As a former shelter volunteer and staffer (and now chief product officer for ShelterBuddy animal shelter management software), I know firsthand that technology is a huge asset to shelters and rescues. The right software package can help you maintain donor and animal data, send emails to supporters, schedule volunteer shifts, manage social media accounts and a slew of other tasks. But finding the technology that works for your shelter or rescue group’s specific needs can be overwhelming.
That’s why I joined the Human Animal Support Services’ tools and technology working group and why one of our first goals was to facilitate knowledge sharing about software helpful to the field. We discussed at length how to achieve this goal and agreed that a self-service resource, which we as a group of technology-focused practitioners could help seed with content, would be an excellent place to start. Although general technology review sites do exist, at the time, there was nothing focused on the needs of animal service organizations, which convinced us we were on the right track.
The result was the HASS Technology Catalog, which brings together information about technologies commonly used in our field, enabling animal welfare professionals to locate and assess the best tools to help them improve their organizations and grow their impacts—and to learn from others through real-world case studies.
Many of the group members’ day jobs (we all volunteer our time with the technology working group) involves working to develop, use or maintain technology systems in the animal welfare world. As such, most of us are big believers in an Agile development process that encourages iteration and getting functionality released quickly rather than long-drawn-out planning and development cycles.
With this as a guiding principle, we identified the key features we wanted in a system: There needed to be a way for anyone to easily contribute content; there needed to be a simple interface to search that content; and the system needed to operate on a free platform and not require a lot of our team members’ time to build and maintain.
Relying solely on the free tiers of Airtable and Google sites for the database and front end, respectively, as well as help from some engineers willing to donate their time, we built and delivered a prototype of the catalog in early 2020.
While the list of technologies is an excellent resource, the case studies provide a more detailed overview of how an organization successfully used a system in their lifesaving efforts. These real-life stories can be incredibly valuable to learn what’s working well for others in the field.
Then we got to work using the catalog like any user would, entering as much content as possible to ensure the first version would be useful to both a user looking to browse as well as someone wishing to contribute. We brainstormed an initial list of technologies by topic (i.e., shelter management, adoptions, foster care), divided it up to source additional information about each technology, and added our findings to the catalog, creating a more robust document. What began as a database with about 60 technologies has since doubled in size.
In the current version of the catalog, users can:
- Browse technologies by topic and access the information researched by the working group volunteers, as well as any submitted case studies.
- Submit technology for inclusion in the catalog, providing data points such as a brief description and pricing model, as well as a review.
- Submit a case study to share an experience with a particular technology.
- Request a change to ensure that as technologies develop, contacts change and the world turns, so does the catalog!
With over 120 technologies cataloged, we continue to invite new submissions and are especially eager to have organizations or vendors with a partner organization submit case studies. While the list of technologies is an excellent resource, the case studies provide a more detailed overview of how an organization successfully used a system in their lifesaving efforts. These real-life stories can be incredibly valuable to learn what’s working well for others in the field.
We’re currently looking for external engineering support to help us take the catalog to its next major iteration. A few major enhancements we’re considering include enhancing the user experience by improving the look and feel of the catalog, adding a simple rating system, and creating a quick self-assessment that organizations can use to determine whether a technology is the right fit.
Right now, the best, most helpful ways animal welfare professionals can support the growth of the catalog are by viewing or contributing. Engagement with the tool and increased traffic will help us learn how it can evolve to become even more useful over time and better support organizations like yours.