What We Learned at NPDev 2018

Outside, the air was thick with toxic smoke from the Camp Fire, with warnings to limit exposure.  Inside, it was Aspiration’s 15th Non-Profit Developer Summit and people were invested in being there.  It was the largest yet, with over 150 registrants and it seems the smoke didn’t deter people from showing up. The Nile in Preservation Park had never been so full.

It’s always great to catch up with dear old friends that affords me such as Sarah Moncelle and Misty Avila. My Data Literacy co-author Mariel Carcia Montes was on hand, as was my former Circuit Rider partner in crime, Amanda Hickman. And speaking of Circuit Riders, Josue Guillen was there as was Alice Aguilar from Progressive Technology Project, who commented about how the faces at NPDev were so much more diverse than when she last came, several years back. And what a treat to get caught up with Maxwell Pearl, former Aspiration board member and long-time champion in the Non-Profit Open Source Movement.

Of course, it’s not just about old friends, it’s also about meeting new ones.  In the first session, we built a world cafe, and about 12 relative NPDev newbies were assigned stations and talked for a few minutes, then answered questions. I heard about:

  • DataKind’s efforts to be a force for data for good.
  • Open News supporting journalists around the world.
  • Efforts to build infrastructure to support movements (rather than undermine them)
  • Organising for Reproductive Rights in Southern California
  • Building the confidence of youth in Singapore.

I made many new friends and allies like Ada from DataKind US, Jaye from US Open Street Maps and Kate from DataBranch.

We also bid farewell to an old friend and integral member of the NPDev family. Art McGee, passed away this year and we took a few moments to honour his memory.  My connection with Art was that he had been a recipient of the award bearing my name (the Dirk Award) thanks to his tireless efforts in running and maintaining the Circuit Rider email discussion list that nurtured and sustained us back in the day.

SpeedGeeking FabRiders work with IFRC to build the Data Playbook (Beta)

And of course, I walked in with an enormous list of sessions I wanted to run, anxious to engage the brains that attend NPDev on projects and challenges. What I’ve learned from years of attending, that the best sessions come out of one on one conversations. Greg Bloom from Open Referral inspired a session called ‘The ‘L’ Word: how to stop fetishising leadership and make it effective’.  Christine Prefontaine collaborated on making the RFP process a positive experience. And I also got to run sessions on:

I paused from running session a couple of times as there were so many other stellar sessions on offer.  If I haven’t instilled deep regret for not coming to NPDev this year, just take a look at the session list. What an honour to have FabRiders named as a partner.

I must admit, that while I learn so much from the participants at NPDev, I learn the most watching Aspiration’s Executive Director, Gunner, in his element. Gunner has been intentional about curating and building the community that attends. This is my master class on building an inclusive and diverse event. It’s not about strict codes of conduct and or upholding quotas of different types of people. It’s about building a welcoming space for attendees who often don’t feel welcome at other techie events. This is all seamlessly supported by Josh, Evelyn, Beatrice and Chanaye, the incredibly gifted Aspiration team. For me, it’s the pinnacle of what every event should be. I can’t tell you how much inspiration and knowledge it provides me for my own work in facilitating and building participatory events.