Tag Archives: techresistant

fear of a red hat

So Beth Kanter does a lot of work with nonprofits, helping them answer pressing and far-reaching questions about their use of technology, and how it can advance their missions without leading them down some nightmarish rabbit-hole of Bad Tech Decisions.

She has been doing this for a long time, with a lot of different types of organizations – arts groups, advocacy groups, etc.

I love this image, and the accompanying quote, taken from an attendee at a workshop ten years ago on technology for artists and arts organizations:

Image courtesy Beth Kanter

“I feel like a stranger in a foreign country and I don’t understand the language and I’m not wearing the right hat.”

This is a great image – and a great metaphor for fear.

Whatever the New Thing is – whether it’s a social network like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or Second Life; a new Constituent Management System, donor software, or phone system; or even just a new job or an unfamiliar transit system (my own personal bête noir), we can always use a trusty guide.

I’m now doing what Beth was doing ten years ago – helping artists and arts organizations overcome their fears and use the technology that can help them. And it is not easy, for reasons that go beyond just labeling people (or a community) tech-resistant.

That’s why I love the quote above – it isn’t JUST that we don’t speak the language. If it were just that, we could keep to ourselves and just pray that we get off the Mètro at the right freaking arrondisement. No, it’s much worse. We’re wearing the wrong hat (and last year’s dress, no doubt) and PEOPLE ARE LAUGHING AT US.

It’s the old naked-in-front-of-school-assembly fear. Which is why it’s so important to respect it, and to work with it.

1. A Technology Translator needs to respect people’s fear.

Put a name to it. Put a face on it. What are you afraid is going to happen if you go on Facebook, if you switch software systems? Put that on paper, and talk about it. How can that risk be minimized – not trivialized, but addressed?

2. A Technology Translator needs to listen.

This should really go without saying, but even those of us who think we are good listeners can clam up a little more. The less you talk, the more they say. How many times have you noticed that it’s the last thing that people say, or put on a list, or finally raise their hand to add to the brainstorming session, that really gets to the heart of the matter?

Once you’ve got the fears out on paper, have listened to them all, and have assured everybody that their fears are being taken seriously, you can start to move forward.

3. A Technology Translator needs to respond individually to each case.

It would be a shame to follow up all this trust-building and listening with a one-size-fits-all solution, right? So it’s important to be truly flexible in your thinking, hear what some of the unique challenges are in each case, counter-balance those with the assets, and craft a middle road that navigates the minefield safely.

This is all terribly abstract. I’d love to talk case studies at some point. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? How do you translate technology effectively to newcomers and immigrants?

What would a guidebook to social media look like?


WESTAF and the technology mandate

I’ve got a somewhat irregular Saturday ritual of listening to recent NPR show episodes while knitting, or winding yarn, or just cleaning house.  Not long ago, I added Len Edgerly’s Arts and Technology podcast to this ritual. 

His latest, an interview with Anthony Radich, Executive Director of WESTAF – the Western States Arts Federation, has really got me buzzing.  They talked about what Radich sees as WESTAF’s role in bringing the arts community up to speed in the use of technology.  Arts nonprofits have always lagged in the use of technology, Radich says, but new technology is much cheaper and easier to use – and is really a natural for use by arts organizations and artists. 

He says that WESTAF really has an obligation, as a super-regional arts agency, to lead the way, both through their own use of technology, and by increasing access to and the understanding of technology for artists and cultural organizations. 

This is really what I’ve been circling around in many of my discourses on how to use social media, open architecture, and bottom-up content creation even though your constituency might be somewhat behind the times in the adoption of technology. 

In some cases (in my own, one could argue), the use of technology itself is part of the service you are providing to your members.  The access to it, the opportunity to get familiar with the tools.  A starting point.  A launch pad. A training ground.

It’s tough to make the case for instituting ground-up content creation when it’s an open question if any of your members will actually create content. 

But, when an arts agency considers it part of its mandate to provide professional and business training to artists and cultural organizations, isn’t it also part of that mandate to introduce them to the new tools of the internet?  Tools that can bring their creative product and repute to the global community?

WESTAF is creating a new website that will try to do just this.  It will allow artists to upload video of their events to help them get the word out.  It will help artists findand support one another, despite geographic disparities.  It will give the members agency to decide what programming, modules, and web-based capabilities they want for themselves, by opening up the stage for them to comment and share.

They already have modules on their website that offer their constituency: 

  • a grant administration technology tool for cultural organizations;
  • a job board for the arts and culture community;
  • a Call for Entry management program;
  • a universal application system for applying to shows and craft fairs;
  • blogs.

It seems that they are updating all of this (some of it is a little dated, but that’s to be expected) and unifying it under a common banner.  Then they’re adding more useful bits as they go along, based on community response.  How exciting…

I can’t wait to see the results – and to learn from them.

The knitting?  I’m afraid it still only looks like this: