This case examines how a community of organizations providing service to people experiencing homelessness made use of an electronic mail list. Current economic conditions have encouraged organizations in various sectors—including nonprofits—that might normally compete for scarce resources to collaborate with one another to increase their chances of survival. One set of tools likely to be of value in such relationships includes various online discussion technologies. An examination of this community’s email list use over a three-year period suggests a somewhat complex picture regarding technology use. More specifically, some issues both constrain and enable use. Additionally, seemingly basic and minimal uses of the list provided not only the greatest functionality for the users, but also led to several unanticipated consequences for those involved.
This case examines an interorganizational network of nonprofits and government agencies providing service to individuals currently considered homeless in a large metropolitan area in the southwest United States. This network includes approximately 25 organizations directly or indirectly providing support and services to a fluid population of over 4,000 persons experiencing homelessness—including families, unaccompanied youth, and single men and women. The community studied here is like many others with a network of agencies creating a patchwork of service provision—sometimes working in strong collaborative relationships and sometimes working only with minimal awareness of one another. Despite what was sometimes a shared mission to end homelessness, the provider organizations lacked a number of tools (e.g., website, chat tools, discussion forums, collaboration tools, etc.) to help them better interact with one another.