Tech for good? It’s the people, stupid!

David Scurr
Mar 6, 2019 · 5 min read
Atif Choudhury, CEO of Diversity & Ability, talking at the Tech for Good Brighton meetup in February

I like Brighton. I like the energy of the place and its curious minds — eager to learn, connect and try to make Brighton a better place.

I also like meetups. I like that they’re informal and that they offer a space to meet people who are excited about learning new things, share interests and get to know one another.

A few months ago I was pondering the idea of setting up a new meetup in Brighton. My mind was telling me that this place definitely didn’t need yet another meetup (how many meetups can you fit in a small city!); but my instinct told me otherwise.

Five months later, and four meetups in, I found myself out of my comfort zone as a guest on BBC World Service Click, an international digital news programme, talking about digital inclusion and sharing the vision of this new Tech for Good Brighton meetup alongside other digital news items from Toronto, Mumbai and New-York. As I muttered away on the radio, I became fairly confident that this was actually a meetup that Brighton definitely needed.

Welcome to Tech for Good Brighton

Where there is a need, there is usually a gap.

Through the past 16 months running the Digital Brighton & Hove project, I’ve observed different sectors occupying the same compact geographical space, sat on top of another and often looking to help one another — a series of clusters of activity in need of a reason to be more joined up. Assets and resources within a very concentrated space which, with a bit more connecting, could be working even better together towards a common purpose. A good example has been the Digital Inclusion network that we’ve developed which has brought together over 200 local organisations working together to help tackle digital exclusion across the city.

In addition to this work, we’ve identified a bit of a gap for those who care about how digital technologies can help create a positive social impact locally. And it turns out there are enough people who care about these issues to step outside of their formal meetings and explore different questions in a new, informal and collaborative space. And yes, often after work hours!

Mentimeter ‘live poll’ slide showing who has joined the Tech for Good Brighton meetup on the night

Our Tech for Good Brighton meetups to date have explored a range of topics, from digital accessibility to human-centred design to tackling homelessness. While we’re keen to explore how digital technologies can help support local social projects and promote more interchange between sectors, the underlying thread at the heart of both questions and potential solutions — tech-led or otherwise — is that of helping people. And in my experience, that’s usually enough of a common purpose to start joining up some dots.

Putting people first

Take homelessness, a complex and sensitive issue not just in Brighton but across the UK. There are many different initiatives emerging which are using a digital or tech component to help address homelessness — e.g. running digital skills drop-ins in hostels, award-winning crowdfunding apps that are getting homeless people back into work, or the use of free assistive technologies to support homeless people.

At our most recent meetup, we heard from the local experts working for charities such as Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), the Clock Tower Sanctuary, The Passage, Crisis, St-Mungo’s

We heard from Brighton-based social enterprises like Diversity and Ability who’d run digital training workshops for service users from Crisis using free assistive technologies

We heard from service users like Peter Austin, who receives support from Crisis and who has benefited from learning essential digital skills…

And of course we heard from the local digital and tech experts who expressed an interest in offering support to ensure existing digital platforms were user-led, had optimised UX and accessibility.

That’s quite a mix!

Essentially, we spent three hours talking about what people really needed the most.

Mentimeter slide showing some of the digital activities already happening locally in the area of homelessness

I asked Peter later on in the pub what he needed the most from all of this and how digital might help? For him, the key was getting a better grasp of digital skills and tools to develop the removal business he recently set up in London. So, how did he develop these skills? Or what was the key difference between a successful learning experience for him and a bad one? Peter said:

“I know what help I am coming to seek and I know how I want to learn. But sometimes they (the mentors) come in thinking they know better than me what I need to know. They tell me what I need to know. That puts me off learning”.
Peter Austin

Does that sound at all familiar?

Peter Austin, who receives support from Crisis and who has benefited from learning essential digital skills

Taking things forward

Currently established under the umbrella of Techsoup with some in-kind support from Citizens Online and Clearleft, we’re currently the fastest growing Tech for Good community in the UK.

Right now, it’s not much more than a busy ‘talk shop’, bar the odd practical workshop. But there is potential for it to be more than that.

Tech for Good Brighton offers an opportunity to tap into an emerging sweet spot between those from the ‘social’ sector who have a good understanding of the needs of local communities, and those from the digital sector who can offer a series of new approaches and tools needed to design services that are people-led. At the moment they’re just not talking enough to each other.

Let’s change that.

And in true Brighton fashion, let’s make sure it’s locally sourced. The city is full of shared resources. We’re just not necessarily knocking on the right doors.

At the centre of this sweet spot, we already have a busy space full of smart people working collaboratively, both in a physical meetup and through a new digital workspace. We’re now seeing an opportunity to think and act creatively through an interchange of skills and new approaches. Not because we want digital technologies to be disruptive for the sake of innovation…but because we want to help make Brighton a better place.

So, tech for good? Well, it’s the people, stupid!

Curious and eager to find out more? Join our meetup space

Curious and eager to start making a difference? Join our new Slack workspace

Curious and eager to support Tech for Good Brighton? Contact me on Twitter / Linkedin / Slack.

David Scurr

Written by

Into social innovation, tech for good & network-building / Partnership Mgr, Citizens Online / Founder, Tech4Good Brighton / Founder, Worthing Ping @david_scurr

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