International projects require a well-designed management framework to succeed. This article highlights 7 essential tools for getting your project or network off to a great start. It also gives an estimate of the time and money you’d be expected to invest in each of these.
In our experience, it’s absolutely essential to establish a good framework for project management from the very start. The time and effort you invest in creating these is paid back manyfold by the time you save searching for information, enforcing guidelines and appeasing members and stakeholders. We identified our 7 favourite tools – in order of importance. Most of these can be started for free and expanded later if need be. Anything missing? Please tell us about your favourite tools.
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1) Mailing List
- Minimum requirements: one managed network mailing list including all members
- Take it further: committee and mailing lists, interest mailing lists, restricted access, sign-up
Especially in the beginning, when motivation runs high, network members are eager to connect, share their profiles and ideas. A mailing list allows them to do so, and become active participants from the very start. At the same time, a mailing list ensures that email addresses are not disclosed, that people are not accidentally excluded, and that contacts are kept up to date.
- You’ll need to invest: 0,3 day setup, 1 hr per list, 1 hr per month for management
- Tool Costs: free options available – up to EUR 200 for professional services
2) Terms of Reference
- Minimum requirements: MoU, roles, IPR, governance, reporting rules, budget & fiinancial Rules
- Take it further: network handbook, reimbursement rules, membership & observer rules, communication & network identity
It’s hard to change people’s behaviour and routines once they become active. It takes a lot more time to correct actions due to unclear or incomplete information than it does to draft, circulate, and approve a set of project guidelines.
- You’ll need to invest: from 3 days (using existing network doc.s & DaVinci templates)
- Tool Costs: fee
3) Schedule for Network Administration
- Minimum requirements: management of requests, budges, reporting, tools and lists
- Take it further: internal and external communication & engagement (newsletters, social networks, platform)
It’s difficult to set aside the right amount of time for network administration. Sometimes, nothing seems to happen for long periods of time, while at other times, things become very intense. However, to ensure that small issues do not develop into problems over time, it is useful to dedicate a few hours each week to network administration and maintenance. This may increase when including internal and external communication tasks.
- You’ll need to invest: from 0,25 days per week
- Tool Costs: free
4) Internal Communication: Newsletter
- Minimum requirements: regular centralised project update every 2nd month
- Take it further: guest editors, automatic feed from membership institutions, inclusion of non-network opportunities
The larger the network, the bigger the need for communication. Members can easily feel excluded or under-informed, especially in multidisciplinary, international expert networks. In addition, newsletters act as reminders and motivation: without regular communication, network activities fade in the background and people find it harder to dedicate any time to these activities.
- You’ll need to invest: from 0,5 days per newsletter
- Tool Costs: free up to 500 subscribers, then ca. EUR 10-20 per month
5) Network Platform
- Minimum requirements: document sharing, calendar, profiles, updates
- Take it further: working groups, media sharing, public/private sections, dedicated address, integration in website
Most of the tools described here can be made more effective and easier to manage when integrated into a membership platform. In addition, a good platform becomes a ‘virtual home’ for the network, creates a shared identity and a place of reference. It provides space for shared documents, working groups, discussions and link exchange.s From private groups on existing networks (google+), to ready-made platforms (ning) or self-created communities (buddy press, elgg), there are options for all shapes and sizes.
- You’ll need to invest: from 1 programming (customised & owned), from 1 day set-up, 1 day per month maintenance
- Tool Costs: we host dedicated networks for free, google+ free, ning from ca. EUR 20 per month; domain from EUR 5 per year
6) External Communication: Social Networks and Engagement
- Minimum requirements: identifying 1-3 key channels, setting communication focus, team, schedule
- Take it further: channel integration, link to partner channels, content management, network identity
Using digital marketing and social media channels allows networks to achieve high communication impact on a small budget. These tools can help disseminate network information, reach new stakeholders and – most importantly – engage with them. Finding the right tools and managing them in a coherent, strategic and effective way are the key benefits of creating a ‘digital engagement platform’ – rather than just signing up for a few social media channels.
- You’ll need to invest: from 1 day on strategy, from 1 day set-up, from 0,5 day per week management
- Tool Costs: free up to ca. 4 channels for coordination, measuring, monitoring
7) Tools for Network Administration
- Minimum requirements: scheduling, opinion polls, registrations
- Take it further: surveys, feedback, proposals, reporting, budget submission, receipt management
Digital tools and interfaces can make it easier to collect standardised information from all network members and ensure that basic admin, financial and reporting mechanisms are mainly automatised. Online databases can be useful to collect and sort structured data – evaluations, polls, receipt uploads and report submissions.
- You’ll need to invest: from 1 day set-up, 0,5 days induction/ handover
- Tool Costs: free for up to 100 submissions per month, then from ca. EUR 100 per year
In Summary: Do it Now
As you can see, all it takes is time. Invest roughly one week of work at the beginning of your project in setting up these tools, and you will be spending a lot less time on administrating and a lot more time creating. Got some money to spare to invest in project management? There are sophisticated tools for every taste and purse out there. However, rather than spending too much time and money on the ‘perfect tools’, you may be better off improvising until practice shows you exactly what you need. Why not spend the money on a good kick-off meeting that includes not just the project heads, but also the local administrators instead?
Over to you
What are your favourite tools and processes for international project management? Did we forget some? Let us know what you think by commenting below or getting in touch.
Through its consultancy services, the DaVinci Institute supports European organisations, projects and collaborations through tailored management, training and dissemination services. By sharing our experience and providing network management support, we can help you to focus on your network content, not on administration. We’re happy to share our favourite services with you, or help you setting up yours. Contact us at email@example.com or get in touch here.