What I Learned at NPDev Summit 2013

2013 Nonprofit Software Development Summit

Strike a scary pose

Aspiration’s NPDev Summit was remarkable this year on a number of fronts: most notably the participants were ready to share and absorb knowledge on equal measure, resulting in a dynamic agenda packed full of a wide range of topics and facilitators.  Also notable how the Aspiration team, Gunner, Jess, Jordan, Josh and Misty, were acting together as a well oiled machine that did such a good job of running the event it all appeared effortless: sessions organised on the fly, notes appeared on the wiki as sessions ended, projectors were all set up and a steady supply of flipchart paper and post-its were always on hand.


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Always an ample supply of post-its

For me it was also remarkable as I reconnected with a number of beloved colleagues from the past to discuss both the current state of tech capacity building efforts and what it had looked like back in the day. Beth Kanter, David Geilhufe, John Kenyon and I had a mini circuit rider reunion that may have slightly derailed Misty Avila’s session to discuss a tech capacity effort in rural California.  Misty kept us on track with considering whether tech capacity building is like missionary work (clearly not), and then asserting that it was in fact, community organizing work.  Another reunion occurred  as Amanda Hickman, Jack Aponte and I convened a session about the circuit rider initiative all three of us had worked on, called The LINC Project. During this session, we considered what exactly is the tech capacity we were/are trying to build, and for activist/advocacy groups it’s clearly the ability to understand how tech-based tactics can support their long term goals.

Other sessions I facilitated were about implementing light weight and agile evaluation on technology projects and ‘how to run a webinar that doesn’t suck.’  During the latter, Jessica Steimer and I got some gold from our participants as we discussed best practices that included ‘adding warmth’ by using hand written slides in your deck and increasing participation by adding lots of places to pause and take questions.

I attended some great sessions as well.  Seth Schoen from EFF taught us about how to use grep and regular expressions to search not just for text, but patterns of text.  Another EFF session by Cindy Cohn covered how some of the legal statutes in the Patriot Act had given the NSA near blanket powers to surveil just about everyone in the world.

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Aspiration’s technology support spectrum, appearing as a live analogue info-graphic, run by Misty, who put us all on the spectrum as we came by.

Speedgeeking yielded several exciting projects, including:

  • Local wikiMarina Kukso is working to arm municipalities with their own Wikipedia like website that residents can easily edit and update.
  • NPtech.io: a reddit like aggregator created by John Emerson
  • Sudo Mesh: demonstrating that public led efforts to build free and accessible neighbourhood wide wifi is alive and well
  • Ethersheet: Radical Design’s Cooper Quintin has really gone far with this cloud-based spreadsheet tool, since it debuted at NPDev last year.
  • Pootle: A new online translation tool that helps communities develop localised versions of software that was demo’d by Heather Bailey of Translate House.

And of course, knowledge exchange kept going into the evening with some great mixers, one at a local bar called Radio (where even a minor pepper-spraying incident couldn’t disrupt the good vibes) and the other at the Radical Design offices.  Radical Design clearly proving that nobody can throw a party like radical ethical techies, especially if they are part of an radical ethical techie cooperative.

For more on Summit and check out the agenda and wiki here.