eBird, the Nature Conservancy, and California’s Central Valley flyway: a Data Analytics story

Sometimes a story crosses my desk that makes me sit up and wonder about synchronicity, and the world.

We have the NY Times delivered on the weekend and pick up a copy from the stands every Tuesday, for the Science Times. This week “Paying Farmers to Welcome Birds” caught my eye in just this way. (link to the full article by Jim Robbins below)

The article starts:

“WHEATLAND, Calif. — The Central Valley was once one of North America’s most productive wildlife habitats, a 450-mile-long expanse marbled with meandering streams and lush wetlands that provided an ideal stop for migratory shorebirds on their annual journeys from South America and Mexico to the Arctic and back.”

Now, the Central Valley is one of the worlds great agricultural resources and 95% of the wetlands are gone. A win for our dining room table but a tragedy for the sandpipers, whimbrels, dunlins, snow geese and others who relied on those wetlands for foraging for eons.

Enter the Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their BirdReturns Project.

Cornell’s eBird app allows birders to crowd source their sightings, which has spiked the amount of bird-by-bird data available up and down the Central Valley. The Conservancy developed the farm-by-farm and farmer-by-farmer data.

BirdReturns then identifies spaces where “pop up” wetlands would most help out our migrating friends, and offers farmers compensation to flood their plots to just the right depth at just the right time.

Ingenious and beautiful, right? A ray of hope project, and a glimpse of the better world that we could / can / will bring about?

This story especially made me tingle because Lighthouse Technology Associates is in the early stages of a partnership with Andrew Means and The Impact Lab which allows us to offer data analytics solutions. As you will see, for Andrew the key is in the questions. The question here was “given the Central Valley as it is now, how can we best help the migrating birds who always have and still do rely on it?”. The beginning of the answer was in the data. The answer was in the actions.

A tip o the cap to the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, the birders who reported in, the farmers who participated, the donors who funded it, and to Jim Robbins and the New York Times who brought us the story.

The full story is here: Paying Farmers to Welcome Birds

Its a great and heartening read, recommended

Case Study: The 2013 AFSC Fellows and Interns On Air

Thanks to the generosity of their donors, the AFSC was able to offer yearlong positions to a group of six young activists. A diverse group, they worked in programs East Jerusalem, Cambridge, Newark, Seattle and Chicago. LTA worked with the Integration and Impact Team to prepare for and use a Google Hangout on Air to let these Fellows & Interns tell the story of their year of service – and the impact that this time had on them and their vision for their life’s work. The On Air format allowed this discussion to go out over YouTube live, and to be archived there.

Here is a short clip from one of the Fellows sharing a story from his work with the AFSC:

Daniel Kaplan talks about the social media campaign against TIAA-CREF

Reflections on our work

paul_cezanne_reflectionsStop and consider the words Information Technology. Forget for a minute what IT means to us today and just consider the 2 words together – an infinite domain, right? Daunting

When I started working with computer systems back in 1975 the work was thought of as computing. The ENIAC, which was built right here in Philadelphia, was famously used for computing trajectory and range for artillery.

I started work with Burroughs Federal and Systems Group and already then computer systems were deeply enmeshed in communications. I was assigned to a group building an early encrypted communication switch for Canada’s military, including ships at sea.

Now our computers, even our phones, continue to compute and calculate – but they also do so much more. They bring us access to vast realms of information, and they bring us access to each other.

My career in IT has led me down many wondrous and fortunate paths, but it was only six years ago when I joined, in a consulting capacity, Bob Goodman’s team at the American Friends Service Committee that I began to gain true insight into the ways that the combination of the new technologies and time-tested procedures can transform the possibilities for effective teamwork.

Clinton Pettus, the recently retired Associate General Secretary for Programs for the AFSC, put it this way, “I want the staff to have access to everything they need to know, and I want everyone on the same page.” Simple as that

Lighthouse Technology Associates is using what we have learned at the AFSC as a springboard to our focused set of services. We simply want you, your staff, and your close community; to have everything they need to know close at hand, and to be all on the same page.

We have seen this be transformative.

Back to where I began this entry, Information Technology. Our focus has provided us with a useful vantage on the world of IT. We concern ourselves with how good Intranets are designed, built and deployed; how technologies can be deployed to support meetings that work; and how people can use technologies to learn, and learn from each other.

Not so daunting. A pleasure in fact!

International Collaboration: of pound keys and hash keys

When working with International Collaboration, as with many things in life, if is important that you stay alert to what you think you know – but do not know.

We were working to connect a client in Britain to a monthly steering committee call that was hosted in the States. For a couple of meetings we were encountering a mysterious issue – key sequences we knew worked, would not work for her.

“Enter your Access Code followed by the pound key”. “You can unmute with a pound 7”.

These simple commands worked for everyone but for her. We would finally dial out and dial her in, but this entailed international calling charges and we kept racking our brains.

Finally it came to light, in Britain there is a £ key. In Britain, they call # the hash key. Poor Patricia was following our advice and using her pound key, with poor results.

Now we know

Happens all the time, right? Just when we think we know …

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is a hot topic across sectors including branding, marketing, business, academia, philanthropy, government, technology, and media and has been named one of the top digital trends for 2015.

LTA has a variety of ways to use technology to help you tell your stories, and to connect them across your varied audiences. 

2  0  1  5    a very short story, told in Yammer      :- )

Yammer at the AFSC - Lunar New Year - fun!


The Technologies we deploy include:


Google Hangouts, including Hangouts On Air

Digital Story Telling: Sway from Microsoft

Social Media in your Enterprise: Yammer

Audio Conference Platforms

Skype for Business



Making Connections

We partner with you to develop a culture of connection; this results in excellence in the aspects of your work that hinge on communication, collaboration and teamwork. This results in excellence in communication, collaboration and teamwork across your organization, and with your partners.

Services and projects related to our work in building your culture of connection include:

Meeting Support Services – We make your meetings work

Cross Organization Conversations

International Communication and Collaboration

Managing virtual connections to streamline the Interview Process

Meeting Ready Offices / Meeting Ready Staff

Timezone friendly training & support from our office in Vienna

Case Study: Building the Framework for a Lasting Peace – a Cross Organization Conversation


LTA uses WebEx as our primary web conferencing platform. WebEx is an intuitive platform providing a combination of power and user-friendly features out of the box.

Features include:

  • Integrated computer audio & phone audio
  • Uploaded documents & annotation
  • Screen sharing & application sharing
  • Video conferencing
  • Collaborative Whiteboard
  • Robust recordings
  • Easy accessibility for Macs, Windows PCs, smart phones and tablets

We provide WebEx support across our clients for a diverse range of meeting types including working groups, rounds of interviews, all staff presentations, workshop series and Cross Organization Conversations.

In 2012, LTA initiated the switch to WebEx at the American Friends Service Committee and have worked closely with the IT team to execute a comprehensive multi-stage roll out. Now, most meeting that benefit from virtual connections are held on WebEx.

Staff satisfaction is high, frustration is low.

We provide ongoing support but WebEx has also increasingly allowed staff to become more independent, many are scheduling and running their own meetings, with support on an as-needed basis

Hangouts on Air

Google Hangouts offer an online environment where a group of up to 10 locations can connect and interact with video, audio, shared content and fun special effects.

Google Hangouts On Air extend the power of Hangouts by letting the producer connect the session to a designated YouTube channel where the presentation is  both broadcast and archived.

On Air meetings that are topical, well thought through, planned, prepared for, and executed can deliver premium content and provide a TV-like effect at a fraction of the cost.

Sessions are both broadcast to and archived on your YouTube channel, building a rich record of your work over time.

Why Hangouts on Air

The infrastructure, Google’s On Air platform, is reliable and free. Your audience is virtually unlimited, anyone who can connect to YouTube can join.  The audience can see and hear the discussion and any content that is shared; and you can supplement the experience with chat, Twitter, even a dial in number where questions can be taken and relayed to the participants.

Broadcasting On Air provides a live, interactive experience for your audience. This allows you to open a vivid, engaging, affordable channel that helps tells the story of your work, and its impact. It’s a great way to get your story out and your community involved.

Over time your channel becomes a rich archive of your work, and the history of your organization.

Google Hangouts is a flexible platform that can be deployed in a variety of formats that can include:

  • The in-depth discussion / presentation, where a work group reports back at milestones in their project, or to discuss breaking events
  • The branded online magazine with your host, reporters and guests from around the world
  • Live broadcast that can be branded as “Hangout with Us @…” – for example, @ at the SXSW Conference
  • The performance, presentation, reading, discussion – you name it

We can make this work for you.

Sway, a Digital Storytelling App and Platform from Microsoft

Most recently LTA has launched a pilot project that will introduce Sway as one tool that all staff can use to tell the story of their work in vivid ways. We will start by working with the 2016 class of nine AFSC interns, who will be working in locations across the US and around the world.

Microsoft has developed Sway as their digital storytelling tool. The concept is simple: let user’s create presentations for the Web using text, pictures and videos, regardless of what device they are using (phones, tablets, laptops, PCs and so on).

A key advantage of Sway is that you don’t need to know much about design. You provide the ideas and raw content and Sway’s intelligent design engine creates a polished layout that helps everything flow together. 

Sway, released in August 2015, is the first application to be added to the Office Suite in over a decade.

Here is the vision, get ready to “reimagine how your ideas come to life”