05 Mar Technology and tacos: Thoughts on the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference
Cross-posted from plus.timeraiser.ca
In early March, thousands of nonprofit technologists, strategists, and digital enthusiasts descended on Austin, Texas for NTEN’s 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). We came from around the world to discuss, debate, and explore the intersection of the nonprofit sector and technology. And eat tacos. Lots of delicious tacos.
NTC is a large event comprised of small-scale conversations and connections, and size provides a useful framework for organizing my thoughts about the conference. Many of the sessions I attended focused on small, typically tactical, subjects, but there were also plenty of discussions about bigger picture trends and shifts in the nonprofit sector.
NTC kicked off with a pre-conference event dubbed WordPress Day (Drupal Day was also an option), and while WordPress adoption in the nonprofit sector is certainly part of a larger trend, many of the sessions took a (smaller) tools-based approach. WordPress Day resulted in lots of lively discussion about what widgets and plugins will make WordPress function as a central digital hub. Birgit Pauli-Haack’s session Connect your site to the Social Networks mentioned numerous plugins (Jetpack seemed to be a favourite) that enable WordPress to both automate and extend social media reach.
Likewise, Yesenia Sotelo’s Day 2 session on Google Analytics provided a detailed but easy-to-understand dive into everyone’s favourite analytics tool. Website analytics are critical to understanding the performance of your site, and this session has inspired me to do more than just check bounce rates and average session times.
— Lyndal Cairns (@lyndalcairns) March 11, 2015
Discussions of tools and tactics were balanced by sessions focusing on larger trends within the nonprofit sector. Key among these were panel presentations on open data and big data. These topics aren’t new but the data conversation is evolving, and it was interesting to see how the nonprofit sector is beginning to tap into the staggering amount of data that is produced by organizations and their stakeholders. I was especially interested to meet TechSoup Global’s data scientist Steve Nagoski (a.k.a InformationChef). In-house expertise and increased nonprofit data literacy are critical factors in the sector’s ability to steer the open data conversation from its current commercial focus on apps to using data for social good. (For info on reusing open data, take a look at Steve and co-speaker Michael Enos’s presentation on the Hunger Index.) Data literacy is also a necessary requirement for organizations to effectively leverage their own programming, funding, and donor data (which I like to refer to as “small data”). Small data, in this case generated by measuring program impact, featured in the panel discussion From Data Savvy to Data Science: How Nonprofits Can Leverage Data to Transform their Work, which looked at a partnership between Crisis Text Line and DataKind. (I missed this session—scheduling conflict—so if I’m off base here, let me know in the comments.) Finally, the session Sync All the Things! How Progressive Nerds are Changing the Future of Political Data and Integration offered another sign that the nonprofit data sector is maturing: the creation of the Open Supporter Data Interface (ODSI), an API and data structure that allows for data interoperability between organizations. Simply put, data in one system can be shared seamlessly with other systems. I hope this model of data sharing can be adopted more broadly since the ODSI currently focuses only on progressive political organizations and their information. The sessions about small-scale tactics and larger trends were mostly good, but it was the quality of the networking at NTC that really stands out for me. It was inspiring to discuss the exciting and often challenging work of attendees hailing from Australia or Alaska; over a taco or two, of course. If you missed NTC this year, NTEN has created a library of presentations and just scrolling through the #15NTC hashtag is always edifying.
— Molly Rivera (@MsMollyRivera) March 5, 2015