Technologies and Tools for Change

Access to high-speed internet is now more prevalent than ever. The tools and technologies which enable our most creative work are readily accessible. Online engagement is no longer simply an aid to traditional methods of engagement; it is a requirement. Now – more than ever – it is essential that we take time to better understand, leverage, and integrate technologies into our engagement efforts to support the increasingly important work of our organizations.
Attending Tamarack’s workshop, Community Engagement: Technologies for Change (February 27, 2017), I was looking to deepen my understanding of community engagement and broaden the  toolkit I use in my work. Connecting with fellow practitioners to develop a shared understanding of best practices and methodologies, I was curious of how we leverage digital tools and address the challenges surrounding their use. Given my personal interest in the technologies themselves and my experience integrating them into strategies I was looking to share my experiences with my peers while learning from their unique perspectives at the same time.
Throughout the morning Lisa Attygalle, Tamarack’s Director of Engagement, took us through the landscape of community engagement, the shifts we’re seeing across our work, and both opportunities and challenges presented when we layer technology upon existing frameworks.
The idea that technology isn’t a panacea for our engagement efforts, that it is only as effective as the strategies it aims to support and the resources allotted to see it succeed, is something that stuck with me during our morning session. Far too often I think we try to use technology to enhance our efforts but don’t take the time toadequatelyintegrate it into the projects it aims to support.
Engagement efforts that integrate technologies are not much different than more traditional efforts, although sometimes we treat them as if they are. If we were to develop an in-person community engagement activity we would plan, integrate, support, and measure it to help deliver on our objectives. Engagement efforts which make use of the internet, new tools or technologies should be approached using processes similar to the ones our organizations already use.
When a new tool fails to deliver on promised outcomes we’re often quick to blame the technology rather than taking a moment to reflect on its use. Stepping back and considering if it was the right tool for the job, we need to make sure that it was integrated into a broader strategy and supported by the resources needed. Rather than a quick ‘trial-and-error’ approach that’s often the practice of many resource starved organizations, it is valuable to consider how a technology can enhance, evolve and transform engagement efforts to support successbeforeputting them into practice.
For more thoughts on the topic of how technology can improve community engagement read Lisa’s feature titled ‘Forward’ in Engage 2015.
Over the later half of the day we focused our attention on how individual tools can support work across the community engagement spectrum.
We considered the use of specific tools to support different types of conversations with our communities, including Poll Everywhere, PlaceSpeak and Ethelo.
Learning from our peers about connecting with highly targeted demographics, we considered the use of various mediums to gather public input and engage, while being reminded that if you want to build community it is important to start where the people are.
And, repeated was the idea that while there’snota one-size-fits all approach to engagement there are opportunities to learn from our peers, build upon what has worked before, and that stronger communities regardless of size, demographics or interests, need to be built.
In a workshop focused on (digital) technologies for community engagement the notion of face-to-face communication still being paramount in our work was a key takeaway. The need for human connections and the ability for these connections to translate into meaningful action is as relevant today as it always has been.
While technologies support the work we do by allowing us to reach wider audiences – more easily and quicker than ever – there’s still the need and value in connecting with individuals where they are in ways which they prefer to be connected by. Whether it be by phone, face-to-face, traditional printed resources or the fanciest new technologies, it is most important to engage with the communities we serve using the technologies that resonate with them.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
– Bill Gates
Regardless of sector we all face similar challenges; lack of adequate resources, reaching populations that aren’t easily reached, and the legal considerations which impact much of the work we complete with new technologies. These challenges are in addition to making sure the work we are doing is relevant and is able to connect to our communities in meaningful ways.
When polled about our engagement activities and the integration of technology early in the morning I had the feeling that we may not be as far along as we thought (or need to be) in our work to engage. With the shift in how we work to more partnerships, communities in power, open systems and increased inbound engagement, it can be difficult for our organizations to stay on-top of a constantly changing landscape.
If we take the time to listen our communities, create strategies which support them, and understand the tools we have access to, we will find that the technologies we select to create change – and how we integrate and leverage them – are not all that different to what we have been doing for years. Keeping an open mind about what’s possible (and what’s not), we need to layer and integrate technologies into our engagement strategies, supported by the adequate resources and a willingness to learn, to help reach our communities where they are and in ways which are meaningful to them.
Note: This post was written for Tamarack and may be found on their website or other places of publication. For additional resources related community engagement and technologies for change check out Tamarack’s resource library.