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Net2Chi - 2012 in Review/2013 Plans

From: Gordon D.
Sent on: Friday, December 21, 2012 1:02 PM

Good afternoon,

As we’re enjoying our holiday break, I wanted to give you an update on this past year’s efforts....and provide a hint of our thinking for 2013. 

This past year, we’ve held ten meetups with guest speakers from around the Chicago area, focusing on issues around tech and non-profits ranging from web analytics to app development to community mobilization. We’ve also seen a small amount of growth from 498 to 533 members. We also spent some time this past summer identifying potential partner agencies, and all of this has helped us see where we’ve been....and where we need to go. 

When I first joined Net Tuesday back in 2006, you rarely heard the words “tech” and “social good” in conversation. One of the great things about our group was how it engaged a cross-section of people committed to a single idea: technology can often serve to drive the social good, and digital excellence for everyone in Chicago is not just great idea - it drives strong community development.  That philosophy drove our efforts, strengthened collaborations and fostered the notion that helping non-profits (and other mission-driven organizations) become more tech-friendly was a linchpin in driving social change. 

As time progressed, our efforts shifted, and we began focusing more on driving attendance at our meetings rather than the actual work. We gradually became another “social media for non-profit networking group in Chicago” rather than “a group driving digital excellence in Chicago’s underserved communities.” With more organizations arising which shared our purpose, it is no wonder that a former member declared,  “The community doesn’t want Net Tuesday.”

I would beg to differ - the problem hasn’t been that we’ve lost our focus, but our focus has been in the wrong area. We’ve been acting less as a network and more as a gatekeeper....and our approach has to change in the coming year. 

One of Chicago Net Tuesday’s greatest strengths has been its role as a decentralized incubator for projects and relationships driving socially conscious efforts through informed use of technology in Chicago.  Our group has, at its best, served as a Kickstarter for driving digital excellence and technology awareness for underserved communities throughout all 77 of Chicago’s distinct neighborhoods. We can tap into a wide network of individuals and perform greater work than if we had a central database of providers. Our network of partners, professionals, and concerned citizens has always been our greatest asset,  and we need to increasingly draw upon it in meeting the challenges of digital excellence - tech, community, and the social good - for the coming year in Chicago. 

Welcome to Net Tuesday 2.0....or as we like to think of it, “Net2Chi”. A necessary reinvention to meet the future head-on. If you have to use a buzzword like “rebranding” so be it - we need to begin moving beyond the typical monthly-meeting-and-a-presentation format.

We need to move beyond the idea of meeting once a month, and sticking with one particular meeting format. Digital excellence is not restricted to one day a month, and we need to accommodate members who cannot make a regular monthly meeting. We need to integrate some of the very tools (such as livestreaming) that we encourage non-profits and social change agents to use in their efforts. We will also focus more on developing action steps, focusing less on agencies "pitching" services, but maintaining an emphasis on networking and community building. This shift moves Net2Chi closer to its original intention and purpose as a community engagement group - unlike other similar organizations, we do not just provide hands-on advice and referrals, we are willing to engage the community on every level.

On that note, we have reengaged with the Chicago Digital Access Alliance, and they've been generous enough to allow us meeting and office space. We will be meeting there on a semi-regular basis – we tend forget that digital excellence doesn't just happen in a few key areas. We serve all of Chicago's diverse neighborhoods, and this is a powerful reminder of why Net2Chi is sorely needed.  We have also reconnected with the Community Male Empowerment Project, one of our earliest partners, and we will be engaging our membership to assist them in their online and offline outreach efforts. 

We're also proclaiming ourselves “open source” when it comes to building relationships, and welcome anyone - hacker spaces, non-profits, and social entrepreneurs - with an interest in tech and the social good. We have been in contact with the Social Enterprise Alliance, and will be discussing how we can further collaborate in driving digital excellence. Netsquared - our parent organization - is taking an active role in working with local groups, and Net2Chi will be engaged in some potential “shared” projects across the globe. (Think last year’s Occupy livestream with Philadelphia Netsquared).  Net2Chi is part of a much wider community, and 2013 is an opportunity for us to reestablish our place in that community.

Many organizations talk about laying at the “intersection of tech and social good” in Chicago ....but Net2Chi was one of the first. We have built a strong foundation, and our future work needs to build upon that foundation.  Because digital excellence - driving social change by insuring communities are digitally savvy and literate - is more than just holding conferences, or building apps, or promoting socially aware businesses. It’s about insuring that our present activities are built upon past successes with an eye to the future.

We plan to be a strong part of creating that future. I hope you’ll join us on February 22nd for our 2013 kickoff meeting. If you would like to help organize, and/or you have some thoughts, please contact me at [address removed].

Have a happy and safe holiday,

Gordon Dymowski



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