Tech for good support network

Catalyst has been helping local tech for good networks to come together and build connections with one another. We celebrate the forthcoming launch of a national Tech for Good Network to support them.

Over the last few years, there’s been an exciting movement of Tech for Good groups and networks springing up across the UK. There’s hundreds of them. Some are generalists, exploring how tech can be used for social good. Others are based around a particular topic or theme, such as ProMo Cymru’s Creating Conversations in Wales who support youth charities to use digital, or Climate Action Tech who are focused on using tech to have a more positive effect on the environment. 

There are local Tech for Good networks such as Tech for Good Live in Manchester and Tech for Good South West in Bath and Bristol. 

For the first time, we're looking at creating a national service, which will bring those local networks together, which will launch later this month.

We know the benefits these communities bring, and we also know the challenges they face when setting up or trying to become sustainable. These are mostly volunteer-led community groups, and that work is hard work, and it’s a testament to the folks across the UK running them that they’re still thriving. Some of the folks in these groups and running these groups know each other and catch up every now and then, but up until now, there’s been no formal cross-community support network. We’ve all been doing our own thing, to the best of our ability.

We really began to learn more about these networks, and the support they provide, as a result of a Catalyst-funded project way back in February 2020. 

  • You can read about phase 1 of that project here. The article explores the value that these communities bring and the trends in the key challenges they come across. (Short version: they’re important and they need support.)
  • Phase 2 was a co-design phase with seven networks where we all began to work together to see how we could support one another. (Short version: we could and did support each other in all sorts of ways and it was productive. And to be honest, during a global pandemic, for me, it became an important support network.)

Following on from this co-design phase, we wanted to find out how we could formalise the idea of a national network for Tech for Good organisers, so we kicked off a new project (or if we’re wedded to the existing naming convention, let’s call this “Phase 3”) where we’ve started to more formally come together and engage with more community networks. 

Our previous work focussed on our support of the charity sector, which most of the networks do in some way and to different extents. For example Net Squared London ONLY works with charities, but Climate Action Tech is more likely to work with the tech sector. A vast majority of the networks talk about the value of the cross-sector work they do. Whilst our previous phase focused purely (or mostly) on charities, we’re now opening this up to make sure we don’t miss the vital work that other groups do, driving issues of responsible tech and how tech can also play a positive role in social change.

We’ve now got 17 place-based and community of practice-based organisations working through a series of workshops to co-design the UK network. We’re exploring governance, structure, diversity and inclusion, ways of working, aims, mission and values. We’re engaging directly with the various communities to understand who they’re composed of and what their needs are, and we’re seeking out other networks who might want to be involved (shout in my direction if that’s you!). 

We’re working with Pete Burden of Practical Governance to help us figure out how best to work together, we’ve set up a mailing list, a Twitter account and a temporary landing page (thanks Ed!) and we have collated a bunch of templates and useful information in a Google Drive. 

Some of us are attending sociocracy training that we can use to collectively self-organise and govern ourselves as a UK Network, but also that we can all take back our learnings and drive effectiveness of our individual networks. 

Alongside the funding and support we’ve received from Catalyst, we’ve also received some from The Co-op Foundation and Luminate to support the Diversity and Inclusion work from the get go. Tessa Cooper of Collaborative Futures has been working with us on coaching sessions and group work to help us build a more equitable and inclusive space.

Our focus is to support those who are running networks, but what’s exciting about what we’re doing here is that naturally those people take what they’ve learnt back to their own volunteer teams who then take that to the communities they support. We can see the benefits of this work reaching out further and further.

What are we hoping will come of this? We believe that by supporting each other we can reduce duplication of effort by sharing what works, our learnings, templates and work done to date (freeing up much needed bandwidth for our time-poor community organisers), increase the effectiveness of our work by sharing knowledge, and helping make the networks more sustainable. We’ve all had our wobbles over the years, and we’ve seen new networks fail to get off the starting block. Hopefully with this practical (and to be honest, emotional) support, we can reach more people and enable new communities to thrive. 

We will be ready with a clear vision, aims and goals and ways of achieving that by the end of April 2021. Join us on the 28th April (4-6pm) to celebrate the launch of this new UK Tech for Good Network. The event will be an opportunity to share the incredible work of these Tech for Good communities and find out how you can get involved!

In the meantime, if you run a network that might in any way be described as ‘Tech for Good’ and you’d like to join in, we have a mailing list and Slack that you can sign up to here. Also, if you’re someone who wants to be supported by a community you can find a list of communities you might want to join here.

I’m also very happy to talk to any of you individually if you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to book in here:  

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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Siana Bangura
Siana Bangura