Beth Kanter: „Der digitale Wandel braucht eine ‚humans first‘-Orientierung!“

Beth Kanter ist die vielleicht bekannteste Bloggerin zum Thema „Nonprofits“ und „digitaler Wandel“. Im Interview erklärt die Beraterin, welche ethischen Leitplanken Nonprofits brauchen, warum Künstliche Intelligenz schon jetzt den 3. Sektor verändert und warum es hier noch viel mehr Vernetzung Braucht.

Wir haben Beth Kanter ein paar Fragen über den digitalen Wandel gestellt.
Hier ihre Antworten, sorry English only 😉 .

You have written extensively on the subject of technology and civil society sector. You coined the term “networked non-profit”. What do you mean by that and in how far is this approach still relevant?

When I co-authored the book ten years ago, The Networked Nonprofit, we were talking about the mindset and work cultures that nonprofits needed to embrace in order to leverage the power of social media. The mindsets were about transparency, being adaptable, building strong relationships and engaging with your donors versus being transactional, and learning from mistakes.  We also discussed the opportunity that social media and networks provided to nonprofits to open the up to new ideas and innovation.  The technology tools may have changed over the past decade, but these qualities for success remain constant.

The civil society sector is very diverse and the degree to which organisations are digitized varies immensely, too. What are your recommendations for organisations wanting to digitize? How should they approach this?

Taking small steps.  In my second book, Measuring The Networked Nonprofit, talk about nonprofits take a step-by-step path to digital transformation – that it happens in stages – Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly.  If you are crawling, get to walk first.  So you have to know where you are starting from and get to the next stage.  Assessments are helpful.  There is a Digital Maturity Rubric that was developed for nonprofits in the UK and you review all aspects of your operations again scale and think about how to incrementally change.

Your recent book is titled: The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit – Strategies for impact without burnout. What motivated you to take up this issue? Does the digital transformation increase the pressure on non-profits?

I was motivated to write the The Happy Healthy Nonprofit based on my own experience with burnout and learning what I needed to do to be resilient or how to practice self-care.  I have also worked with many organizations over the years, the mindset (particularly in the US) is about working yourself to death in service of your organization. The idea that I came to is that creating a culture of wellbeing in the workplace is part of doing the work and gets to better outcomes. Yes, it is about results, but we also need to think about how we do the work or we won’t be sustainable.


Photo: Beth Kanter

What is your take on the age of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning? Or in  other words, what impact do you see these developments have non-profit sector?

It will have tremendous impact, right now we are in the early stages. Bots can be used in positive ways. Early adopter nonprofits have used bots to automate civic engagement, such as helping citizens register to votecontact their elected officials, and elevate marginalized voices and issues. And nonprofits are beginning to use online conversational interfaces like Alexa for social good engagement. For example, the Audubon Society has released an Alexa skill to teach bird calls.

It is a double-edged sword.  It can help nonprofits be more efficient in different ways and nonprofit professionals we will be able to shift that time to better serve their missions.  However, we must not look at the age of automation as a smackdown between flesh and code, but as a partnership between social services agencies adopting the technology to better serve their clients. To reap the benefits for civil society, design and implementation must have a humans-first orientation and maintain the highest ethical standards to avoid devastating unintended consequences.

What are the potentials for using bots, artificial intelligence or other digital tools internally within organisations to manage workflows and people?

Take for example, Oxfam, an international nonprofit with 20 affiliates that work with organizations in 90 countries. With over 10,000 employees, Oxfam faced the challenge of balancing separate hierarchies and encouraging innovation while at the same time providing central leadership and decision making.  Oxfam  uses an internal  suite of internal bots and automation tools that help alleviate rote and time-consuming tasks. For example, it was hard for people to share ideas and insights with workers at other Oxfam affiliates. All they had was traditional email for sharing information, which requires people to search thousands of files on internal drives to develop new knowledge. Deploying  algorithmic powered bots that quickly search through all internal communication and files of all 10,000 staff members creates a new knowledge base of ideas and insights that employees,  including fundraisers, can use to make fundraising efforts more innovative.

Bots that build collaboration can help any organization activate an internal culture of philanthropy where everyone in the organization can cultivate and engage supporters and do it with common values, vocabulary, and practices.

There is a lot of concern about social media manipulation and how bots continue to spread misinformation. Even the big platform (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube) find it hard to effectively control these phenomena. How can the non-profit sector cope?

There is concern – and many examples of the potential thread and bad examples. Take this article for example. It is difficult, but we must make the truth louder.  We can’t give up. I think we (at least in the US), we are headed towards more government regulation.

Currently, digital transformation is led by big companies and governments. Civil society and ordinary citizens are underrepresented in talks about digital infrastructure, regulations and accountability. How could the sector be more active in these debates?

Nonprofits are involved with digital transformation in the US – especially those that are participating in conferences like the Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN.  NTEN is an association for nonprofits and technology and does make sure that nonprofits are included.   Perhaps there needs to be global partnerships with organizations that are representing nonprofits and tech to make sure we have a seat at the table – and to organize us so that we make our voices heard.

You have travelled widely and trained a lot of organisations. In your view, what are the main difference between non-profit sector in the US and Europe with regards to digital transformation?

I see more similarities than differences.  Change is not easy – and to embrace digital transformation – your organization has to be able to change their work processes and be open to making changing. Sometimes that is hard if the leadership does not believe in digital or have a digital-first mindset.   I see some differences by sector – for example – the large development organizations have innovation labs or units where they are experimenting with digital transformation.

You have followed developments in the non-profit sector for the last three decades. What are the main changes you see? What kind of skills set do people need in order to work in the non-profit sector and for social change? What role do digital tools play in this?

I was involved with nonprofit tech in the beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s – when the web was just developed, a baby.  In the beginning, nonprofits were skeptical of the web and then a decade later were skeptical of social media. So, to be successful nonprofits need to have a mindset where they can be adaptable, understand innovation processes, learn from failures, and be open.

On a more personal level, what’s your favourite digital tool?

I think we are facing a crisis around “addiction” to our mobile phones and social media.   Look around in an airport (at least in the US) and people are staring at their phones.  I think we have to be intentional about the way we use it and make sure that we’re not addicted.  So, my favourite recent app is called “Forest” which gamifies getting off your phone.  You plant a tree with the app and put down your phone for a specified amount of time.

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