Children's Voice July/August 2009

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Handel Information Technologies

One On One

Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Julie Ohm Chang, Senior Child Welfare Data and IT Specialist, National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology

How did you get involved with CWLA?

I have a master's degree in child development and worked as a parent counselor and early childhood educator. I've always been interested in technology, so after grad school I began another master's degree in information systems. I heard CWLA had an opening with the National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology and thought it would be the perfect blend of my interests. I started at CWLA in 2000 and have done some interesting work, such as developing the fourth version of the National Data Analysis System (http://ndas.cwla.org). I'm now helping manage the Resource Center and taking the lead on some technology development at CWLA.

What is the Resource Center?

The Resource Center is a cooperative agreement between the Children's Bureau and CWLA. The Children's Bureau has several resource centers focusing on child welfare that provide technical assistance to state, local, and tribal agencies and courts, and we focus on improving outcomes through the use of information technology. We assist agencies with improving data quality, meeting federal data and SACWIS requirements, CFSRs, and court-agency data sharing. But we also provide tips on topics such as mobile technologies and digital dashboards on our website (www.nrccwdt.org) and are currently working on some resources related to social media.

How can members use free technology to get the word out about their work?

There are so many free online applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging software, and YouTube. The thing to remember is that, even though the tools are free, you have to devote staff time and resources to make them work. Think about your goals, and then include these tools as part of your strategy to meet them. Twitter will allow you to strike up conversations or watch the buzz about a particular topic. Facebook's Groups and Causes applications are great for raising awareness. If you have a website with good resources, you can use Digg and Delicious-social bookmarking and reading tools-to let people rate and share your articles.

Tools like these can really get people to come to your site and look at your content. If someone interested in your agency says, "I'm reading this" as a Facebook status update with a link to your site, it takes maybe three seconds, and then their whole network of 400 friends will know about it. I've seen a lot of people learn about CWLA's BlogTalkRadio show that way.

What are the benefits of online meetings and trainings?

Obviously they don't require time and money to get to a physical location. And if you combine online events with a chat feature, the conversation doesn't have to be one-way; people can still learn from each other without physically being there.

Another benefit of online meetings is anonymity. Let's say you're having a training on best practices in restraint and seclusion and somebody has an example but they are reluctant to share it. Depending on how the meeting is set up, it can be anonymous, and they could talk more freely about a case.

How does an agency get started in social media?

See how others are using social media. Some CWLA members who were early adopters of social media, like Hamilton County Job and Family Services in Ohio (www.hcjfs.org), have been using Twitter and hosting community chat rooms.

It helps to read examples of social media policies and understand how to deal with negative comments or mistakes. Then experiment with tools to see how they work. Create a group on Facebook and share links or resources. Create a Twitter account, perhaps for personal use, and start following people who are tweeting about interests related to yours. This is a great way to immerse yourself in social media and get ideas for how to leverage it for your organization.

Finally, think about strategies. Use social media as a tool related to a specific goal. At CWLA we have our BlogTalkRadio show, "On the Line with CWLA." It's a great resource, so we're trying to spread the word through social media. First, we are going to get baseline data about how many people are listening. Then we're going to measure any increase in listeners after using Twitter. When you implement something, always measure to see if it's worthwhile.

What is CWLA working on that will impact members?

CWLA recently hosted the Commissioner's Roundtable, and we wanted the commissioners to have a forum for communication after the event. I think commissioners like the roundtable format because they are in a closed room and they can talk openly. We are now providing them with an online way for them to communicate. We created a Groupsite, accessible only to commissioners and directors, with support from a few CWLA staff. They can share information via a discussion board or blog posts. We are considering similar forums for CWLA steering committees and program groups.

We have just begun integrating our membership management system with a redesign of our website. While it is going to take some time, we will have a fresh new website that integrates our social networking and online communications to enhance our offerings and facilitate communication between members.

To comment on this story, e-mail voice@cwla.org.


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