Project HQ Update


by Paul Hansen

When I think about the CTC VISTA Project, this is the picture that I am playing with in my head. Look at all those nodes! Big nodes, little nodes, nodes nodes nodes. There's no mistaking it— it's a network diagram. It may well be that the cult of web 2.0 has a grip on me (everything is networking and networking is everything) but that does not mean that this is not a useful way to look at the Project and where it is heading. I think it is.

To some degree we have always been a networking project. Our most basic function is placing VISTAs with organizations. We're certainly continuing to do that. In September we placed 28 new VISTAs and 3 more are coming on board in mid-November, bringing our current total to 47 members. And we're aiming at bringing on 16 more in January! (See for a list of all current VISTAs and for a list of organizations that are currently recruiting.) So we are matchmakers at the very least. But isn't matchmaking the basis of networking? It is! We've been at networking from the get-go but within the last year the networking aspect of the Project seems to have become more vital.

Beginning last year we introduced Project priority areas and they significantly changed the way operate. Previously we had been placing our VISTA members at any CTC or related organization that came to us with an appropriate capacity-building project and the ability to handle the paperwork. The priority areas established specific (programmatic) guidelines that projects had to meet in order to qualify for participation. It seemed like a straightforward albeit significant change in operations but unexpectedly the priority areas put us on the networking fast-track and we are still adjusting to the implications.

Why did the priority areas make such a difference? It's because a more focused structure makes it much more feasible for us to provide substantive (priority area specific) support and training to the our VISTAs. And, in a tighter network of VISTAs, members are more likely to support each other in more general ways, as they face the challenges of VISTA service. It really is the focus that makes the big difference so it's not too surprising that the priority area group that functioned most effectively last year was the one that was most well defined and whose members were all working on very similar things: the digital media for youth group.

So the question for us has become how do we establish focused priority areas in a way that supports rather than stifles organizations that are doing the work? That's a hard question— too hard for me. There are other people are who are better qualified to set these programmatic agendas. Luckily we know some of them.

We know them because we have also been engaged in networking with the national organizations working in the field (CTCNet, , NTEN, etc.) from the outset. Historically we have put our energy building these relationships not so much because it has directly facilitated the matchmaking that is our primary function but because the Project also happened to play a key role in producing the Community Technology Review ( and the Review covered the entire field. Regardless, our current Projects priority areas (community organizing, community networking, digital media, and technical assistance to non-profits) align closely with the work of those organizations. As we pursue more focused program-specific partnerships these relationships may be strengthened. We may also find new organizations with which to collaborate and our priority areas may change. We're not as committed to our current priority areas as we are to achieving the synergy created by establishing programmatic ally coordinated VISTA working groups.

To that end, we have recently established an exciting new partnership with NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network. In the upcoming (January 2007) round, NTEN members will given priority for 8 of the 16 available VISTA slots. And, we look forward to further defining and developing this partnership and are eagerly exporting other partnerships that we expect will enable the Project to make significant progress towards achieving a more focused set of priority areas for our next major round of placements in the summer of 2007.