92-98, 1978 for the Computing Awards 2005 in the Voluntary Sector Project of the Year3 category. The awards are nationally [7] Cravens, J. (2002), “Barriers to being online”, Coyote recognised in the IT sector and a feature article about the Communications; project has been published in the press and online. http://web.archive.org/web/20040205162500/http://coyot ecom.com/online1.html 5.2. Further work [8] Data Protection Act 1998 5.2.1. The mobile web [9] Disability Discrimination Act 1995 The growth of the mobile phone market in the UK and overseas shows there is an increasing demand for web [10] K. Miyata, J. Boase et al., “The Mobile-izing applications to be made available for mobile use. By the Japanese: Connecting to the Internet by PC and end of May 2001, Japan had over 40 million people Webphone in Yamanashi”, 2003 accessing the Internet through their mobile phones [10], 71% of the total number of web users [11]. In addition to [11] Trintech Group, “Statistics for Mobile Commerce”, mobile devices there are now a number of consumer ePaynews.com, 2005; devices which have been designed or adapted for http://www.epaynews.com/statistics/mcommstats.html Internet access, digital TV set top boxes being a major All web addresses referred to in this paper were verified 3 http://www.computingawards.net/shortlist.asp?id=0 on 18 September 2005.