Global Information Internship Program

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facilitated by Katie Roper

notes taken by Jordan Zell

Introduction

GIIP is a student collective offering peer taught labs including topics like:

  • What is hardware?
  • Software layers
  • Practical solutions

Classes reach out to organizations that they already like or whose mission they already identify with and build bridges to that organization. They start with a conversation about what the organization is trying to accomplish and any way they are being frustrated in those goals. When there are technological tools that are best to accomplish these goals, they try to demystify those tools and erase the idea of a division of "us" and "them" (meaning techies and nontechies).

Even as tool builders, it's essential not to focus on the tool, but use context as basis for content in order to increase participation among various organizations.

Engaging Communities

This discussion focused on difficulties in engaging various communities in technology (such as women, people of color, and the poor) and on strategies for deepening engagement. Over and over, the participants in the discussion repeated the same refrain from their experience: Focus attention on the task to be accomplished, not on the specific tools for accomplishing that task.

Start with a problem and find a solution together. Do not start with a tool or tools in mind, but explore all of the possible solutions (including nontechnical ones). The university system can sometimes be more adversarial and judgmental than collaborative for these sorts of questions, so GIIP is trying to find new ways to address them.

This approach is most effective in gathering support for two reasons:

  • If a non-computer solution is found to be the most appropriate, a group will be led to pursue that without protest from the techies.
  • If the technical solution is needed, the group will pursue an understanding of that tech as an organic outgrowth of working to serve their goals.

If you start by imposing a need for computers, there are many problems which may result. It may alienate the core group of concern for the particular problem. This technique is especially effective with people and groups of people who are not traditionally "techies".

Engaging People in Tech Policy

Again, keep in mind what we are trying to solve first of all. Many people may not think an issue like net neutrality will affect their daily life, so it's important to start out focusing on concepts that aren't abstract and engage people as "regular folks".

In poor communities and communities of color, it's important to think about how you're framing your solutions and to be especially cognizant of the power of language. Don't use acronyms and tech terms without first defining and explaining.

Burnout

The discussion ended with people sharing their experiences and advice on avoiding burnout.