There 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
That’s the ballpark estimate for how much of the climate changing carbon that will be emitted on my behalf, for my flights to the Nonprofit Technology Conference.
It’s a long way to Washington DC for me. It’s over 14,000 kilometres from my home on the west coast of Te Ika a Maui, New Zealand’s northern island.
Living close to the sea with a coastline threatened by rising sea levels is another reason for my concern. If we don’t reduce (or limit) the level of carbon in the atmosphere, I’ll likely suffer. As will my children. And their children too.
Some of my South Pacific neighbours are already finding sea water rising perilously close to their homes.
Knowing that my flights, in whatever small way on a global scale, contribute to climate change isn’t something I can truthfully ignore. It’d be easy to brush my insignificant contribution under a handy carpet. After all, my flight is hardly unusual. Why should I do anything about it?
My first response was to consider planting a small forest on our section. Then call it Washington DC forest as reminder of my obligation to the planet.
Before looking into this in any detail, my sister – who is an environmental planner – dissuaded me. Any trees not planted in certified scheme won’t guarantee carbon is locked away she said.
Giving $100-120 dollars to a certified carbon sequestration scheme would be easy. A one-off payment and my carbon problem is wiped.
It was only after talking with my friend and mentor Andrew Mahar, that I’ve decided how to discharge my climate responsibility.
As an inspirational leader Andrew never shies away from tackling difficult social and environmental challenges. Currently he is supporting a multi-faceted social enterprise in Timor Leste (the recently liberated nation in the Western Pacific). Prior to this he set up and led Infoxchange, a highly successful Australian nptech social business.
The WithOneSeed initiative supports subsistence farmers in East Timor to reafforest their land. Donations from people living in industrialised countries to pay for trees and other essential support. Incomes rise and carbon is locked away. Knowledge transfer is occurring alongside this through education and technology programmes.
As soon I talked to Andrew, he laid down a challenge: Don’t limit the carbon you offset to what you’re generating through a single trip: what about the carbon emitted to support your everyday computing habits?
Much as I’d rather not think about this, it’s true. Immense quantities of pollution are caused by coal-fired power stations that feed the data centres owned by Microsoft, Facebook, nameless cloud providers and others. When we watch YouTube videos, listen to music and live our digital lives, we are contributing to global warming.
WithOneSeed have a handy App that can help anyone interested to determine how much carbon is emitted by their digital media habits (on phones and tablets at least).
The personal story from Andrew, and a better understanding of my daily data usage in context, has allowed me to zero in on a global issue all too easy to ignore.
So, I’ll donate to WithOneSeed to offset the carbon. Not just for my flight, but for my daily computing too.
As I get ready to travel back home to New Zealand, I’m thinking not only of what I’ll take back the communities I work in, but also about the unseen impacts of my personal technology choices. I guess that is what individual social responsibility is all about.
Do you know what impact your technology is having?
Acknowledgement: my trip to Washington DC is only possible with support from NetSquared/ TechSoup, @goodresearch, @nzdrug, and my fab partner Roz. My evolving storify is at: http://sfy.co/rPzq
Making choices about what to attend is a lot harder when attending in person, than it is when joining online.
A major obstacle when ‘attending’ the online version of the huge three day conference is not so much choice of sessions, but the timing. As the annual techfest is hosted in one large US city or another, it means the morning sessions start at a ridiculously, early hour.
Nevertheless I managed to catch some sessions when I’ve registered in the past. These have been both relevant and irreverent.
Skip ahead two years, my involvement in the NetSquared community is taking me to Washington DC.
The #14ntc conference (13-15 March) is secondary to the main reason I’ll be in town. Either side of the conference I’ll be workshopping, learning, chatting and plotting with fellow NetSquared ambassadors, other NetSquared co-organisers from across North America, and some of the TechSoup team.
After many conference calls, FB updates and online sessions, I’m really excited at the prospect of swapping notes with my fellow regional ambassadors Maria, Excel and Mel. We’ve lots to share about how tech/ web is being used by communities in West Africa, Central America, and Europe.
As well seeing the monumental sites in Washington DC, I’ll spend a few days in San Francisco on my way home. I’m particularly looking forward to chatting with the irrepressible Beth Kanter, on her home turf.
My trip is only possible because my wonderful partner Roz will tend to the home fires. I’m chuffed at sponsorship from @TechSoup, and support from my bosses at @goodresearch and @nzdrug.
If you want to see which of the 100- plus sessions I end up joining in, I’ll share a few pics and notes about what I do, see and hear. See my storify story or follow #SBinDC.
Spontaneous. Serendipity. These two words are still echoing in my mind from the wrap-up session of the Engage Your Community (EYC) unConference.
At our closing session last Saturday we asked all the co-learners to shout out words about the day. These ‘s’ words really did capture the spirit of out time together.
It may seem a terrifying prospect to start a learning event with a blank agenda. We didn’t know what would be covered. Who would talk. If people would jump in to learn together.
But jump in everyone did. There seemed barely a wasted minute. Discussion about using tech and the web for community was loud and continuous.
Included in the list of topics covered were Google tools, accessibility, basics of web design, responsive design in wordpress, Chalkle community learning and online collaboration. The full agenda is recorded on the front page of the EYC unConference wiki.
The final session was an experiment: we called it speed geeking. In a fast and furious session people learnt about wikis, blogging and URL shorteners.
The topics for this session were chosen through an impromptu voting exercise, and the ‘presenters’ volunteered to speak on the fly. The format had people moving every 10 minutes between the three topic tables.
Our motto for the day was that no burning question would go unanswered. We’ll have to await for the report on the evaluation forms people filled in to see if we achieved this.
As one of the co-organisers, I left happy. My litmus test of success was whether I enjoyed myself and learnt things, and seeing if people stayed until the end. I maybe biased, but I’d say all were achieved.
Our volunteers on the day – Keith, Eileen and Justine, all NetSquared Wellington stalwarts
Massey University for hosting us
Microsoft NZ and Wellington City Council for sponsorship support.
When we debrief about the event next week, our agenda includes the question of when to run another unConference. I’ll report back after we talk. If this is something that you’d like to help with, don’t hesitate to raise your hand.