11 Apr Is it tech for good, or tech for good people?
Many people know I’m a big fan on podcasts, I’m subscribed to a lot of them – some for work, some just for fun, some both. Recently I was listening to the Tech for Good podcast (which is one of those that sits somewhere in the overlap of ‘this is something I’m listening to for work, but I enjoy it so it doesn’t really feel like work’). In particular, the episode I was listening to was ‘Tech for good TV: Extreme Living: Homelessness and Technology’ (in case you want to listen to it too).
As I was listening I felt something was odd about it and I found myself thinking ‘but they’re not talking about tech’. And I realised, that’s because they were talking about homelessness and tech (rather than tech and homelessness). And that’s how it should be, issue first. It was funny for me to have this moment, because I’ve talked about this before (for example, in this blog about email) and in relation to other groups or events – that too often tech for good stuff is tech led or tech first, but it should be issues and problems first.
I actually first made some notes for this blog 8/9 months or so ago in late 2016, but just haven’t ever got around to writing it, not feeling like there has been quite the right moment. But this instance really put it into focus for me, it was a really good example of what I wanted to say!
I’ve written before on the benefits of digital and tech for non-profit organisations, but here I don’t really want to make that argument, I want to raise a question – what is it we are doing? Are we techies who work with organisations that do good? Or are we building tech which does good?
Look at something like the real-time translation app Tarjimly, which was created to enable refugees to speak with doctors, aid workers, legal representatives, and anyone else they need to speak to, by providing live translation services. Or even the idea proposed by Windhorse Aerospace of using edible drones to help support humanitarian crises and delivery of food aid. Although the second is questionable whether it would really work, these are both uses of tech which almost evidently do good. They have been designed in response to a problem, and therefore they exist to solve that problem.
On the other hand, you have something like building a website or setting up social media accounts for a non-profit so people can find them and their services more easily, or creating a bespoke CRM system that will allow them to manage relationships with supporters effectively. These are uses of tech which are made good by the organisations using them and what those organisations use them for.
It’s not a perfect categorisation, and I’m not saying that either one is better. All of these things are doing good. But, it seems to me that there is a difference between using tech to do good and good people using tech.
Is ‘tech for good’ any tech that’s used by or for good people? Or is ‘tech for good’ only tech which is developed for the specific purpose of doing good?
I suppose this is the part where I answer the question myself. For me it’s all about why you’re doing something. I like to say that Fancy Guppy is about doing digital with purpose, we help the organisations we work with to use digital to achieve their aims. And I think that’s what tech for good is really about. If you know why you’re doing something, it’s easier to know if it’s doing good.
It’s not that comprehensive an answer, but really I mostly wanted to raise this as a topic for discussion. It’s Fancy Guppy’s birthday this month and I’ve been reflecting on a lot of things about working in this area (you can read more of my reflections in this blog about diversity in tech), this is one of the things that came up and I thought it was an interesting question. So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Tech for Good podcast on iTunes
Michaela Hodges, Fancy Guppy (28th October 2016) I like email, or, why we should talk more about digital as problem-solving
Michaela Hodges, Fancy Guppy (13th September 2016) Benefits to non-profits of using digital, and why they don’t
Austin Clark, Charity Digital News (8th February 2017) New real-time translation app launched to help refugees
Ashley Carman, Circuit Breaker (14th March 2017) Tech company proposes edible drone to solve world hunger
Michaela Hodges, Fancy Guppy (1st April 2017) Feeling like you ‘don’t belong’ in tech is exactly why you SHOULD be there