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Chapter 3 - Environmental Complexity

The Electronic Commons Program provided grantees with the opportunity to extend the value of their knowledge about natural resources through innovative uses of information technology. Some grantees sought to disseminate information by building Web sites; others by creating new Web-based training resources. Others sought to create new communities of practice through combinations of resources such as interactive Web sites, Webinars, and Web-based training (refer to Table 1). Whether their purpose was to reach new audiences or to disseminate knowledge to known partners in a more cost effective manner, each team explored the promise of the Internet as the knowledge-sharing tool of choice.

Innovation
An idea or behavior perceived as new to the individual or adopting organization (Rogers, 1972, Kanter, 1983, Damanpour, 1996).

Along the way each team encountered the well-known challenges of information technology innovation, as well as additional challenges unique to the non-profit environment. These challenges were further complicated by the fact that each team consisted of at least two organizations, often located in geographically distant areas, trying to serve geographically dispersed communities. These additional challenges required each team to establish new ways to collaborate across organizational boundaries and to effectively communicate with partners whose location did not allow frequent face-to-face contact. In the end, a number of the grantees found the logistics of hosting an event (Webinar or Net-meeting) in this new medium to be more of a challenge than engineering the software. Trainers had to be retrained, course materials had to be revamped for the new venue, and participants had to be educated in how to interact with this new media. There were also some surprises along the way. In the case of the Historic Woods project, the archived Webinars became an asynchronous training opportunity. However, for another project a switch in the Webinar host resulted in the loss of archived events, an unforeseen consequence. The success of their efforts makes their stories particularly useful for others embarking on similar projects or working within similar environments.

Table 1.
Eight Technology-based Knowledge Sharing Innovations
Project Name
 
Knowledge Sharing Innovation
 
Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech, Virginia
 
Interactive Web site to educate visitors of the Augusta Springs center, a U.S. Forest Service wetlands and conservation education center on the North River Ranger District, George Washington National Forest.
 
Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) Training for Eastern United States
The Nature Conservancy, Indiana
 
Informational and training materials to be used for remote training workshops.
 
Demonstration of a Community of Practice to Enhance Economic Development
Northeast Minnesota (NE MN) Forestry Industry, Minnesota
 
A community of practice for the Northeastern Minnesota Forest Products Action Team and the regional wood products industry using a variety of means.
 
Forest Resources and Ecology: A Distance Education Network Model
Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin
 
An interactive educational program for school districts to inform teachers, students and parents about the issues facing the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.
 
Native Plants Learning Network: Propagating restoration through technology
The Nature Conservancy, Michigan
 
A multimedia online learning network focused on native plant conservation and restoration.
 
Promise of Place Interactive Web site
Shelburne Farms and Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
 
An interactive Web site that provides a forum for Place-Based education models.
 
Sustaining White-tailed Deer and Forests: An Electronic Resource Center
Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia, Georgia
 
A Web site to carry on informed dialog and develop community-based solutions to the problems of local wildlife.
 
Web-based Learning and Technology Transfer of Inspection Methods for Historic Wood Structures
Natural Resource Research Institute (NRRI), University of Minnesota, Minnesota
 
A community of practice for the inspection of historic wood structures.