InspireFest – Digital Charity Lab’s Highlights

InspireFest is a festival of technology, science, design and the arts which focuses extensively on diversity and inclusion.  I attended their conference in the Grand Canal Theatre and have a few highlights that I’d like to share. The sessions that interested me most were the ones on media and social media, but there were many other fascinating discussions going on, and some truly inspirational speakers. It’s one of those conferences with a broad scope that gives you a chance to step out of your everyday work, pick up inspiration from people in different fields, and think about bigger issues of diversity and change. In other words: a good thing.

Today’s Media Landscape

The panel discussion on media landscape was unmissable to me, as someone who both works in communications and is a compulsive consumer of online journalism. This panel had the extremely impressive Kara Swisher of ReCode, Raju Narisetti of News Corp and John Kennedy of Silicon Republic – all people with a long history of analysing and championing digital.

Some insights they shared that are relevant to non profits:

  • 50% of people now get their news instantly through social media.
  • This presents a huge risk to media organisations – Facebook, Twitter etc do not pay media outlets for their content.
  • Ask yourself the hard questions – will sharing on Facebook help your business model? The Wall Street Journal just use snippets to engage and drive traffic to their site, they’re careful not to put all their content there.
  • Rich patrons are emerging as an important business model for media, says Swisher, such as with Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post. How will coverage of NGOs fit into that model?
  • Swisher made the excellent point that people always talk about how quality matters but then assume that the younger audience want crap content. They want quality content too – they’re not idiots – they just want to consume it in a particular way. Think about how you’re presenting your online content for a younger audience.
  • Figure out what platform works for you and use it, and prepare to be flexible. Snapchat doesn’t work for ReCode, Swisher says, but Cosmopolitan Magazine are getting great results there.
  • Radio is a seamless way that ads and content can live together, and podcasts are leading the way in terms of content that people are willing to pay for.
  • Diversity in your organisation will make you better equipped to talk to the digital audience – diversity of race, class, experience and age (Swisher: “young people don’t have all the answers!”). The lack of diversity in the Irish NGO sector is a shame, and what’s more of a shame is that there doesn’t even seem to be much conversation about it. (Please correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

Change Through the Power of Social Media

Lian Bell of Waking the Feminists had some insight into their hugely successful campaign:

  • Try to consolidate the noise on social media into one place, it helps the message travel further. For Waking the Feminists it was the hashtag.
  • Diversity is not a supply issue – it’s a visibility and opportunity issue
  • Waking the Feminists is only 7 months old, and a huge amount has been achieved in that time – Bell shared that they’re now at the sticky point of trying to get the various institutions to take action and change. A point we can all relate to in the NGO sector!
  • Digital facilitated the ‘biggest social upheaval that’s happened in the arts in Ireland in our lifetime’
  • It’s not really about theatre – it’s about where power and public money lies

The brilliant researcher and activist Sinead Burke (@minniemelange) spoke about how she once shared an incident of street harrassment on social media, and was then approached by Gardai who asked her to talk to the force about diversity. Can you create opportunities like this for your cause.  Burke also reminded uus that while social media can be negative and an echo chamber – it’s also a powerful force to amplify voices that are different and often excluded.

Other Highlights

  • Judith Williams, Head of Diversity at Dropbox spoke about the difference between being ‘inclusive’ and actually including people. She mentioned the tendency for work events to happen in bars, for example, which excludes some people for reasons of health, religion and family commitments.
  • Universal design is something I’m going to read up on – it’s design that keeps everyone in mind and considers disability from outset. The Google self driving car is a prominent example of this.
  • I was intrigued to learn about digital artist Julie Freeman and her work translating live nature data into graphics.
  • Game designer Brenda Romero is a fantastically engaging speaker, and was really inspiring talking about women in gaming. She’s been in the games industry since the 1980s and has great insight into using games for building understanding of complex issues.
  • I also really enjoyed learning about Alex Bernadotte’s Beyond 12 organisation: a project supporting students from lower income backgrounds in the US to go to college.

Big thanks to InspireFest for providing me with a blogger’s pass for this event.

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