SXSW Interactive Festival came and went with a thunderous crash like it does every year. And though it’s been over a month since the annual tech summit, everything we learned is increasingly relevant as we, like most non-profits, start planning ahead for the not-so-distant future. SXSW is a place for forecasting, and here’s what non-profits should be thinking about with the impending weather change.
Everything–not just everyone–will be connected
Described as the “Internet of things,” connected devices, from smart refrigerators to intelligent kids’ toys, will soon be pervasive in our daily lives just as much as our smartphones are now. Everyday appliances will track and measure their own performance, connect wirelessly to the internet for remote monitoring, and sync cleverly with all other connected devices.
Design workshops and panels at SXSW emphasized the need to prepare for such a future that transcends the tap-based, handheld screens we’re accustomed to. Soon voice commands and gestural interfaces will operate devices, and interactivity across many screens for an “extended canvas” effect will be commonplace.
And screens may very well shrink or disappear altogether. “Wearables” were a constant topic of discussion, with even basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal touting the benefits of his Nike Fit Bit on the festival’s main stage. Putting super-computers on our wrists and in our clothes is the next step for the smartphone industry. They’re aiming for a future where we’re all like Inspector Gadget.
But what does this mean for social good efforts and non-profits? For those marketing their causes, messaging will have to be reshaped to conform to Android smartwatches where information is pushed rather than requested. Social marketers will also need to take advantage of multiple screens to deliver memorable, impactful experiences.
Connected devices also offer vast opportunities for social innovation. Health organizations can use wearables to monitor sugar intake for diabetes patients or use smart couches to remind kids to get up and exercise. Meanwhile, safety organizations might create watch apps that quickly alert users when fires or accidents or crimes are nearby. Bottom line is that organizations with the resources should leverage the new technology to help deliver services that can ultimately improve lives. Those who answer the question ‘how can we better serve our target population with smart technology?’ will shape a better world.
Science isn’t just for scientists
All these connected devices and apps amass tons of data. We’re producing more data every two days than all the data produced in human history up until 2003. While daunting, non-profits must embrace the data and resist working on intuition alone. Just because Google uses data to serve us creepy ads doesn’t mean social enterprises shouldn’t use data to better inform the services they provide.
As keynote speaker Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out, experimentation is core to the human experience and can help solve humanity’s greatest challenges. “Mythbusters” host Adam Savage echoed the point, saying that “working empirically off of previous knowledge to build something better” applies to everybody. This scientific approach requires then that we use available data to measure results and refine ideas.
Once social good organizations consider their data, they can soon unearth trends, failures, behavior patterns, and much more. Using these numbers as benchmarks means they’ll be able to see what programs work and what needs to be tweaked. From fundraising to scaling services to changing behaviors, data should guide every next step of a non-profit.
Secure the data
With great power comes great responsibility. Data is unfortunately a double-edged sword that will require much oversight and regulation, something 23andme CEO and keynote speaker Anne Wojcicki acknowledged. “What’s the right way to regulate it?” she asked the SXSW audience.
As non-profits embrace data, they must be vigilant in how they store the data and use it responsibly. They also have a role to play in encouraging tech companies to develop products with privacy in mind. They can press corporate partners and government agencies to do their part in maintaining security. And social good organizations, with their deep connections with on-the-ground communities, are well-positioned to educate the public on measures people at large can take to ensure their data remains private.
Even though technology promises efficiency, the future looks to be messy. It will be a challenge to keep up with the rapid changes, but non-profit organizations must be willing to adapt. Otherwise the world they were trying to change might have already passed them by.