Wiring the Social Economy will be held for the first time this Saturday, December 4, at W2 Storyeum, bringing social entrepreneurs and techies together to share challenges and best practices that move community economic development forward. I had a few questions when I first read about the event so I emailed Leah Nielsen (@LeahLink).
She looped in a few of the other organizers so now I can share answers from Leah, Steve Williams (@Constructive) and Tom Kertes (@tomkertes) with you. Sincere thanks to all three for providing thoughtful answers to my questions.
@tbains: How did you get involved?
@Constructive: I came up with this idea while taking the SFU Community Economic Development Certificate and am lucky enough to have attracted a great group of volunteers to make the event happen!
I’m also a big fan of unconferences and helped put on Vancouver ChangeCamp this year and last year. It’s important to break down barriers between groups and bring out the knowledge from all attendees, not just “the experts.” Behind these events is a commitment to engage people in discussions around change, make those conversations as inclusive as possible, bring together diverse groups, and link these discussions to concrete change—social, economic and environmental.
@LeahLink: I like the unconference movement in Vancouver. I appreciate the foundation behind these events and the open, intelligent, feel-good vibe they carry. I wanted to see what the organizing side of things looked like and the people behind this event were an excellent group that I wanted to work with more.
@tbains: One of your goals is to educate the social media and technology community about challenges faced by social change agents. What specific challenges come to mind?
@Constructive: A big challenge is access—how to ensure that technology is inclusive for all and not only those with iPhones. For example, in social services there is already a big perceived barrier between those controlling access to housing, etc. and those in need of services. How can technology break down rather than contribute to that barrier? Also, how can we go beyond social media into technology that helps organizations run, manage services and optimize finances?
@tomkertes: Challenges include having the technological knowledge to implement wired solutions and new technologies, having the resources required to implement solutions (and how to budget for costs and benefits), and understanding “paradigm shifts” that occur when deploying new technologies that fundamentally challenge existing operating models. Also, social change agents must understand the limits of adoption, including how to avoid pitfalls or mission shift that could occur with poorly executed adoption.
@tbains: Another goal is to help these agents see where technology can play a positive role in their work. Are there any specific areas of interest to attendees?
@LeahLink: I believe attendees will be particularly interested in how technology can be used to spread awareness about an issue or campaign and, related to this, how it can help with group mobilization and fundraising efforts. Another area of focus will likely be how technology can be used internally to help coordinate staff and volunteer efforts within organizations, keep records, communicate among a selected group, and more.
@tomkertes: I think another area of focus will be how to conduct strategic planning and analysis with technology. What can be appropriately and usefully measured using new technologies? How do new technologies shift the overall ecology of social change? How can decision making be streamlined and optimized using new analytic tools?
@tbains: The registration form lets individuals identify areas that they may wish to discuss or learn more about during the event. Are there any trends that you see?@LeahLink: One theme that has been mentioned a number of times during registration is bridging the digital divide and building the capacity of non-profit organizations to use technology.
@tbains: What outcomes are you hoping to see following the event?
@Constructive: From my side, a big goal is understanding between groups. There are lots of people with good intentions that may not fully understand the needs and challenges of community organizations. Conversely, groups may not understand the potential that technology can offer and—in fact—are outright scared of it. Creating a space for open dialogue and shared understanding is key to creating partnerships and collaborations that will truly make change happen.
@LeahLink: One of my goals for the event is for people to form partnerships with other individuals or organizations that they may not otherwise have contact with in their day-to-day lives. I think this is an important element of bridging the digital divide. More specifically, I’d like to see someone from the tech/social media sphere connect with someone from the non-profit/social enterprise world and have them collaborate on a tangible project that benefits both parties.
@tomkertes: There is a need for social change agents to have access to the powerful tools and opportunities provided by new technologies. There are lost opportunities when these tools are not implemented. But implementation also involves risks, which are best managed when social change agents understand new technologies.
Now, what would you ask them about Wiring the Social Economy?
[Answers edited for clarity and length.]