From time to time United Way will "loan me out" to other groups to help build the capacity of other organizations in the area of New Media. Yesterday I did a workshop for a group of nonprofits for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In these workshops I often find I am struggling to guess what the skill level of the audience will be to create just the right Powerpoint presentation. This can be very difficult to get right in a workshop situation.
J.R. Logan's blog
Did you know it's Food Day today? Did you know there are many days of celebration's in New Haven, so I guess we can call it Food Day's? If you have not already done so, you should checkout the list of upcoming events in New Haven (http://fooddaynh.org/find-an-event/). There is a lot to choose from. I have already been celebrating. This Saturday I went by bike on a tour of many of New Haven's urban gardens.
Over the last couple of years, United Way of Greater New Haven has been building a community blogging presence. Our theory was that United Way is uniquely positioned as a connector for many area social organizations and community leaders. For this reason a United Way blog would be a natural way to connect more people in the community to these perspectives. We saw it as an efficient way to make the Greater New Haven nonprofit sector a little more transparent and show the community the various perspectives of people working in the field.
We started with staff and later expanded to include bloggers from many positions in the community, yet saw that many of our new bloggers struggled to find their voice. One of the first things we learned is that bloggers were hesitant to undertake the more informal communication style of a blog. Another challenge was that many bloggers were unsure why it was important to blog. Even with these challenges, we have seen the blog slowly grow and improve over time. Our traffic is still relatively low, however in the last year we have seen a 63% increase in traffic. Hopefully we can maintain that trend.
In addition to my job as Director of New Media Strategies at United Way, I spend a lot of time volunteering as the Board Chair of the New Haven Land Trust. In this role I get to see another side of the community as I work with environmentalists, gardeners and community organizers. Recently I have found myself working on a project to connect gardens to schools.
You might be asking yourself why do school gardens matter? In my view they matter because school gardens can function as an outdoor classroom, creating opportunities for hands on learning and student engagement across all subject areas and grades. Studies have shown that school gardening programs boost students’ scores on science achievement tests.(1) Educators are seeing that activity, healthy eating and learning are linked. In addition to anecdotal evidence, a growing body of research-based literature supports the use of school gardens as a teaching tool. Research has found that participation in youth gardening programs can have the following impacts on students:(2)
Typically when people organize around an open source project they are asking “the crowd” to develop, review, test and document programing code. In software this works particularly well. Once developed each copy of software has low marginal cost and, in contrast to proprietary solutions, anyone can make a copy and modify to their own need. This means that open source is not only gives you the freedom to change the software but is free of licensing cost because it is owned by the group rather then a company.
Getting the mix of technologies to fit your organization is a matter of both science and art, which is why a recipe is a useful analogy. You can not create a good recipe if you look at your organizations problems in isolation, you have to step back and look at how the needs interact and how current cost effective technologies can meet those needs. To make this problem even more complex, the system architect must consider the trajectory of technologies and the costs of "changing horses" down stream.
A lesson I took from the Harwood Innovator's Lab is that successful movements combine technical opportunities of expert knowledge and timed momentum of public knowledge. I wrote this idea in my notes as an equation,
(Expert Knowledge + Public Knowledge) x Timing = Political Will To Change.
Everywhere I turn I see people working on socially minded technology projects.
I first saw the energy lifting in New Haven last year when Matt Kelley(Change.org blogger), Ben Berkowitz (SeeClickFix.com Founder), Jarad Duval (Author of Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change), and myself got together for beers to talk about how we could get more people to embrace the public benefits of changing technology. We hoped that by pooling the brains of the nerds of New Haven we would discover oportunties to work together for positive social change. We decieded that the place to start would be just providing a place for those with the technical skills and interest to explore ideas and innovation without focusing directly tasking out action. We called our group "Social Change and Technology". Our gatherings where and still are informal conversations over pizza and beer.
While working with others to organize this group, I have been introduced to a surprising number of people working on ideas that will create a positive change in our community.