HandsOn Tech at Innovate 4 Good Conference
Our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Elissa Thomas, attended Innovate 4 Good at Microsoft last week and put together a re-cap of the conference's conversations. Read more...
There was an interesting blend of social technologies at the Innovate 4 Good conference at Microsoft on March 31. Facilitated by Allen “Gunner” Gunn from Aspiration in San Francisco, the conference brought nearly 100 young people together for innovative conversations around contemporary social problems.
Analog Opinion Differentiator
The morning began with Gunner introducing “the analog opinion differentiator,” a long piece of blue tape spanning the entire room. We generated controversial statements, then arranged ourselves around the room in position to where we stand on the issues, from total agreement at one end of the room to total disagreement at the other end. There was a sizable centrist crowd in the middle of the room, but many participants were very passionate and argued for and against the various position statements. “Eating meat is murder,” for example, divided the room up into clearly distinct camps. “Employers should be able to log in to their employees’ Facebook accounts” resulted in a mass of movement towards the disagreement direction. The activity allowed us to become aware of the diversity of perspectives and experiences in the room and set the stage for the rest of the day’s conversations.
Throughout the day, participants wrote down their aspirations for improving the world.
Heat Map of the Mind
Similarly, the “heat map of the mind” activity generated a reflection of issues facing young people all over the world. We broke into small groups to brainstorm a list of compelling topics, then posted them on a large white board that spanned the entire width of the conference room. As a group, we read and organized the topics into categories. Not surprisingly, a significant number of post-its focused on education. I was very surprised, however, to observe how few “wedge issue” topics were up on the white board. Considering the strident political discourse right now, I would have expected many people to be strongly concerned with same-sex marriage, abortion, and other social issues. On the contrary, the young people in the room listed education, poverty, inequality, global health, and human rights as the pressing issues in their lives. In the afternoon, we broke up into different groups to discuss specific problems and solutions. We were encouraged to hold off on conversations about implementation until the last few workshops.
The conference process emphasized thoughtfulness and big-picture thinking rather than coming together to churn out quick fixes. The activities were structured to maximize creativity, collaboration, and community. I appreciated the opportunities to connect with inspiring and intelligent participants from all over the United States and Canada. The youth panel, for example, randomly picked out attendees to share their stories and included: a social entrepreneur, two Microsoft employees who started programs for teens, a high school student who organized TEDxRedmond, and an Imagine Cup doctoral graduate who developed an application that can detect malaria using a Windows phone.
An illustrator depicted the conference workshops through expressive cartoons and charts.
I look forward to seeing more from the Innovate 4 Good community as the initiative launches in other cities around the world -- Singapore, Beijing, Mexico City, Brussels, and Cairo.
- Elissa Thomas