I had the opportunity to work with NDI’s technology and Latin America teams last month to train our Nicaragua-based staff on Civi -- a contact relationship management (CRM) system that makes up 1/6th of NDI’s DemTools technology suite. While it was not the first time NDI’s DC-based staff had traveled abroad to train users on this platform, this training took a slightly different approach. Instead of focusing on building the capacity of Civi users, we identified a local staff member who could serve as a Nicaragua-based Civi trainer. This “training of trainers” strategy addresses a key barrier to adoption that may be the final piece in the puzzle that will allow Civi to scale around the world.
Civi is based on an open source technology, namely CiviCRM, which is one of the most widely adopted open source CRMs in the United States, but it has not enjoyed the same scale in less-developed countries where NDI works.
NDI’s modified version of the software, and its Software as a Service (SaaS) platform, DemCloud, have sought to address barriers to scale that have limited adoption of the tool in developing countries. Specifically, NDItech has sought to lower the barriers to international adoption by: 1) expanding support for multiple languages, 2) offering the software at a cost that is manageable for NDI’s partners, and 3) taking on the technology burden that would otherwise fall on small organizations with no technology expertise. But handing a partner a piece of technology, telling them it’s free, and assuring them that they will be able to use it in their native language is not enough to make them expert users.
My trip to Nicaragua revealed two additional barriers to scale that must also be met.
Before they decide to make the leap to adoption, potential users need to be excited by the tool and how it can help them be more effective and efficient with jobs they are already doing. NDI partners in Nicaragua had an appreciation for how technologies like this might be able to make their lives easier, but they wanted to learn the detail of the capabilities of the Civi platform and how it compared to the platforms they currently use, such as Google Forms, Microsoft Outlook, and MailChimp to name a few.
My experience in Nicaragua also taught me that potential users are also very concerned about privacy. Tracking contacts and their activities -- a task that Civi excels at -- is inherently sensitive and could become problematic if the “wrong” people got their hands on it.
Certified Civi Trainers
Once potential users have bought into the platform, there is still a significant learning curve to becoming an expert user. Civi -- even the simplified version developed by NDI -- is a complex platform with a lot of interesting and useful features, but it also has a number of quirks that could become problematic for the uninitiated user. Having qualified Civi trainers work with partners to implement and customize the platform sets them off on the right direction and provides them with ongoing support they need to become accustomed to the platform.
NDItech has made great strides to reduce technical barriers that are associated with adopting Civi. I believe that the last remaining barriers to scale for this product are human in nature and will require a human-centered solution. Civi is a powerful piece of software that -- as much as if not more than any of the other DemTools IMHO -- has the potential to make NDI’s partners more effective and efficient in their work. Positive feedback from the Nicaragua pilot indicates that a “Training of Trainers” strategy, combining marketing meetings for potential users with building the capacity of a cadre of expert trainers in the field, has potential to be an effective strategy to drive adoption of the platform. Onwards to scale!