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an "appropriate technology" manifesto

This "love-fueled rant" from Aspiration Tech should be required reading for anyone who has ever worked with technology and/or nonprofits. A few highlights:

...Technology discussions and planning should remain firmly rooted in the language of the end user. Vocabulary is a powerful barrier to organizational autonomy and empowerment.

...What has worked offline for generations still deeply informs what works best overall. Technology has not changed the game so much as it has changed the process of winning the same. The game is the same as it has been since before anyone walking today on this earth was alive: build power in movements to catalyze social change and justice, and hold corporations, governments, and random controlling parties accountable for the leverage they exert and maintain. Tech fetishism is never a substitute for great organizing. Technology will not set you free, in fact quite the opposite.

...And last, but perhaps most important: nonprofits should never forget who technology leaves out, and what it leaves undone. A number of those most in need of the social justice impact that nonprofits strive to realize exist beyond the reach of the latest shiny internet fad. Technology is a powerful, seductive and essential vehicle for communicating vision, winning campaigns, buttressing programs and supporting operations. But technology doesn't make a better world, people working for positive social change make that better world. (Editor's note: THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS)

The only things I would add are that:

  • These ideas apply to the philanthropic arms of for-profit groups as well as nonprofits, and
  • We're not dealing with just nonprofit employees here - we also need to think about external stakeholders, including the target audiences of these projects. There's tech to improve internal function, and tech as a part of outward-facing initiatives, and most of these apply to both.

But still. It's good to remind ourselves of these things. (H/t Sean Martin McDonald.)




necessary but not sufficient

Daily Intel has a piece today on how NYPD officers are (theoretically) going to start carrying naloxone, the heroin anti-overdose medication, in an effort to stem the rising tide of opiate-related deaths in that city. Predictably, naloxone is a controversial treatment, particularly in this context; the rationale against it seems to be that if heroin users *know* that they can just overdose whenever they want and not die, they'll have no incentive to stop using. In that sense, it's reminiscent of the Bush-era PEPFAR campaigns that emphasized abstinence over condom usage, with the logic being that if people know how AIDS is passed on but you don't give them protection, then they just won't have the unprotected sex. Harm prevention vs. harm reduction.

Unsurprisingly, those AIDS programs didn't really work, and forsaking naloxone probably won't either. Now, I love behavior change and its related communications - there's a reason I've focused so much of my academic and professional career in that area - but, unfortunately, difficult problems generally require systemic, multi-pronged solutions. And while we should be working on the structural issues and individual choices that lead to problems as aggressively miserable as heroin addiction, in the meantime we have some people who are dying on our hands.

This is a domestic issue, of course, but the treatment of harm reduction vs. harm prevention as a binary instead of as a compliment has substantial relevance for the development world as well. No one is going to argue that an educational radio program is an adequate substitute for a well-run and well-resourced school, but building institutions takes time, and there are kids who need an education in the world we live in now. Not to state the obvious or anything, but the trick is figuring out how to balance the two approaches - not making ourselves choose only one.


(Another example of the need for a systemic approach to social change: this Onion article. I know, two in one day. With me, this is what you get.)