What I learned at NPDev Summit 2014

Just back from Oakland, California feeling nourished and re-energised after attending the annual Nonprofit Development Software Summit (#NPDev). This is Aspiration’s signature event, bringing together a collection of radical techies, graphic designers, campaigners and non-profit staffers for three days of organised chaos that is unbelievably productive. We were honored to have FabRiders named as a partner this year. I overheard Griffin Boyce from the Tor Project say “what makes this event great is that there are sessions on social justice and regular expressions.” Yep, for three days we sat at the intersection of social change and technology and it couldn’t have been more fabulous.

ElliotAgendaSome notes about the sessions I got to facilitate:

  • Great to get further input into the Resource Creator Manifesto to improve it by providing guidance on how to:
    • have a distribution plan
    • create a benefits statement,
    • collect forward references of the resource,
    • be more explicit about stewardship (what should happen if the responsible organisation disappears).
  • Issues about listening, building capacity to conduct advocacy and how not to ‘bring your own bags of potatoes’ were all part of the discussion on data and marginalised communities in a session titled What I learned from Drug Users. We also talked extensively about the sex worker violence documentation project I worked on that was run by Tactical Tech.  Other best practices included:  using participatory research methods, being agenda-less (no bags of potatoes), not making assumptions and using responsible data practices.
  • Tech Capacity Builders Make Better Lovers was the title of a session I got to run with Misty Avila from Aspiration. After getting the participants to draw out what a successful tech capacity building intervention looked like, it became obvious we had titled the session correctly as ‘listening, passion, adaptable, seek long term relationships, and understand needs’ all came up as core best practices.
  • Why plenaries and panels suck – At first we took a stab at what is good about traditional conferences, and decided that they where great for paid mental vacations as participants don’t have to think hard and maintaining the status quo.  What they are bad at? Building shared ownership and being productive.  Stay tuned to the FabBlog for a post on this in the near future.  Has anybody noticed that panelssuck.org points to Aspiration’s facilitation wiki?
We were honored to be named a partner for this years #NPDev Summit

We were honored to be named a partner for this years #NPDev Summit

Notes about other great sessions I got to participate in:

  • Information Architecture hosted by the good folks from Design Action, highlighted how user-centred design should power the creation of a website. Questions should always be answered before moving forward and doing the preliminary work of developing wireframes and site maps is a must.
  • Theory of Change, Tech and Social JusticeEvan ‘Rabble’ Henshaw-Plath walked us through how the way software is made and administered undermines our theories of change in the social justice world.  Sadly we didn’t get enough time to work out how to change this.
  • In How Can We Work Better Together? Steve Wright got us talking about what makes a healthy network.  Shared ownership was at the top of my list. Someone came up with the term ‘Trans-local Autonomous Organizing’ essentially meaning ‘trust in the other components of the network functioning independently.’  We were all nodes in the same network for a moment, but then the session ended.

Dots represent the chapters of ‘Fundamentals’ that participants thought were relevant to their work

Speed-Geeking is always where I learn about the hot new projects around, but this year I decided to sacrifice it all and be a Speed-Geeker myself – showing off ‘Fundamentals for Using Technology in Transparency and Accountability Organisations.’ I wanted to see if people outside of the transparency and accountability community would find the guide useful.  Thankfully I was right as groups of participants came by my table and were wow’ed by the content.

Ofcourse, there was a hell of a lot more going on. I was dying to go to sessions called ‘Diversity in Tech and White Priviledge‘ and ‘Applying lessons from traditional advocacy to online organization‘ both run by Ivan Boothe.  Apparently Beatrice Martini mobilised an inspired session on ‘Technology & Data in service to gender politics.’  There were so many more, check out the NPDev wiki with all the sessions listed with their notes.


Did you go to NPDev this year? Leave me a comment about your favorite moment or session below.

Hope to see you there next year!