Author Archives: Stephen Blyth

On a recruitment drive – #net2welly

NetSquared Wellington winter event flierThis spring NetSquared Wellington will be hosting a day-long unconference for changemakers, people working in their grassroots communities and communicators in NGOs. We will offer a day for people to learn from each other about putting technology to good use.

There is a team of stellar organisers working on details at the moment, with a notice about a date coming out soon.

In the meantime, we’ve got a programme of lunchtime learning events. These are free, fun and great for networking as well as learning.

If you know of anyone that you think might be interested in attending, you could suggest they look at the NetSquared Wellington meet-up page, or you could give or send them a brochure. Digital versions attached here, or I can post out a hardcopy if this you reckon this will be more convincing.

Upcoming meet-ups:

Cyclists heading on a journey, on social media, Tuesday 26 May 2015
Some successes and secrets from the very active Cycle Aware Wellington.

Social Media Surgery, Wednesday 1 July 2015
Book-in to get one-to-one advice from a social media professional. Co-hosted by the Community Comms Collective (www.communitycomms.org.nz).

Making the most of Google for Nonprofits, Tuesday 28 July 2015
An introduction to Google’s super grant.

RSVP without delay.

Attachment:
NetSquared_Brochure_May2015_PRINT (PDF 1.2MB)

No #net2welly website yet, but we have a plan

NetSquared Wellington website plan: very messy writing on whiteboardWhen I turned up to facilitate the “A new #Net2Welly website in an hour?” meetup yesterday, I was prepared to get stuck in with website installation and design.

I had hosting arranged with Crazy Domains, and checked they had WordPress ready to install at the push of a button. I’d already paid $14.95 for the net2welly.org.nz domain.

The plan was to work in small groups on different aspects of website development. I envisages people working at three or four tables covering: installation and set-up; graphic design; structure and content; and testing/ launch.

With only half of the 12 people who RSVP’d actually in the room — poor turnouts being one of the drawbacks of the informal meetup format — these plans quickly changed. It made sense to work as single group.

And we didn’t go anywhere near the control panel, DNS set-up or plugin directories. Instead, we arrived at the end of our hour long workshop with a plan.

Skipping the talking part of the process and essentially doing things on the fly would most likely have a led to a train web wreck. Maybe not fatal, but highly likely a site heading off the rails. Discussion what will be valuable our community and narrowing the focus are fundamental starting points.

As we started Alan Royal shared Rudyard Kipling’s timeless advice: “I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all i knew); Theirs names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”

And that’s exactly what we covered: our goals, linkages with the big picture NetSquared vision, how would the website sit alongside other community IT initiatives in Wellington, who is the audience, what content could we easily co-create as volunteers, how will people interact, and what will it take to ensure the website is accessible to all.

Ultimately, we had to decide whether a website will be a valuable addition to communities in Wellington. After a round where everyone had their say, the answer was yes. Our goal is offer a virtual extension of our regular NetSquared Wellington meetings: part learning, part networking, part social.

As well as meetup and other event notices, we plan to share short posts about stuff we learn about using technology for social change. Maybe this is from a workshop or webinar network members attend. Or perhaps brave experiments with coding or online communication.

Anyone willing to abide by some simple community guidelines will be able to create and add a blog post. Brave stuff in a world where everyone constantly pleads they’re “busy, busy, busy”. Busy, schmbusy: we’ll give it ago.

Other ideas we’ll explore include:

  • a project space that could connect people with IT needs with those with skills to offer
  • a page with resources or sign-posts about essential, useful online tools and ways of doing stuff
  • sharing the good words and connecting people via a popular social network (or two).

First we have to build the website, something we’re due to begin together on Tuesday 12 August. Come along, all fingers and devices at the ready.

Even though we didn’t actually build the #net2welly website in the allocated hour, we’re off to a great start.

Make time to talk

Stephen Blyth, at Otago Access Radio studio“It used to be if I asked people how they’re doing, they would say they’re busy. Then they started saying “Oh, I’m busy, busy, busy”. And now they’re saying things like “I’m crazy busy” or “I’m insanely busy”, Margaret J Wheatley reflected when I talked with her last week.

The hyperbole will doubtless continue to inflate.

I experience this as having barely finished one thing before I’m racing on with the next. Distraction at the hands of this wonderful, but paradoxically attention grabbing technology, no doubt contributing to this. There rarely seem to be empty spaces.

There is definitely something missing as we blanket ourselves with this comforting illusion of busyness. When do we make time to scratch below the surface? To re-examine why we do things? For pondering about what really matters? To ask how come things ended as they are?

Margaret’s words ring true, if I really allow them to sink in. She says not only is thinking endangered, but working with others and generosity too. She very forthrightly describes our predicament at length in her recent book “So far from home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World”, and suggests we can find a way out.

One question that arises is how would things be different if we allowed more time for thinking and conversation?

I see a glimpse of what can happen when people stop to talk in a paper delivered by vivian hutchinson at the New Zealand Creativity Challenge held in New Plymouth last April (“What’s Broken is the We: some thoughts on creativity for the common good”, 2013).

The experienced community activist and social entrepreneur recounts how he invited two leading and long-time workers in community development in New Plymouth and Taranaki to talk:

“Let’s take all our various hats off for a while – some thoughts on creativity for the common good while … all the roles and labels that we carry around with us as we do our work. Let’s just have breakfast together as active citizens in this province that we love.”

Then I issued a deeper invitation: “Let’s tell each other the truth of what we are seeing right now … rather than what we tell our funders.” They both knew what I was talking about – because the growing gap between these two messages is in itself a significant problem in the sector right now.

Well, once we started talking, we found we couldn’t stop. We ended up having breakfast every fortnight for the next nine months. The conversations deepened our understanding of what we mean by community development and civic engagement. We asked ourselves some challenging questions about what sort of community sector we
handing on to the next generation.”

This conversation led to many others. Vivian found people “hungry for an authentic opportunity to stop and reflect. We spent four months at it, and established the beginnings of a learning community on how we as active citizens can do our work differently, and create real change.”

As I’ve found in the last week, conservation without the need to rush to conclusions is a wonderful thing. It is possible to find inspiration in the twists and turns of life.

When invited to revisit why I do the work I do by interviewer Sam Mann, I ended up heading off on some unexpected tangents. In the hour-long interview for the Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio program I talked about some of my motivations, shared learning from my community work over the last 25 years, and mulled on where using digital tools fits in.

This conversation was very invigorating, and would have been just as rewarding had it not been recorded. It’s just not something I would usually make time for amidst the day-to-day bustle.

Margaret J Wheatley is full of encouragement about the need to create time to be together in conversation: “I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.”

Thoughts on a NetSquared trophy

Photo of Net2 trophy, printed using 3d printerThe trophy pictured here is more than what it seems.

It shows the potential for us as global citizens to share good ideas and practical tools to make the world a better place. Anyone with a 3-D printer and crafty fingers can print off and construct the trophy.

Designed by MBau3d in Guatemala, the trophy was handed out at the recent Central America and Mexico NetSquared regional netcamp. The STL (STereoLithography) files needed have been generously shared by mBau3d.

While I’ve heard stories about printing prosthetics, pumps and plastic parts, it wasn’t until I unzipped the 900KB folder and saw the actual files for the trophy that I realised how easily technology could be transferred.

Now code alone isn’t enough. Knowhow and confidence are crucial. A framework like Creative Commons to ensure intellectual property is respected is helpful. But without trust and a sense of affinity between people, nothing will be freely offered to others.

That’s why international movements such as NetSquared are so important: they foster sharing, both locally and globally. When we get together with others a lot is possible: we can learn about what is possible, inspire and support one another, and share what we know.

The 50 #net2 active groups are meeting all the time (see “Together we’re strong”). For those of us in Aotearoa, there are some upcoming opportunities to participate.

NetSquared Wellington is coming up to it’s second birthday, 18 meetups down the track. In June we are talking: Advocacy – how can using a digital soap box work for you?

The Auckland Net2 meetup group will resume meeting again on Tuesday 8 July, with Vivian Chandra and Stuart Young taking co-leadership. The title of the upcoming meetup asks it all “#net2aklREVIVE : So what is #tech4good anyway?”

For anyone interested in setting up a NetSquared group in Christchurch or Dunedin, you’re welcome to join a conversation with me and others next month:

  1. 5.30pm Wednesday 16 July, Joe’s Garage, 7 Leslie St, Upper Riccarton, Christchurch
  2. 12.15pm Thursday 17 July, Dunedin Community House, 301 Moray Place, Dunedin. RSVP/ details

While using the web and other technology gives us a reason to meet, it’s the possibility of working together where the real promise lies.

I’m looking forward to the day when someone turns up to a meetup to show us how to print out a trophy. Or perhaps something of our own design.

CAD file showing 3d printer file

Mbau3d: “We share the trophy that will be delivered in #netsquaredgt the best project 🙂
EDIT: downloadable files source of this trophy in the link below!”
http://bit.ly/1o4QCHO

Meeting #net2 organisers on the Gold Coast

Exceptionally dark clouds threatening rain over Gold Coast towersThere is nothing better than sitting down, face-to-face to enthuse with other community organisers about things like nonprofit technology, running dynamic meetups and the state of the world.

Add to this a beach vista, ocean breeze and warm temperatures. Then throw in Australia’s largest nonprofit technology conference.

This is what NetSquared co-organisers in Australia and New Zealand will be doing next week.

Fresh air and walking workshops are the order of the day as co-organisers meet to learn from each other about how to run thriving NetSquared networks in their respective cities.

We’re meeting at the northern end of the 57 kilometre beach which runs past the Gold Coast in Queensland. We’ll join over 300 participants at the annual Connecting Up conference.

A highlight of the two day event is a keynote by former #net2 Portland (OR), London, and NYC organiser, and now CEO of NTEN.org, Amy Sample Ward.

Attending the conference will be an opportunity to tell many people about what NetSquared is all about. As well as promoting participation in the active networks, another aim is to encourage co-organises in other cities to step forward.

The co-organisers participating are:

The meet-up is one of other similar upcoming events aimed at strengthening the NetSquared movement. These are happening in:

  • Latin America with Maria Zaghi of NetSquaredGT
  • Pacific Northwest with Elijah van der Giessen of Net2Van
  • UK and Europe with Mel Findlater of Net2Camb Cambridge Net Squared, TBD
  • East Coast USA with Judy Huntress Hallman of NCTech4Good

You can expect to hear back from us not only about the invigorating strolls, but also about how NetSquared will continue to grow and evolve in our part of the world.

Three cheers for support for NetSquared from the awesome folk at TechSoup and Connecting Up!

Photo credit: paul bica

Some nuggets from #14ntc in Washington DC

Six NetSquare organisers at Einstein's feet.Advice from Alan Royal about what you can expect to get out of a training event is ringing in my ears as I sit down to write about my four days at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, in Washington DC, 13-15 March 2014.

As an energetic trainer with SeniorNet Welllington and life-long learner, he says that if you get one useful thing out of a workshop then you can be contented. Be delighted if you gain more, but nuggets are enough to make attendance worth it.

It’s this advice I’m thinking about now. Just what did I learn from #14ntc?

As a first timer at a LARGE-scale conference, it was actually possible to be too distracted to actually learn anything. The commotion was nonstop, natural light rare and choices seemingly limitless.

There were over 100 formal sessions to choose from, plus countless other impromptu talks and presentations. In an underground suite of trade halls, there were 147 companies of various sizes and types inviting interaction and a chance to sign-up.

With the 2119 other attendees there was no shortage of folk to chat with. Long lunches (a commendable 90 minutes) were followed later in the day by social functions hosted by one sponsor or another at nearby venues. Sadly, I missed the one at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Finding someone you were specifically looking for was near impossible. For instance, despite asking around I didn’t manage to meet the Australians attending from Perth and Sydney (though I would still like to say hi).

I was attending the conference as a NetSquared regional ambassador, so I gravitated to sessions that supported and promoted community-led, grassroots organising. Making time to connect with the many inspiring people involved was my top priority. Not only was the conversation interesting, but it was reassuring – the core of community organising seems to be the same the world over.

So, what are my top gleanings?

  1. Before publishing a single graph (or diagram), stop to consider if the implicit meaning is obvious. See the excellent, detailed presentation “#14ntcdataviz: DataViz! Tips, Tools, and How-tos for Visualizing Your Data” by Ann K. Emery, Johanna Morariu, and Andrew Means.
  2. Don’t obsess over choosing a Content Management System (CMS) for a website, instead work with someone that does the scoping/ investigation/ design phase right and trust them to recommend the best tools to fit. I really liked a three phase approach to development adopted by Freeform Solutions (Toronto), which focuses first on “establishing project feasibility” which includes coming up with a ball-park idea of what a website will cost.
  3. When doing training, think: Before, During, and After. And if training is something I want to do more regularly, then learn more about learning. See “Learn you will: interactive tech teaching from Jedi masters, plus session outline too!
  4. Investigate a more structured approach to monitoring website uptime, using services such as www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com or Uptime Robot. Also, set up alerts using Google Analytics to receive automatic notifications if visitor patterns suggest nefarious behaviour (eg traffic spikes because of a DOS attach). From the workshop “Welcome to the website emergency room: find and pinpoint problems when everything falls apart”.
  5. Stories, singly or collected, are powerful.
  6. Inspiring stuff is happening on my doorstep: projects, tools and apps being created in the coolest little capital Wellington, Aoteoroa New Zealand, are brilliant contributions to creating social change. These include: loomio – a new way of decision-making, chalkle° learning platform, and nznavigator online tool for organisational development.
  7. Make time, take time, to think differently. Can we please get away from describing things as problem this and problem that? Instead, incorporate into our design, developmental and communications work, insights from frameworks like Appreciative Inquiry that allow us to recognise and value strengths and what might be possible.

This last gleaning is prompted by a keynote presentation from Willa Seldon, a director of the Bridgespan Group, who challenged participants to “give tools to constituents so they can change their own lives”. She pointed to the web as a means of helping us with this.

It’s a challenge worth repeating. We’ve got to get beyond repeating the same old stuff that makes negligible difference to anyones lives. And once again, I notice that the disruptive kernel at the heart of the Internet can in fact help create vibrant, healthy communities where everyone thrives. Everywhere.

While everything I encountered at the conference was not immediately applicable, so falling short of Alan’s test, I got an enormous amount out of being around people for whom the tech is (mainly) subservient to the cause. It makes me optimistic that change is indeed possible.

See my other #14ntc blog posts:

Reflecting on climate change and #nptech
Attending NTC in person, in Washington DC
In other words, linking to the #14ntc
Nonprofit Technology Conference data related report, on Community Research website

My thanks to:

NTEN.org for bringing folk together; TechSoup Global for sponsoring my trip to Washington DC; the talented and caring NetSquared crew for being there for their communities; @nzdrug and @goodresearch for being super supportive employers; everyone who I shared a thought, conversation or smile with; and my family, who allowed me to set aside being a 24-7 family guy for a few days.