The 2009 NMC Symposium for the Future, the fourteenth in the NMC’s Series of Virtual Symposia (October 27-29th), will explore actual and potential applications of technology that could impact issues of global importance over the next five years and beyond. My colleague, NMC's VP Alan Levine (aka Cogdog Blog) invited to give one of the keynotes in their 3D virtual space.
The 3D space where this virtual symposium will take place is a private version of the Second Life platform that Linden Labs and NMC have created, called the Hakone Project. I've been having a lot of fun researching some metaphors for the future and of course, I went straight to the Jetsons. In fact, I'll be arriving in a Jetson like transportation and my avatar will probably look a lot like Jane Jetson.
If you'd like to participate, I have 10 FREE PASSES to give away. So, leave a comment and you might one of the passes.
The Symposium grows from the NMC’s Emerging Technologies Initiative, which seeks to answer the question of how to keep abreast of emerging technologies that may be important for educators. I get the question, "What's next after Twitter?" a lot, so it is really helpful to have a peek the annual series of Horizon Reports that have also flowed out of NMC's Emerging Technologies initiative.
My marching orders were: pull out a crystal ball and gaze five, ten or even twenty years into the future to answer these questions:
- What role will social media play in the future for the nonprofit, social change sector?
- What do non-profits need to do to thrive?
- Is this a shiny future or a dire future?
- What will be different about nonprofits?
The fun part is figuring out how to effectively deliver a 3D presentation in a 3D space. Aside from the Jetson metaphors, I have to start to thinking about content. So this post, is my first pass at that and hopefully you'll suggest lots of ideas in the comments.
After watching almost all the Jetson's episodes on YouTube, I thought I better start to dig into the content.
The Symposium has several brief white papers about future techologies and education to jump start the discussion:
- It's Easy To Fall in Love with Technology by Danah Boyd. This is a rant and warning against shiny object syndrome and a remember that technology does not drive practice. That technology, in and of itself, can solve the ills of the world. This made think about focusing less on the tools, but more on the implications for nonprofits. Some of the future has already arrived, so may be talk about those examples.
- The Stars Our Destination by Gardner Campbell. This post is an inspirational message and reminder that stubborn visionary optimism drives accomplishments and that half measures and incremental steps just don’t seem to get us very far when it comes to education. For nonprofits taking their foray into social media, incremental steps are what is in order. But, how to make that big leap across a chasm that isn't scary.
- Tactics and Haptics and A Future That Is Now by Holly Willis. This post describes several projects that represent the future of technology and education because they meld tools and needs. Described as situational technologies, they strike a balance between needs and possibilities and letting users determine uses and creative desire.
Last year, I heard Jerry Michalski use the metaphor of the global brain in talk about the future. He mentioned that we were halfway through a transition process where we are renegotiating social contracts and connecting with people in a way that we haven't before. Jerry talked one benefit of this connectedness and openness is innovation.
So, the folks at NMC who build objects on Hakone might be creating a big, huge, global brain that when clicked will open up web links of some of the best crowdsourcing on the future technologies and how they will impact the nonprofit sector. I've identified some key resources or inspiration below (if there are others let me know) where discussions about the future and nonprofits are taking place.
For example, you can in a couple clicks go onto a site like Slideshare and see ideas on a topic from some of the best thinkers on that topic and recreate your own meaning of it. I had joked with Jerry that one downside is the inability to remember our calendar - and that with this socialness will our friends eventually collaborately remind us of our appointments. (It was funny at the time).
Source: Charlene Li - How Leaders Win By Letting Go
For nonprofits, perhaps this means a new sort of openness or degree of openness as Charlene Li outlines in her recent presentation called "How Leaders Win by Letting Go." Peter Deitz unpacked this part of the equation in a conversation over at Social Edge called "Collaboration or Competition" and in a subsequent guest post on my blog shared some learnings about open standards. (Using a futuristic body parts metaphor I might add)
As part of this, we have to face the question of the degree of openness that a nonprofit organization will embrace. As Esther Dyson said during the summer at Transparency Camp West, that there was still in 2009 a place for private discussion. "We could all go around naked and look like angels, but in the real world that doesn't happen." Transparency has its benefits, but so does privacy. As Esther Dyson said, "There is a need for respect - of relationships, to get trust, and further understandings. You can't be fully transparent all the time because you need to give people a safe place to have the discussion without disrespecting others."
The point is that there are different levels of transparency for nonprofits and it is knowing where that line is and how transparency can make the organization more effective. I wonder if in 2020, whether nonprofit boards/governance will be totally transparent?
But the point is that knowledge is now externalized in our global brain of connections with colleagues and other organizations. I think that this connectedness will thread together both individuals and make the boundaries of nonprofit organizations very porous - so that we'll have colonies of organizations working together on issues/causes versus isolated islands. This melting of boundaries will happen from inside out through individuals working in nonprofits using social networks to connect across silos and organizations.
This is already happening to some nonprofits as a by-product of their participation on social networks and using simplicity. Take for example, what David Venn had to say in this recent guest post about how the use of social networks has opened the door to new partnerships.
Will nonprofits in the future:
1. Identify the essential
2. Network the rest
This is happening by design in some newer nonprofits. In a recent post by Scott Henderson offers up charity:water as an example. Ever since last year’s Twestival, the nonprofit charity:water and its founder, Scott Harrison have demonstrated the power of simplicity.
Harrison is building a non-profit capable of
breaking thru the cynicism his generation (he’s 34) has for large,
bureaucratic non-profits. To do so, he knew he had to take a different
approach that was more transparent, lean & hungry, and leveraged
its inherent strengths
Two things surprise most people who about charity:water. First, charity:water didn’t conceive and run Twestival. Second, charity:water doesn’t drill the wells themselves. The former was led by volunteers and the latter is done by partner organizations with decades of experience.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that scandalous? Actually, it’s quite smart. Scott knows his team’s strength is in telling the story and making it easy for others to raise the money.
Why only equip paid staff to raise money when you have a growing army of champions? Or, why build up a large implementation team from scratch when you can contract with organizations that have been around 20-30 years and are quite familiar with each country and culture they help? Of course, they have professional fundraisers on staff. Of course, they also send their operational staff into the field to work with their partners and keep them accountable.
In case you were wondering, all of their marketing is done in house. Scott and his team travel with digital still and video cameras everywhere they go. Most of the stunning visuals are shot by Scott himself (he says if anyone shoots 1,000 photos, at least one will be a powerful image). At the controls of the charity:water marketing dynamo is his new bride, who designs all their digital and print collateral, including their website.
One of the benefits that connectedness offers us that we no longer a vertical monopoly on a program, cause, or fundraiswer. Not one organization needs to do all the heavy lifting. This is called working in a networked way.
Crowdsourcing is another example of working in a networked way. Lucy Bernholz who writes the Philanthropy 2173 blog is a master of that - and is currently crowdsourcing trends and predictions for 2010. What will the social sector look like in 2010?
The institution as we know it is dead. Collaboration between and within organizations will be paramount to creating REAL change. -- @ntenhross
Yes, the institution as we know it is dead. The illusion of institution boundaries is crumbling - collaboration proves more useful. Remix. -- @NurtureGirl
Foundations leveraging unrestricted funds to "challenge" people to engage in philanthropy (S.A. Comm. foundation match days trending upward.) The role of movement-building in philanthropy and the social sector as a whole. The closing doors of non-profit organizations due, a.k.a. the final wave of impact from the recession and the "new normal" that will emerge. -- @ChangeEvnglst
Movements, for all kinds of issues & sectors - movements any organization can join, and anyone can be a part of, and more sustained than campaigns. -- @engagejoe
The big story will (should) be the shift from serving causes to solving them. Audiences won't stick with nonprofits that don't make progress on issues and won't donate to groups that aren't having MAJOR impact. Note that MAJOR impact is not to be confused with activities that get attention or build lists. The whole way nonprofits operate will change in 2010. It won't be viewed that way; people will say the economy is still struggling, etc. But make no mistake, the shift will be in approach and strategy. Non-profits must operate with a new mindset and focus, or lose audience. -- @BrianReich"
The Independent Sector is engaging individuals and organizations the spectrum in a dialogue to address social isues and problems that nonprofit sector has been addressing for a long time. The themes include the role of technology in social change, the power of cross sector partnerships, and the importance of building greater diversity that brings new voices to the field. The initiative is called FutureLab, an Online Challenge for the Nonprofit Community to Chart a Vibrant 2020 and is a national conversation to generate, develop, and share ideas to dramatically increase the impact of nonprofits and foundations over the next 10 years.
Behind the password, is a conversation taking place about many issues. I was most curious about those related to technology. They challenges are presented.
- To date, we have failed to maximize the potential of technology as a powerful force to effect transformational social change, to improve people’s lives, and to mobilize our collective power. How can we assist organizations in moving from using technology to increase internal productivity to using it to fuel social change?
- The transformative power of technology has been successfully leveraged in the business community and has produced “game changing” models such as eBay and Google. How can we support innovation, invention, and adoption of transformative technology for the public good?
- The barriers preventing the nonprofit community from harnessing the power of technology include lack of understanding and know-how, privacy concerns, institutional resistance, and real or perceived start-up costs. How can we overcome these, and other, barriers?
A few of the emerging solutions presented:
- Create a technology boot camp for CEOs to gain a quick understanding of how technology and social media can increase the effectiveness of their organizations. Technically-literate leaders are more apt to invest in human capital through technical assistance, certification, and on-going training thus mobilizing our collective power and adding velocity to social change.
- We as humans like to use tools that are Easy, Fun and Mean something to us personally....that give us a personal benefit. It explains Facebook's success...all of us desire to publish (some of us less, some of us more) personal facets of our lives. But the magic is that it is easy....for everyone...it operates on all levels of bandwidth...and it is FUN.
What's your take on the future of nonprofits and how social networks are causing disruptive and far ranging change?