Announcing the 2007 Nonprofit Software Development Summit
The 2007 Nonprofit Software Development Summit will be a first-of-its-kind convening to bring together the range of developers, technologists, managers, eRiders, integrators, users and other practitioners who self-identify under the umbrella of "nonprofit software development". The event will provide an opportunity both to gather as a community and to take stock of the field, while building connections and capacity.
The Summit will be hosted in the San Francisco Bay Area from February 21st to 23rd, 2007. Additional code sprints and collaborations may be scheduled in the days following the event.
Event partners working with Aspiration to design the agenda and sessions include Blue Oxen Associates, Brattleboro Technology Collective, CivicSpace, CiviCRM, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, DemocracyInAction, DotOrganize, Drupal, Floatleft, Fund for the City of New York, Idealware, Leland Design, Nonprofit Open Source Initiative (NOSI), ONE/Northwest, The Open Planning Project, OpenID, PICnet, Project Zero, Radical Designs, and Salesforce.com Foundation. More partners are being added every day, and we welcome more involvement!
Please have a look at the Event Wiki and offer your input on how to improve the agenda!
And feel free to join the Event Mailing List to participate in discussions about planning the Summit!
The Summit will have as its primary goals the following:
- To convene and strengthen connections between the networks of stakeholders in the nonprofit software spectrum, providing a fun and creative environment for celebrating successes and leadership in the field.
- To share skills and knowledge in a highly collaborative, peer-to-peer fashion.
- To map and discuss what is available and what is missing across the nonprofit software landscape in specific software "verticals", and to posit solutions for addressing the gaps.
- To offer a point of entry for software developers interested in offering their skills to nonprofit sector.
The agenda will take a concrete and hands-on approach to topics and challenges, focusing on transferring skills and process knowledge in interactive and fun ways. Panels and slideware will be in short supply, supplanted by participant-driven collaborations and small-group formats.
The agenda for the Nonprofit Software Development Summit will be shaped by input from participants in the time leading up to and during the event, and many sessions will be self-organized in real time. We encourage you to have a look at the editable version of the agenda on the Event Wiki and offer your input on how to build out the sessions!
As with all Aspiration events, fast-paced "SpeedGeeking" will allow participants to share and compare projects, ideas, and cool tools. Interactive group activities will poll attendees on a range of development-related topics to tease out alliances and surface points of debate. Wikis and other collaborative tools will document and transmit the proceedings in real time, and festive evening activities will demonstrate that the most important sessions require neither laptops or note taking to provide full value.
The current session agenda falls into three major tracks:
- Practices, Processes and Community will address concepts, themes and essential issues in the nonprofit software development realm.
- Software Engineering Topics and Trends will dive deep on a host of technical and strategic issues relevant to nonprofit software developers.
- Going Vertical: Application Focus Areas will explore specific "vertical" categories of nonprofit software.
These tracks are guaranteed to morph and evolve as participants weigh in and build out the agenda.
The following is a sampling of sessions under consideration for each track:
Practices, Processes and Communities
Software Project Management: Participants will exchange practical skills and techniques that they can immediately apply to the management of nonprofit development projects. Project management processes - from project initiation to project planning, project execution, monitoring and control, to project closure - will named and assessed for their relevance to reality, and development project survivors share their stories and experiences. We will inventory resources and best practices for project management within a nonprofit software context and map out existing project management resources for developing nonprofit technology, ranging from tools to templates to trainings.
Business Models for Software Development in the Nonprofit Sector: Sustainability is an unsolved problem in the majority of nonprofit software development efforts, but inspiring success stories exist in a range of contexts. Cooperative and collective approaches to software development and services will be studied in detail, and stories of success, failure and points in between will be the currency of idea exchange.
For-Profit / Nonprofit Software Collaborations: Current integration of platforms such as Salesforce.com and Plone offer a promising vision for hybrid collaborations that benefit nonprofits. But complexities exist in bridging the motivations of for-profit and nonprofit efforts and offerings. Those who have made the connection will facilitate dialog and discovery on traits of effective collaborations, and potential future collaborations will be considered.
Open Source: From the Firefox web browser to content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla and Plone, free and open source software plays an ever-increasing role in the technology footprint of nonprofit organizations. But the promise still outpaces the reality in many nonprofit open source endeavors, and bridging the two is a discussion that will play out over the course of the Summit. Successful NPO and NGO open source projects will share their reflections on key factors and best community practices, while frank discussion will zero in on remaining barriers to nonprofit adoption and strategies for addressing them.
Agile development and rapid prototyping: New methods for prototyping and developing software are revolutionizing the ways tools are built for nonprofit applications. Practitioners of these techniques will share their experiences and demo the processes.
The Language Challenge: Far too many tools are not written to be easily localized into other languages and contexts. For developers working on applications that require multi-lingual support, the localization challenge is rarely well-addressed. Localization practitioners will share their tools and process tips as they describe successful internationalization and localization of specific software tools.
Usability: As the nonprofit software landscape fills out, many tools and platforms remain hard to use. Usability sessions at the summit will lay out both key considerations and usability concepts, and will also introduce techniques and processes for improving software usability. Developers will learn methodologies for letting users tell them how to improve their tools.
Open Standards and Open APIs: Much discussion has focused on the promise of open data standards and APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces). Technological, business and logistical challenges continue to stand as nontrivial speed bumps on the path to such visions. Dialog at the Summit will focus on what can be done concretely in the near term to validate the promise and demonstrate richer interoperability. Of particular interest will be standards for sharing calendar and event data, legislative databases for online campaigning, identity frameworks and APIs for content sharing.
Security: Often overlooked in the development of web and other applications for nonprofits is the issue of security. Expert security practitioners will discuss simple steps to making applications more secure, and best practices for encrypting and protecting application data.
"Web 2.0" and AJAX Koolaid: Client-side browser innovations associated with the so-called "Web 2.0" era offer higher-functioning and sometimes more usable web interfaces than their server-centric predecessors. But user conventions vary widely, and "standard" nonprofit widgets (such as donation processors) fail to exist. These sessions will discuss best-of-brood user interface technologies and associated development platforms.
Trainings and skillshares will be offered on a range of technologies and platforms, including Ruby on Rails, PHP and associated platforms (Drupal/CivicSpace/CiviCRM, Joomla), Plone/Python, and the Salesforce.com APIs. Rumors of PL/1 and ALGOL sessions have not been confirmed at this time, and some assembly will be required.
Going "Vertical": Software Categories
Geographic Information Systems: The arrival of tools like Google Earth and Google Maps only serve to remind NPO and NGO technologists of the great potential GIS tools offer to social changes. Whether it's mapping issues, supporters, or programmatic data, GIS tools are underutilized and under-evangelized visualization resources in the nonprofit sector. Discussion will address how to remove barriers to organizational adoption and effectively deploy these powerful tools.
eAdvocacy Platforms and Tools: Tools for online organizing and activism continue to mature and evolve. Discussions will include comparison of the various platforms and what's missing, as well as how to integrate emerging technologies such as VOIP/Asterisk, cell phones and SMS, and video. The vexing issue of email deliverability will also be addressed.
Grants Management Tools and Platforms: Funders have software needs just as much as the organizations they support. Developers of open source grants management tools will map out the offerings, discuss the challenges of generalizing the grants management process, and demo their tools.
Client and Case Management Tools: The universe of software for managing clients and cases in a variety of nonprofit subsectors is still confusing, often expensive, and usually difficult to integrate with other tools and data sets. But hosted applications are rapidly filling gaps and improving flexibility and usability. We'll survey the state of these various systems, and discuss opportunities for delivering better and friendlier platforms.
Disaster Management Systems: Events like Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami pointed up the glaring lack of software platforms designed to manage large-scale disasters. Developers who have implemented tools to support recovery efforts will share their stories, and discussion will focus on what's needed to make these platforms more at-the-ready when they're needed in the future.
Content Management Systems: While the array of CMS platforms available to nonprofits is rich and broad, many issues remain to address and discuss. How can these publishing platforms better integrate with hosted solutions and 3rd-party tools to provide seamless web offerings for nonprofits? Which module and customization schemes offer the most promise, and what nonprofit-specific functionality is still lacking in major platforms? How long will it be before end-user administration of these publishing systems is a reality and skilled developers aren't required for the majority of site enhancements?
Software tools and technology that empower nonprofit and non-governmental organizations to carry out their mission have come a long way in the past 5 years. The advent of hosted solutions for donation, membership and project management have reduced IT costs while increasing capacity and reach. Powerful open source content management systems have put dynamic, affordable web publishing in the hands of a broad range of grassroots organizations. Platforms to support online campaigning and advocacy are plentiful, feature-rich, and accessible to a majority of budgets. Office productivity suites have continued to gain utility, and email tools continue to revolutionize the way organizations communicate and collaborate.
But even as these tremendous advances enable and magnify the operations and programmatic work of social change organizations, a range of gaps, discontinuities and incompatibilities continue to daunt those tasked with developing, deploying and supporting software tools in the nonprofit context. Donation and membership management tools rarely "play well" with campaigning and newsletter tools. Nonprofits are often forced to use "business" software where nonprofit-oriented alternatives fail to exist. Web site development and technology selection are still opaque arts. Where tools do offer appropriate functionality, training, support, usability and documentation are all too often unsolved issues.
And there is the issue of community. Few would assert that there is anything resembling a well-connected "nonprofit software development community". Those who engineer tools for social change organizations often labor in social silos, working solo or only collaborating with those in their immediate field of practice or technology discipline. NPO and NGO developers are often an understated constituency at technology gatherings targeted at IT professionals, managers and end users in various subsectors, and they rarely enjoy event agendas focused on the topics at the center of their work and passion. Lack of appreciation for the complexities and subtleties of software engineering leaves nonprofit-focused developers under-appreciated and overworked. And "outside" developers and other technologists wishing to offer their skills to the nonprofit community have few well-defined ways to plug in and contribute. An event to convene, celebrate and connect the broad swath of players who have a stake in the development of software for NPOs and NGOs is long overdue.
Submitted by will on