Amy Sample Ward and Afua Bruce, authors of “The Tech That Comes Next,” spoke about how we can shape technology to build a more equitable world during our Accelerate Speaker Series in ResultsLab’s Impact Collective community.
In this blog post, we share highlights from the session on values, roles that we all hold as it relates to technology, and examples of how technology is supporting social impact.
From Systemic Exclusion to System Inclusion
Racial bias in facial recognition technology, bias in sentencing algorithms, cyberbullying, AI hiring discrimination practices…
These are a few examples of stories we’ve read in the news or have directly experienced as a result of harmful technology practices. It’s no surprise that distrust and complicated feelings toward technology are growing. While it has led to advancements in global connectedness, efficiencies, and new ways of learning, we’ve also seen the harm, injustices, and inequalities that can occur. The authors of “The Tech That Comes Next,” Amy Sample Ward and Afua Bruce, refer to the current state of technology as one of ‘systemic exclusion.’ A state where centralized power structures, exclusive access, and systems of control are prevalent throughout the ecosystem.
On the flip side, we’ve also seen the positive impacts of technology: advancements in healthcare, disaster relief and humanitarian aid, and environmental conservation to name a few. The opportunity for technology to drive positive change, improve lives, and address societal challenges is clear. To go from a state of ‘systemic exclusion’ to a state where resources are shared and accessible, where there’s increased collaboration, meaningful relationships, and thriving communities, or what Amy and Afua would refer to as ‘system inclusion,’ is possible. However, it will take an intentional focus on ethics, inclusion, and sustainability to get there. We have to change our relationship with technology to shift our trajectory away from ‘systemic exclusion’ toward one of ‘systemic inclusion.’
Starting from Values
Before we can start to make new decisions around technology, we need to start with grounding in more equitable values. Amy and Afua list six values that will help guide us toward the right direction:
- Value the knowledge and wisdom of lived experience.
- Value the participation of a diversity of people.
- Value accessibility as a priority from the start.
- Value addressing the immediate and long-term needs, and the multiple ways that change is made.
- Value the strength of collaboration and collectively creating a vision for a better world.
- Value the pursuit of continued learning.
5 Key Roles to Shift Towards More Equitable Technology
To create technology and societies that build upon the values that have been outlined above, and to make change happen, we all need to be involved.
“There is a place for each and every one of us, and we have to do it together because change takes time and requires a variety of skills.”
– Afua Bruce.
So what is your role? How do you fit and in what ways can you contribute? Here are the five major roles that Amy and Afua have defined:
- Social Impact Organizations and their Employees. How can you, your staff, and your community engage with technology to solve community needs? How can organizations use technology to help advance their mission?
- Technologists – ranging from people with degrees in data science to administrators of an organization’s data system. How are you developing technology that is in service to communities? How are you thinking through the design and ownership that centers community members?
- Funders and Investors. How are you funding inclusively for intentional engagement and long-term support? How are you funding to allow for flexibility and iterative processes?
- Policymakers. How are you engaging communities that have been most impacted by the technology divide? How are you using technology to improve the policy-making process AND how are you using policy to positively influence technology?
- Communities – the neighborhoods we live in, the affinity groups we identify with, and everything in between. What do you want to change? How are you engaging with the other roles listed above to help inform the decisions made around technology?
Stories to Inspire Your Impactful Technology Use
Identify opportunities where you can use technology to improve processes.
For example, a nonprofit that redistributes excess food to people experiencing food insecurity wanted to use technology to collect and distribute their food more efficiently. Previously, the nonprofit was using its staff to manually coordinate and schedule delivery and pick-up times, essentially acting as a human calendar. The organization implemented a technology system that could take over this scheduling part of the process, which not only made the process more efficient, but it created more time for staff to put towards activities that built trust and stronger relationships with their community.
Identify opportunities to use data and technology to answer questions and improve programs.
For example, a college that serves first-generation students, under-represented students, and later start students, wanted to better understand the dropout rates among their students. They dove into the administrative data they had been collecting to discover that there was a significant number of students dropping out after completing ¾ of their credits. Curious as to why, the college created a model to help staff identify students at risk of dropping out, and identify the intervention activities that matched those students’ needs. As a result, the college was able to get an additional 900 students to complete graduation. The process also led to reduced silos within the organization, increased credibility with peers by using a data-driven approach, and elevated conversations with both funders and tech vendors.
- Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology – a guide to use as an active and regular part of your strategy discussions, policy review processes, and as a resource for evaluation
- Inclusive Data Workshop – Learn and practice simple techniques for updating your organization’s data practices to be more integrated with and representative of the community you serve.
- ResultsLab Impact Collective (*must be a member to access these resources)