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Social Computing Technologies: Supporting Volunteer Bridge-Building Work?

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Bridging between organizations and the public: Volunteer coordinators’ uneasy relationship with social computing. 
By Amy Voida, Ellie Harmon, and Ban Al-Ani (2012)
Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012). Austin, TX, May 5–12. New York: ACM Press. Available online: http://www.ics.uci.edu/~amyvoida/Site/Whats_New/Entries/

In this Research to Practice, author Laurie Mook reviews the use of social computing technologies by volunteer coordinators at nonprofit organizations. Mook looks at research on use and non-use of technology, based on interviews with 23 volunteer coordinators from three different metropolitan areas of the western United States. The study was conducted by Amy Voida, Ellie Harmon and Ban Al-Ani of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

As background, the researchers take the perspective that the work of volunteer coordinators is bridge-building work—bringing together numerous public constituencies as well as constituencies within their organizations. And one might expect that this class of work would be well supported by social software, some of which has been found to enable bridging social capital. However, the researchers find that, in many ways, this class of technology fails to adequately support volunteer coordinators’ bridge-building work.  The study then offers a number of strategies for bridge-building via social computing technologies, reviews the numerous challenges faced by volunteer coordinators in their use of these technologies, and presents opportunities for designing social software to better support bridge-building between organizations and the public.