The Interview Summary
Could we start by introducing yourself and your role please?
- I’m the network coordinator at Tech for Good Organisers’ Network. I manage and make the Tech for Good Organisers’ Network function, keep going, build community, and support everyone who's involved.
- I'm a founding member of the Tech for Good Organiser’s Network and I am the initiative lead for that project as well.
How would you describe the purpose of the Tech for Good Organisers’ Network?
- We're a community for Tech for Good Organisers across the UK and Ireland. We work together to share best practice, support one another, and help ensure tech for good communities can thrive.
How did you first become involved with Catalyst and how does the Tech for Good Organisers’ Network fit in with the overall aims and objectives of Catalyst?
- This network was set up independently of Catalyst. There were a dozen or more founding members, who were all organising networks across the country. When Catalyst was created, the network applied to be a participating member, and has stayed at that since. And I think soon after the network was formalised, I volunteered to be the initiative lead for Catalyst. So that's how I started.
- Catalyst looks to improve the state of digital for charities in the UK. Personally, I see the Tech for Good Organisers’ network primarily as one which attracts and develops talent into this sector, or for good communities themselves, you know, attract technologists and help them find good and impactful work in in the charity sector. The Tech for Good Organisers’ Network helps the organisers make these communities grow and be effective.
- I became involved when I was hired to another role, which is a parallel role to this one in the data world.
- Overall, our aims and missions are the same, which is to really build a strong tech for good movement in the UK, just through different avenues. Catalyst is trying to bring in lots of different groups in a more formalised way, whereas the Tech for Good Organisers’ Network is a bit more grassroots. I also think that the Tech for Good Organisers’ Network is a little broader than Catalyst in the sense that we have a much broader definition of what for good means, and a broader idea of who can fit into the ecosystem of for good as well (including social enterprises or big corps or agencies), so I think we have a lot of that built in. I think Catalyst does do that, but not to the same extent.
Could you tell me a bit more about the unconference that took place last month. What was it like?
- A lot of our energy in the first couple of years was just establishing it and figuring out our strategy and working practice, hiring, and budget etc. And really, this event was our first big event where we'd really focused on recruiting and growing the network. The beginning of really putting that stuff into practice. Previously, essentially that had been formalisation of a network that already existed - you know, a group of people who are organising things across the country and wanted to strengthen it and particularly helping endure through the pandemic. 35 attendees is the largest convening of people running a tech for good group in the UK ever. That alone is a great achievement.
- An unconference is an event where the participants make the agenda for the event as they go along. It's particularly good where you have a lot of people where we don't necessarily know in advance what people are going to be interested in. That was the case here, where obviously people have a lot in common, but also very different backgrounds. I think we had almost 100 sessions during the day. All of which were spontaneously generated by the participants. Many people joined in the evening where we had a social afterwards. We had a wide variety of attendees; it was fascinating to bring these people together with a focus on community organising. It was interesting to see diversity in theories of change and organising styles.
- The current environment of community organising is strange. Morale and capacity are low. So, it was great to be able to inspire so many people to show up, including new partners, there is a lot of potential to grow.
- We focused a lot on inclusion, covering costs, booking hotel rooms where needed, covering expenses and travel but also a focus on meeting participant needs. We produced a guide at the beginning to be clear what was happening and trying to create a warm and welcoming space and things that participants can take back to their organisations. It’s an interesting way of feeding back to people who are organisers themselves.
Could you tell me what are the some of the advantages of this format over more traditionally structured conferences?
- What this format allows you to do is somehow discover the things that people think are important. It allows for many different types of subgroups of interest to somehow be expressed simultaneously. I think it also helps people if they have unexpressed interests, they can let them out, which is always very fascinating. Something I'd really like to emphasise is Tech for Good organisers are often interesting people in their own right. So, I think letting them network with each other as well as representative of their communities is very important.
- The other thing to say about unconferences is there is a very strong emphasis on individual autonomy. If you're in a session which isn't useful to you, you're explicitly encouraged to leave and go to a different session, which means the chance of wasting your time is low. I had a very strong sense that this was a unique group of people who had never really been brought together before and this time was very precious. Feedback in general has been positive.
- I think also what's really important with the open space format is there's space which isn't formalised. I think at every conference, regardless of its format, it's the space which has the coffee and the food where your connections are made. Explicitly making that a nice and warm and welcoming space is really important in the unconference format.
If you were to run the event again next week, is there anything that you would do differently?
- Book things in advance. I think that is the core part of the organising that was quite tough - last minute difficulties of finding spaces.
Are you aware of any short-term outcomes that came about from the event?
- I think the issue with all of these sorts of things is that short- and long-term outcomes don't really express the things that happen in a community organising space. I see this as a space to light sparks that could develop tomorrow or in twenty years’ time. An ongoing process. The short-term outcome is that people connected with people, had a chance to talk about things that they wanted to talk about, felt supported, able to ask difficult questions, and they were inspired.
What's next for Tech For Good Organisers’ Network? What do the next 6 to 12 months look like?
- This event was three or four times the last one. I hope we can do that again, which is very exciting. There are so many communities that are underrepresented in this space. I think, hopefully, the next event will be twice as long. Day one you make connections, day two you make friends. It will be great to see who comes back and how they’ve changed.
- It's a very exciting time for tech for good in general. There's a lot of change going on in technology this year and I think that's going to affect all our communities very significantly. Seeing how people are starting to get to grips with that, I think will be a very important outcome.
- This growth and the new motivation that's been brought to this network will hopefully help us develop the infrastructure around it better. If we want bigger events, we need to be more organised. I’m a big fan of Catalyst, it’s been fantastic being part of this.
- We're hoping to expand the retreat. Obviously, everything is built on funding, which is hard now.
- Hoping to make more connections, build more networks, support more people.
- We want to focus more on diversity from a power lens. So engaging people who are marginalised, or communities which don't always feel like they're welcome in these spaces.
- There are at least one or two groups similar to us, there’s room for crossover and learning that we haven’t fully focused on yet.