What I Learned at NPDev Summit 2012

Six years ago I left the US non profit tech scene and had swore never to return (more about that in an upcoming blog post – stay tuned). There’s only one person who could possibly persuade me to come back to attend a non-profit techie event, and that is Gunner of Aspiration, who is more than just a good colleague but someone who has been a mentor to me at some crucial points in my professional life. Any opportunity to watch Gunner facilitate an event is a golden learning opportunity, and when it’s an opportunity to see him facilitate his own organisation’s event, its just mandatory. The Aspiration Dev Summit is a ‘high-spirited, fully-interactive festival of folks who are passionate about developing software tools to support the work of social change organizations and community activists’ and it was held on November 14-16th in Oakland’s Preservation Park. Gunner does his best to make sure the participants get the most out of each other.  It’s all about peer learning, getting into small groups and having discussions.  There’s little to none of having an ‘expert’ talk endlessly about something that they’ve done.  There’s no way you can go to an event like this and not make new friends who are working on innovative and inspiring projects.

Three absolutely invaluable sessions I attended were:

  • Things I learned doing mobile work in Africa – Camille Ramani shared her experiences implementing a mobile-based app to reunite refugees. It was a harrowing journey about learning how not to make assumptions about people’s desires to reconnect with long lost family members.  Read more on her own blog post about the session here.
  • Best practices for Work Agreements Mark Libkuman led a really great discussion about how to create effective work agreements that work for both consultant and client. What’s the big secret: short focused agreements.
  • Best practices for Presentations – Dan Spaulding has written a book on ‘How to Teach Adults‘ and had a very ‘practice what you preach’ session – that included a lot of interactivity and engagement. It’s always handy to get a refresher course.

And I also had the honour of running several of my own sessions that included excellent input from the participants. This included two sessions about the NOSI Primer and a session on ‘Using Power Analysis to Identify Effective Tech Tactics for Your Campaign.’

A wiki including the list of sessions and notes can be found here.

Projects that I learned about that I will be keeping an eye on:

  • The Guardian Project – a suite of digital security apps for your mobile.
  • Upwell – an advocacy campaign for the Ocean that is very conscious about using qualitative social networking metrics to evaluate their outreach
  • Ethersheet – a new open-source/open data collaborative web-based spreadsheet.

It’s absolutely worth mentioning the rest of the great team at Aspiration: Misty, Jessica and Josh – who worked tirelessly through the event to make sure everyone’s needs were met along with running several of their own sessions.

So will they tempt me across the pond for next years event? Absolutely.