Tech and theory of change

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Theory of Change - Technology of Social Change

  • Most of us start as part of the social movements - and technology is sort of an afterthought?
  • perceived division btw techies and communities they serve might be more artificial than anything?
  • late 90s - lots of people working in dot coms. Ruckus camp was to get techies in antiglobalization together in 2001. amazing event!
  • that group was very fuck capitalism, but ten years later those people went and worked in corporate dot com world. some were very successful. an influential in building twitter, flickr, craigslist, youtube, etc.
    • dot coms had successful implementations of the same ideas
    • so whole idea of social media comes from this community, eg. bar camps (ruckus society)
    • there’s a back and forth that goes on
  • so do the activitsts influence the dot come stuff? what is the role? what is the role of the software we’re building for shaping the larger society? both in direct activism and shaping underlying rules
  • in this particular event, we build software for social movements
  • what should we be building? what fits the culture? what fits the needs? does it necessarily have to be particularly interesting?
  • a lot of tech is now built based on a group decision making structure
  • prefigurative and define what is possible
    • eg. bookstore software. admin distributes account privileges to everybody else. reflects structure of your organization
  • ideology of bay area - social democratic liberalism
    • most people are not ron paul or anarchists - but kind of everything else. social democratic capitalism
  • legal structures exist in US that don’t exist outside, eg. 501c3 (nonprofit with board). but we don’t have a legal structure that allows us to say that we’re accountable to our members
    • eg. civic associations in other parts of the world
    • in U.S. you can put in bylaws, but it doesn’t really have legal clout. social versus hard contestation of power
  • the way we use software = social agreements. technology underlying it is hard contestation of power
  • use case: long tail of occupy, there were collaboratively maintained twitter accounts. one person closed up shop - was able to do that. because software was never built for concept of collective ownership.
  • tumblr does that - once someone has been made an admin you can’t take them off
  • admin privileges - who gets to distribute power. where else do these play out?
    • eg. git - initially was very administrative. but now its like you can shift and fork. totally shifted power balances in free software. something that was expensive in terms of work became cheap.
  • software that monitors social conversations at scale you have to build software that can pull in entirety of the conversation — that stuff is sold by Facebook, twitter, etc. there’s no software for nonprofits to monitor issues/convos about social change issues b/c money is in buying these firehoses. no one is going to buy that and create a product for a market that doesn’t have anyone to pay for it. we give away all the data we get, the analysis we do, we give it away. we’ve figured out how to use brand monitoring software to monitor social change issues. entirely dif taxonomy when you’re using something for social change versus brand monitoring. reappropriating it. it’s interesting to try to make this product that was built for coca cola, etc., for whales, sharks, the tide, etc. ultimately, we have to go to the foundations and ask them to pay for this software, b/c there is no way to build in the capacity in the sector that can afford the software. but there is no alternative, no software that does this that is affordable and built for nonprofits, social change groups.
  • we’re asking for favors, discounts, b/c the underlying platforms ended up structuring themselves as closed things to capture the value. WP gets more traffic than FB. we don’t talk about it b/c there is no company that monitors/controls it in the same way.
  • in the case of twitter, the was actually debate on whether it will be open or controlled or not. they developed this but then someone quit and ..
  • common thread in all of this about power struggles, eg. board vs best practices, haves and have nots in terms of funding, programmers/developers/designers - within actual people creating the technology. there is so much power and promise today amongst so few developers (b/c of speed, fluidity of dev) - but it’s a small group of personalities. it goes this way, that way, and a whole bunch of things aren’t going to happen
  • a large profit why social media exists for startups is b/c developers couldn’t handle the consensus process in the antiglobalization movement. web 2.0 developers (that because social media) were first and foremost activitists that were disaffected with the process
  • there was also crypto hierarchy that had nothing to do with where the movement actually went. constrained devs/designers from doing what they wanted to do. so they went to work for for profits.
  • when you build something you should think about the politics and implications of where its going to be used.
  • theres also - as an activist who has gone and sold out several times, how do we have social movements so that we can keep those developers
  • lots of other people want to be doing this, but they can’t help it
  • there is money as a factor - but I believe we’re losing our developers b/c of a problem with the way we work
  • another person: id not’ get tired of building drupal sites for people. what i feel is - layers of privilege in other areas influence how long people are going to stick around. the power structures that determine who is upwardly mobile in tech world. there’s not a lot of folks flying to go work at twitter in marginalized communities. i wonder how privilege plays into where people stay and when people decide to leave.
  • what we’re missing: back to this issue of theory of change. how we develop theories of change that will guide us and keep us from doing fucked up things ourselves. i’m starting to figure out a theory of change for MY path and where i’m going. how do i formulate a theory of change where i’m in a place where I’m happy and not fucking people over in any way shape or form
  • the challenge becomes how do you continue to do this in our lives and our practice. its accomplishment enough that we get to voice our ideas - another level of challenge to continue that discussion out in the world.
  • those of us working in tech or social change not directly involved in tech - they’re still fucked up. power structures, egos, individuals. looking at it as a freelancer, I’m making clear decisions about who i want to work with and support. that has a lot of power, but we still have orgs that are just as fucked up as tech companies.
  • schism of techies versus social workers - still kind of exists. when you say they got fed up with consensus and had privilege to leave. then its hard. or theres so many flavors - the gradients of how you can tweak it - its hard. how do we tool our processes with the people who work on the ground
  • right now only hard core articulated need is security and privacy
  • theory of change - articulation this is what I’m effective at - how can i be intentional about change. this is how my org and i can make that change
  • tom stein berg - my society - what is effective change? they create tools for govt to work better, tools for ind citizen empowerment. but not for movement empowerment. they are creating space (movements theory of social change).. there’s this idea that social change happens … eg. “well if only people had access to information, then they would act” this will circumvent organizers - reach ethereal masses directly, they will self organize. ignores vital role of leaders in movements.
    • idea that individuals will organically coalesce to make change
  • most of the tech for social change ignores the existence of social movements, eg. restaurant that did something bad and have people just get together on yelp and do negative reviews. or malcolm glad wells critiques of how people use twitter.
    • seems totally superficial if you forget the fact that they are people getting together to use the tools
  • spanish guy - psychodrome - only role is putting together an ether pad everyday of talking points for spanish social movements. purely internet.
  • open source, privacy, security — this stuff is only repeated at events like this. the exciting things are tools that matter to open source coders. to be honest, although most people care SHOULD care about security, privacy — the majority of social change orgs don’t prioritize these issues.
  • its like if you were interested in houses and went to home depot, all you see is parts.
  • i think we need organizers just for this purpose - bridge the tech and social change interests. thats what aspiration is.
  • some of the stuff we’re working on (collaboration tools), those are powerful tools. we’re never gonna get away from the fact that functionally open source is people collaborating on stuff to build the stuff that they need
    • so maybe its about training different demographics - eg. open hatch
  • Upwell has been important b/c they don’t talk about tools, but how they use the tools. using it to impact conversation.
  • is there a resource thats available - like task rabbit for nonprofits. a platform for techies and social change activists to come together to connect around needs. the only place we’ve see that happen is civicrm. actual nonprofits can identify something they need and pool resources, donate money, find developers, recruit, etc.
  • CIVICRm - can be that platform. that model works really well. also seen a similar coaelescence of people here working together around similar goals
  • maybe we need one organization whose job is to build software for other organizations
    • thats been done, aspiration, benentech
    • this has led to failure, so foundations are afraid of funding software projects
    • ushahidi - directly developed to meet a specific need and then its grown from there. so thats the piece that may be essential. fixing something right away
  • so problem with software development is you have this architecture astronaut problem. if you ask people what they want or even look at what they do, you’re still going to build something big and ambitious. good software doesn’t get built big and ambitious. eg. usahidi was fast - people are dying right now - can we get something online in the morning so people don’t die in the streets.
  • even things that are huge now like fb, twitter, mysql - these are all simplest things that could possibly work for whatever small issue
  • the way nonprofits, ngos, work - it works for them but software dev is very dif
  • building software is hard - it takes a lot of work. your nonprofit is not going to go out and build a five story building without hiring a contractor, etc. there’s a certain amount of expertise and org that goes into building a useful platform.
  • maybe we can identify our version of people dying int he streets
  • we need more skilled labor in dif demographics — maybe this is where we should put more of our focus
  • also maybe just peoples attains need to be less on the sexy thing, and more on the needed thing