Every day there are amazing events organized by civil society organizations at the UN offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna that very few groups other than those in the know will ever find out about. Why? Because there is no central calendar of NGO events where folks can find out about what is happening. I’m the bloody communications coordinator for the Conference of NGOs at the UN and I am always finding out about interesting events a week after they have occurred. But this situation might change in the next weeks if I can build a community calendar site for the UN NGO community.
Through some strange turn of events, I have been asked to create a community calendar for NGOs at the United Nations by the DPI NGO Executive Committee. Luckily I know just the tools to use — Zope/Plone to the rescue!
Shockingly, there is no central online place where folks can go to find out what NGO-organized events are going on at the United Nations in New York, much less Geneva or Vienna. Given the thousands of groups who have some kind of accreditation to the UN, and the hundreds of events that get organized a year by NGOs, you would think there would be some website where one could go to find out what is going on. Sadly, that is not the case.
The reality is that a community calendar is one of those tragedies of the commons — something that everyone would find useful but no one wants to build and maintain. And since most NGO and UN websites, including many of the ones that I have worked on, require a staff person whose job is to keep the site updated, no one has been willing to allocate the money and staff time necessary to make it happen.
I am hoping that if I build a basic calendar well enough, one that any group can submit their events to easily, and that a few volunteer event managers can oversee, it can basically run itself. And with a few widgets like paid banner ads and some sponsors it can be financially self-supporting.
Many people have said to me that the most important thing is to control the content on the calendar to make sure the most relevant events are listed. Frankly I think the main challenge will be getting NGO organizers to actual submit events using the online form. Most organizers in my experience just want to send someone an email with a flyer attached as a Word or PDF file and expect someone else to extract the information for the web form.
So the online form has to be as simple and painless as possible.
I would not take on this job normally. There are lots of other great web designers and developers out there who could use the work. But two factors have put this on my plate: (1) there is very little money for this project and (2) it’s really not that hard.
Lots of calendar software is out there, including lots of open source and free software solutions. There are a couple of packages built within Zope/Plone that will do the job. All that is needed is for someone who knows the UN system and the NGO community to customize a package that fits the esoteric characteristics of the UN environment. And of course someone to train, re-train and cajole folks to really use it.
It won’t be beautiful, but it will work.