Join us on Monday and Tuesday, 10 and 11 July in New York City for a participant-driven gathering where nonprofit staff, social justice organizers, techies, activists, journalists, and students can share knowledge, build skills and capacity, and foster relationships around using technology in support of social change efforts.
Technology plays an ever-increasing role in all aspects of activism and social change efforts. But too often tech is hyped as a catch-all solution or a magic ingredient when in fact the reality is more complex. Technology can be a tremendous asset in organizing, campaigning, mobilization, and other efforts, but it also creates new vulnerabilities and often perpetuates power dynamics that run counter to the values of those using the tech. And increased dependence on tech correlates with increased vulnerability to surveillance and tracking.
The Community Tech Skillshare will strive to avoid hyping and fetishizing tech, and instead focus on conveying practical and essential processes for utilizing digital tools in sustainable ways. The event is being designed to provide participants with best practices and insights they can apply in their day-to-day work. Conversation will also address the challenges, trade-offs, and opportunities we individually and collectively face in leveraging technology in our social justice and community work.
You will not see any presentations, panels or keynotes at the Skill Share. The focus will be on participant-driven dialogue and collaboration, and a primary objective will be to enable participants to build and strengthen relationships where they can share knowledge and find support.
We will engage confirmed participants before the event to invite thoughts and suggestions on what should be on the agenda and what kinds of outcomes would make time at the event well spent.
We hope to see you in July.
When and Where
Agenda and anticipated outcomes
The agenda will be designed in collaboration with confirmed participants, focused on identified needs and learning goals. Based on discussions to date, sessions anticipated to be offered include:
- Digital security practices: Conversations will begin from what it means to protect digital resources and model how adversaries might seek to obtain or manipulate the same. Hands-on sessions will explain how to use specific tools including the privacy-protecting Tor Browser, the Signal mobile app for secure messaging, password managers, and virtual private networks. Physical and operational security will also be discussed, with particular focus on the topic of crossing international borders with digital devices.
- Surveillance and social movements: We live and work in an era of unprecedented mass surveillance and repression of organizing via technical means. Government surveillance and the surveillance tech business model hurts social movements. Discussions will explore real-world examples, with the goal of creating context and enhanced motivation for both applying digital security skills and giving less personal and relationship data to corporations.
- Managing organizational data: Topics will include how to inventory and track your universe of organizational data, how to assess sensitivity and risk associated with different types of data, implementing sustainable and secure backup practices, and management of organizational "cloud" data and accounts.
- Technology project management: Identifying requirements, selecting tools, and then deploying, training, and supporting new technologies is a challenging process in the best of circumstances. Sessions will explore user-centric technology planning processes, as well as how to address accessibility and inclusion in managing technology projects.
- Online communications and advocacy: Sessions will cover strategies and tactics for communications and advocacy across web, email, social media, and mobile communications. Best practices will be discussed for audience analysis, message planning, coordination of online channels, and responsible use of analytics and metrics.
- Nonprofit Web Strategy: There is much to be planned and managed when conjuring a new or updated web presence for an organization or cause. Sessions at the event will address a broad spectrum of practices, starting from defining user needs and requirements to finding an implementation partner, then deploying, maintaining and upgrading a site, all while wrapping these tasks within an effective communications and stakeholder engagement strategy. Also covered will be best practices for registering and managing domains, web hosting, and content management systems.
- Tools and practices for virtual collaboration: An ongoing point of pain for activists and nonprofits of all stripes centers around online collaboration tools. Multi-party audio and video calls, webinars and other virtual meeting platforms rarely function as advertised, and too much time continues to be spent debugging and fighting with misbehaving tools. Participants will share what's working, name what's not working, and compare best practices for holding meetings where participants are in different locations and time zones.
- Managing supporter data and sensitive organizational information: Another not-well-solved and fairly ubiquitous need for many organizations and causes is a platform to manage supporter and contact information. While hundreds of platforms exist, the vast majority are hard to configure and use and often have odious licensing terms and fees. Done wrong, supporter databases can become a "honeypot" of useful information for adversaries, and knowing how to responsibly manage and protect supporter data is an understudied area of practice. Sessions at the event will invite participants to share from their own experiences, compare what is working, and discuss what is still needed, especially for higher-risk groups working with marginalized or heavily-surveilled communities.
- Equitable, diverse and inclusive technology leadership: Anyone who has done "nonprofit tech" for any length of time comes to understand that "people" are much more important than "tech" in realizing successful tech strategies and practices. In particular, impactful utilization of technology occurs when there is open, inclusive, and facilitative leadership in place to help stakeholders collectively define, understand, and decide how they will utilize tools and platforms. Focus at the skill share will be on how to grow, support, and sustain a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive network of technology leaders across social justice causes and movements.
- Alternatives to corporate cloud technologies: As NGOs, journalists, and activists have increasingly migrated their activities to "cloud" infrastructure, the vast majority of those deployments are now hosted on corporate providers such as Google, Dropbox, Apple, and Microsoft. Those with need for more private, secure, and values-aligned digital service providers are hard-pressed to find effective alternatives, in particular for more specialized and high-risk requirements. We'll discuss available alternatives and discuss what's still missing.
- The role of technology in humanitarian causes and disaster response: Open technologies and open communities played a valuable role in provide mutual aid to communities affected by Superstorm Sandy (http://occupysandy.net/). Sessions at the event will convey both lessons learned from past response efforts and well as best practices for preparation and response in future moments of large-scale need.
- Doing "civic technology" the open way: There is much that falls under the umbrella of "civic tech", but not all of it is focused on solutions that maximize use of open source software and open data standards. Practitioners working in "civic tech" fields will share practices for establishing projects and communities around open data and open source software. Additional focus will be placed on designing for civic engagement.
- Paying for tech: Nonprofits and grassroots organizations struggle to find funding for technology and tech infrastructure. When the majority of funds are spent on priority mission work, not much is left over. This problem is compounded by the ebb and flow of grant funding, not always favoring the funding of technology. This session will offer examples of different strategies to sustain technology within your organization or campaign.
We strongly encourage participants to propose additional topics, sessions and outcomes.
About the Organizers
Aspiration has been designing and delivering innovative gatherings for nonprofit and nongovernmental audiences for almost 15 years. Our event philosophy and facilitation focus on maximizing collaboration and peer sharing. We have convened and co-organized more than 500 highly interactive events in over 50 countries across the globe.
We build agendas around participant-driven dialogue and collaboration that connect all the stakeholders in strategy, design and development processes, and model our events to reflect the diverse and network-oriented nature of the communities we convene. Our approach prioritizes concrete and tangible outcomes that engender rich post-event collaboration and meaningful impact.