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Cheryl Contee and Shayna Englin Dazzle at Personal Democracy Forum and Netroots Nation!

Cheryl Contee and Shayna Englin Dazzle at Personal Democracy Forum and Netroots Nation!

There have been some great conferences this summer, and there’s no way we would’ve missed two of the best: Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) and Netroots Nation!

At this year’s PDF, our own Cheryl Contee and Shayna Englin both presented about the exciting  opportunities that exist for the future in the world of technology and activism.

Cheryl spoke about the Digital Divide – the gap between different communities and their ability and willingness to embrace new technology such as mobile devices and social media. Watch the full video below:

What can companies, teachers, investors and parents do to encourage more diversity in the technological sector and help themselves in the process? Cheryl had a few ideas:

  • Set up free or low-cost training programs in the basics of what your company or firm does. The best overlooked talent will be there, ready to grow with a little help.
  • Increase internship opportunities (I liked that one) and consider hiring someone who is not a white male geek, someone with fewer “skills and experience, but more promise and drive.”
  • Advocate for more funding for job training, and infuse technical literacy in every subject, not just computer-focused classes.
  • And finally, parents: Let your kids play video games. From programming a social media site to flying a plane, games can teach kids more than how to stay out of their parents’ hair.

Shayna considered a different gap: the divide between activists and the politicians they seek to influence. She recently conducted a study looking into what politicians and their staff really do with the between 300 and 25,000 emails they receive from activists each day. Her one-word conclusion: nothing.

When she began her research, Shayna expected that the reason activists used email more than more effective forms of contact with elected officials was a lack of education; because of the constant deluge of emails from third parties asking for email outreach, activists thought that was the most effective way to contact politicians.

Instead, she found that activists knew that emailing politicians isn’t particularly effective: there was “almost a perfect opposite correlation between what [activists] do, and what they know can make a difference.”

Shayna suggested that this was because of how easy emailing is; click a few buttons, type a line or two (if that) and the work is done, compared to the effort meeting with an elected official takes. She offered three suggestions for the organizations coordinating activists:

  • Acknowledge that list building via low-impact activities is only list building, not advocacy
  • Invest in things that make high-impact activities (like meeting with elected officials) easier.
  • “Get the hell out of DC.” Don’t protest on the Mall, go to the district office.

Watch Shayna’s full presentation here:

Fission Chief Strategy Officer Jake Brewer got a shout-out in the PDF12 email wrap-up for his eloquent tweet on the final speaker, Todd Park (the current U.S. Chief Technology Officer):

Jake Brewer PDF tweet

Beyond PDF, Cheryl attended this year’s Netroots Nation – of which she is VP of the Board of Directors – where she ran a standing-room only training with Advomatic called “How to Ensure Your Web Development Project is a Complete Failure,” and moderated a popular panel called “Ask A Sista” for the second year running. Strategist Austen Levihn-Coon also joined her at Netroots, where he ran a training on content management (and lost his computer charger). Worth it? He says “Yes.”

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