Thursday, May 14, 2009 - 13:06
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Last week I had the privilege of joining 10 other CiviCRM enthusiasts, along with a facilitator (Adam Hyde from FLOSS Manuals) for the CiviCRM Book Sprint. It was a fantastic experience on many different levels. More than anything else, it was great to meet in person and interact face-to-face with members of the core team and active members in the community—many of whom I’ve had forum-based contact with for several years.

In between (and often during) the writing, I had great opportunity to talk through how people have used and implemented CiviCRM, enriching my own understanding of the software and the possible capabilities it provides.

Both those discussions and the writing process itself made me appreciate even more how robust and flexible CiviCRM can be in meeting the diverse needs of non-profit organizations. As each chapter went through revisions, each reviewer brought their experience of how the software has been used, broadening and deepening the content and usefulness of the chapters.

The writing process was challenging, but also a lot of fun. At times I’d look at the clock and be amazed at how much time it took to get through the first draft of a single chapter. But we kept with it, and though we all had a list of additional things that we would have loved to see in the book, we were very pleased with the final product as a thorough overview of CiviCRM, its functions, and examples of how it can be used.

Early in the development process, well before the book sprint itself, the team had some lengthy discussion about who this book should be geared toward. It’s worth reflecting on that discussion now that the book is complete.

We had generally discussed four potential audiences: end users (staff who are interacting with contacts on a daily basis), administrators (responsible for setting up events, website pages, configuration), implementers (installing, importing data, handling the initial configuration and testing), and developers (programmers who are extending or customizing the software). While wanting to speak at some level to all four audiences, the consensus was that we were most centering on administrators and implementers, with a desire to make it readable enough that end users with an interest in “going deeper” into the software will be able to easily do so.

Looking back, I think we did a pretty good job at writing the content for that target group. There are some important chapters in the beginning that seek to discuss how CiviCRM can be used, and then go into some detail about how to think through database transition, understand the different ways CiviCRM can organize and capture data, and what key steps should be followed when working through the migration process. The contact management features, central to all of what CiviCRM does, are presented after these introductory sections, allowing potential implementers a chance to see how the interface is organized and how key concepts such as relationships and groups are visualized.

The next set of chapters deal with the four major components, and go into detail on how to understand and implement the features they provide. This includes the configuration necessary to get each component up and running, the administrative functions for each, and how to bring the features to your website for constituents.

I’m excited at the potential benefit to existing and prospective CiviCRM users. I’m also hopeful that future iterations of the book will have an opportunity to cover still more ground and share more examples of how CiviCRM is being used.

One additional comment on the sprint itself—it’s clear that it would not have come together without the help of Adam Hyde, our facilitator (and owner of FLOSS Manuals). He made us push on, come to decisions and conclusions, and where necessary, trim content. He graciously put up with our moments of stubbornness, and really helped us focus on the big picture.

-Brian Shaughnessy

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