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From October 10-12, 2010, more than 15,000 people from around the world participated in IBM’s online Service Jam. The intent according to IBM, was to begin a global conversation and provide an opportunity to engage each other and develop ideas for bettering the world through service. Participants ranging from former U.S. Presidents and South African tutors to nonprofit advocates and the Case Foundation’s CEO Jean Case, came together in the same forums to share ideas about challenges in the service sector and to explore service as a solution.
5,860 Posts Later
After the Service Jam, IBM engaged researchers to evaluate the posts, polls, messages and discussion threads to identify major takeaways. The System of Service report offers insights valuable to individuals and executives alike. The report features summaries of major conversations threads and more importantly an analysis and interpretation of the group’s conversations.
The Jam hosted eight different discussion categories, including: empowering individuals, global challenges, local action, increasing value and impact of service, progress through collaboration, quantum leaps in service, the digital revolution in service, measuring social impact and scaling impact.
From the many different areas of discussion evaluators found four key areas that participants repeatedly noted as the areas of greatest challenge and that held the most opportunity. Taking a closer looks at these themes in particular, evaluators identified the most salient points and honed in on the underlying issue within each area. (Report excerpts are included below.)
Service Learning—Cultivating a culture of service through education
Across generations, geography and ideology, the value of creating a culture of service is well understood. It is the notion that with the right combination of leadership and planning, a desire to serve can become part of the cultural fabric; a regional, or even national characteristic. And while Service Jam participants had many ideas on how best to do this, by far the most commonly advocated strategy was to integrate service into school curricula and make it a central part of how children learn and teachers teach.
Volunteer Management—Recruiting, developing and retaining service’s most valuable resources
Volunteers are not free. In fact, as many Jam participants pointed out, they can be quite costly when not managed properly. That’s why so many contributions to the Jam called for a more thoughtful, structures approach to the recruitment, development, management and retention of volunteers around the world. They asked for a more disciplined process for matching supply and demand, professionalizing the role of the volunteer manager, and developing the right incentives and rewards. And most of this work gets done during program development, before the first volunteer is even engaged.
Partnership—Building the foundation of successful collaboration
Though the concept is nothing new, the urgency for effective collaboration across sectors and borders is building behind a weak global economy and scarce resources for businesses, governments, and nonprofits alike. The result has been a rash of mergers between NGO’s, and some hastily arranged partnerships designed to share resources and reduce costs. But as always, successful partnerships require careful planning, common goals, and rigorous management. And Jam participants had plenty of advice for each major constituent of the services sector.
Measuring Impact—The elusive science of evaluating social return
Perhaps no subject in the Jam was more contentious than that of measuring the impact of service. There were dozens of different suggestions, mathematical formulas, case studies and more. And there were more than a few Jam participants who felt measuring impact was a costly distraction from delivering quality services. Ultimately, however, the back-and-forth discussions did offer a rich source of content for a more systematic, comprehensive, and cost-effective approach to measuring impact.
Is Anyone Listening?
IBM published the results with the hope that, leaders within the service community, private sector and government listen to and understand what Jam participants had to say and that this collective thought will lead to action.
IBM report authors note that, “The success of these systems does not always require oppressive structure or regulation. It does not even require that all of the constituents agree on the most importance causes or the best approach. Instead, the key to success for these systems is defining and working toward a single design point, a common goal to which all decisions are mapped. And in the service community that goal is already defined and shared by all: provide better service to the people who need it.”
For its own part, IBM plans to commit to initiatives in the following areas:
- Service Learning: convene a group of leaders from across sectors to help make service learning an integral part of national academic standards in the United States.
- Measuring Impact: donate technology and resources to the collaborative development of measurement tools to help define service indicators and help nonprofits measure success.
- Volunteer Management: leverage the company’s project management methodologies to help nonprofits prepare to receive volunteers, and corporations to offer them.