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Applying Technology to Community and Community to Technology

October 1, 2023 @ 12:00 am - 11:59 pm CDT

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About This Episode

(Season 4, Episode 9)

In this episode , co-hosts Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch talk about applying technology to community and community to technology – one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience identified in the “Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” project.

“Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” is a collection of resources developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic presented some really difficult challenges, but it also revealed some opportunities for building better systems and communities.



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Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Jessica Beckendorf: Hello and welcome to the Practicing Connection podcast. Today we’ll be talking about how to apply technology to community and community to technology, one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in our Connecting Communities and Asset-Based Community Recovery Project.

Bob Bertsch: In 2021, we worked with our colleagues Brigitte Scott and Sherrill Knezel to host interactive workshops with the purpose of providing a space to share our stories of community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in the workshops included military family service providers, extension educators, community developers, and others. We used the Asset-Based Community Recovery Framework developed by Jonathan Massimi and Heather Keam for the Tamarack Institute to work together to identify the interdependencies, capacities, and assets that had emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic response. The stories participants shared during the workshops helped point us toward what communities did really well in their recovery and what they might be able to do better.

Jessica: As we reflected on the incredible stories we heard in these workshops, eight themes for building individual and community resilience emerged for us. We’re going to discuss each of these themes in a podcast episode. So far, we’ve already talked about grounding yourself in your strengths and values, making intentional and deeper connections, and adapt, flex, and be resilient. In this episode, we’re going to discuss the theme apply technology to community and community to technology.

Bob: One of the stages of the Asset-Based Community Recovery Framework is the crisis stage. In that stage, feelings of disorientation can lead us to hang on to what was or to try and recreate it. During the pandemic, that often meant adopting an internet-based technology. In the workshops, participants shared many stories of how technology was used to recreate an experience or event made impossible by the pandemic. School moved online, work moved online, healthcare moved online. One participant shared the story of their grandma’s birthday party, which took place online. Another talked about how much they enjoyed online yoga classes.

Jessica: This move to technological solutions brought both benefits and challenges as we attempted to bring technology to our communities and a feeling of community to technology. Participants highlighted the increased connectivity and device access that was available as schools tried to meet the needs of all of their students. They celebrated the ancillary benefits of remote work, like the time gained from commutes and the emissions saved from fewer people commuting.

The need for quick adoption of technology led to organizations, like the Department of Defense, accepting widely used third-party web conferencing tools, and it provided opportunities for connection as colleagues helped each other learn new tools. Unfortunately, not all members of our communities could join us online. The pandemic highlighted the disparities in broadband access and the lack of accessibility to technology for some people with disabilities. While our move to technology provided access to meetings, workshops, and courses to people who could not access them before, it also left others out.

Bob: McConnell and colleagues have defined community resilience as a community’s capacity to empower marginalized members, such as through the provision of both tangible and intangible resources that facilitate successful coping with stress. If we’re going to think about being resilient and our communities being resilient, we need to bring the values of our community and all its members to the technology that we’re using, as we also bring technology to our community. Let’s talk about some of the things we can think about and do when bringing technology to community and community to technology. We’ll start with helping those around us to adopt the technology that will aid in their resilience and recovery. There are many barriers to the use of technology and finding opportunities to help people overcome them is so important.

Jessica: It really is. As I’ve done some work in the digital equity space, what I’ve often heard is that beyond simply having quality, affordable, physical access to the internet, people need someone willing to help them understand how to do things in a way they can connect with. For example, standard operating procedures might work well for those who have served in the military versus asking them to attend a webinar. People also often need help in the moment. They need to be able to call on some help while they are attempting to fill out that form or while they’re attempting to upload something.

One thing I really like to do when running meetings where at least a few attendees were not as tech-savvy was to first maybe offer to meet with them one-on-one where they usually use their device. Interestingly, not very many people took me up on that offer, but I was very serious and the people who did got that one-on-one help. The second thing I did was, and this is what more people took me up on, was invite them to sign on 30 minutes or more early to a meeting if they can so that tech issues can get worked out before everyone arrives.

Remember, it can be really frustrating and even embarrassing for people who are trying to learn something new, especially around technology, and that’s something that I’ve learned in some of the digital equity work I’ve done as well, asking for that help. Sometimes people aren’t asking for help until they’re already frustrated. Then there’s this other layer of emotion that goes on to it and you don’t necessarily want to expose people to that as well.

I think one thing that is really helpful in this area is to, especially if you’re the person who’s maybe a little more tech-savvy and you have the ability to help people out, admitting to your own tech foibles is one thing that I think is really disarming and really helpful. Sharing people about the times that you also forgot to unmute or you couldn’t figure out how to do something related to technology or maybe sharing that you also used to be or still are frustrated with the sheer amount of passwords you’re supposed to track.

These are things that frequently frustrate people and I think being able to admit your own– Just because you know how to do all this stuff, doesn’t mean that it came naturally to you either. Being able to admit that it’s something that you have struggled with in the past or frankly still do struggle with, I think is really helpful.

Bob: I think that’s great advice, Jessica. Another thing that comes to mind is that as people who might be organizing meetings or working with people using technology, that we can do some normalization of asking for help because we’ll never be able to anticipate all of the potential problems that might come up. What we can do is create a space where it’s safe to ask for help. I love your suggestion of admitting our own struggles with technology or maybe even realizing midstream that maybe someone might need help and offering it before they have to ask themselves.

Jessica: Part of being able to normalize it is being aware, as aware as we can be. I remember a time when I was leading a meeting with a group of people who I didn’t realize at the time. I thought they were all pretty well tech-savvy. I knew there’d be a spectrum of some people who maybe were a little less comfortable with the technologies we were using and some people who were perfectly fine with it. I kept putting the link to the agenda in the chat and I kept saying, “Oh, please feel free to jump in and add some of your own notes,” or “Please feel free to go to this agenda and follow along because I’m not able to share my screen the whole time.”

I kept making these what I thought were pleas to jump into that agenda and help take notes and have us be this collaborative community around taking some shared leadership. I didn’t realize it, but hardly anyone there, I kept checking and only maybe one person would be in the room with me or in a document with me at one time. I kept wondering, I wonder if people don’t know how to access this. I did follow up with someone and said, “Hey, is it just that it’s the end of the day and you’re tired or what’s going on here?”

They’re like, “No, I click on it and it would ask me to sign in and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to sign in with.” I’m like, “Oh, okay. That’s probably what’s happening with most of them.” That was a huge eye-opener for me. I wanted to be more aware in the future. In fact, I made some adjustments to how I did things so that I could bring everyone along with me because people want to contribute in general. They’re showing up to a meeting, they want to contribute. If you’re not helping them along, it’s not going to be a good sustainable option. All right, so our next one is to be aware of how technology can exacerbate inequity and impede upon our lives. Taking a thoughtful community-focused approach to technology use is really important here. Being intentional in making online content and programming accessible, put sensible boundaries around your own use of technology so you can stay open to human connection.

Bob: Making technology-mediated communications of any kind, websites, social media, online meetings, making those accessible to everyone is very important. It’s the only way that we can have community in my view, is if we go back to what we talked about, that definition of community resilience is making sure that everybody has the tangible and intangible resources that they need to remain resilient and accessibility is one of those things.

I think the effort we put into accessibility is really a reflection of how much we really care about the community and the people who are in it and especially those people who may not have what we would expect to be the general access to certain content. It’s also a reflection of how seriously we take inclusion. It’s a challenge, definitely for sure. It can be a lot of work. It can take a lot of time and in some cases can take some investment, but it’s so important to provide not just access to content and to spaces, but an equitable experience for everyone. When we get into some of the more details of that in just a moment.

Jessica: One of the things that that brings to mind for me, Bob, that I guess I’ve shifted the way I think working in digital equity, I’ve heard the phrase that one of the huge purposes of the digital equity work we do is to ensure that everyone can have full participation in the society and economy of the United States and not making things accessible is denying a portion of that to a portion of the population. I’ve even caught myself saying like, “Let’s make sure to make this as accessible as possible.” Instead of, “Let’s ensure that we make this accessible, period.” It’s a real small tweak to language, but it’s a totally different mindset to have. It’s something that I’ve learned a lot about in the last several months.

Bob: Things like virtual meetings have the potential to increase accessibility across geographic boundaries, but addressing barriers to accessibility is crucial in all cases to fostering inclusive environments that enable collective collaboration. I recently read a blog post from FSG and we’ll share that link in the show notes. They shared some things to consider when we’re thinking about virtual meetings that maybe not everybody thinks about, consider participants’ access to meeting links themselves.

We might be thinking about something within the meeting, but are there clear instructions when you’re sending out the meeting link? Are you considering time zones? This is something probably a lot of us have worked through a lot of the audience, but it’s still a struggle. A couple of years ago, I was involved in putting on a virtual conference that was global. We really had to think about how we were scheduling things so that there was some equitable access.

There’s no way that everybody across the globe in every time zone is going to be able to access the same meeting at a time that is comfortable or even sometimes reasonable, but we did vary the conference schedule so that that burden, if you want to put it that way, was spread more evenly. Just because most of the organizers were here in the United States, we weren’t expecting people across the world in different time zones to adjust to our schedule. Considering time zones, maintaining confidentiality and security when you’re thinking about those kinds of things.

This is a mistake that I have made before is not letting people know the meeting is going to be recorded until they’re in the meeting. In some of the virtual meeting softwares, a little message will pop up and say, “Hey, the meeting’s being recorded. If you’re uncomfortable with that, the only recourse you have is to leave the meeting.” Letting people know in advance what’s going to be recorded and what’s going to be kept and respecting their confidentiality and security. That can start really at the very beginning with those meeting links.

Thinking about how the meeting is being both documented and distributed to those who are unable to attend is another challenge. You might be doing– I’m going to talk in a second about transcription and closed captioning for people who are hearing impaired. You might be doing that live in the meeting, but maybe you haven’t thought about how that meeting is going to be documented and distributed. Is there captioning on the recording that you send? Are there graphics that are being used in the meeting that might be inaccessible to someone who is visually impaired?

Maybe sometimes we’ll send out a slide deck or something that was used in the meeting, is that document or slide deck accessible to people who might have some visual impairment? These are all things to be thinking about from the very beginning of sending a meeting link to the follow-up during the meeting and then to the follow-up after a meeting. We’ve been focusing a lot on virtual meetings, but this goes to all kinds of communications, any technology-mediated communication that you’re involved in. If you want to be inclusive and really honor community in your technology use, then that’s something that you should be thinking about.

Another thing that came out in the workshops was that while technology provided some benefits, it also presented some challenges, not surprising, sort of how life works. People struggled with being always on or always connected and highlighted the need for boundaries around their technology use. It can be one of the downsides of working from home is that the office is always there and beckoning. Your to-do list is always there, and maybe there might be some assumptions by colleagues or supervisors that you’re always accessible on your mobile phone, or you’re checking your email more regularly than you should.

Our participants really highlighted the importance of creating some of those boundaries to their use of technology. We need to be able to honor those boundaries for others too and recognize that their boundaries around their use of technology might be different than ours and that we don’t set up expectations that they should align exactly with ours, and they should answer emails at all the times that we should answer emails, or that you should even have an email address, which is something that is a barrier to inclusion for lots of people is so many things now. Just access of any kind requires an email address, and it’s just not always something that people should have to have or have.

Jessica: The last thing to think about before we get into some action steps is to explore your own growth areas with technology. Identify ways that you can learn more about some new ways to use technology to enhance your resilience. This is something that I really leaned into during the height of the pandemic that has stuck with me to this day. Over the pandemic when technology was being used for many different forms of connection, I actually made more friends.

I volunteered for global organizations that I would never even have heard of before, probably. I engaged in more course type of learning, more workshops. I also investigated new apps that helped me engage in anxiety-reducing mindfulness practices. I even joined challenges with friends, including Bob, that I knew who used the same app. That made the solo experience of mindfulness activities feel social. Because of these activities, I still have what I consider to be some of my closest friendships that were created because they were aided by technology.

The funny thing is that I all but completely dropped social media use during this period, which made me feel lots of negative emotions. Not dropping it, but using social media made me feel lots of negative emotions. I think sometimes we might use social media as shorthand for technology-aided connection, but it isn’t the only thing out there. I found lots of other ways to connect with people that weren’t in social media. This could look very different for you, but this was my experience with how I leaned into exploring ways to use technology.

In my case, I needed connection and so most of the things that I did were related to connection, which supports our resilience. I also needed to participate in practices and learn practices that would ease my anxiety about the pandemic and about the instability that was happening.

Bob: A couple of episodes ago, when we were talking about adapt, flex, and be resilient, it’s one of the things we talk about in that area is one way to practice it is to push your comfort level, push your comfort zone a little bit. That’s one of the things that you can do as you’re exploring technologies. Another thing to think about here as you’re exploring growth areas with technology is also to stay aware of it. You don’t have to be a technological expert, but a lot of technologies are omnipresent for us and get introduced as panaceas for the problems that we face.

Part of this growth can be making sure that we’re looking into investigating some of these new technologies and seeing what they mean for the values that we hold, especially those that touch on the equity area and inclusion area. I think it’s important to highlight that and think about how that fits into your own view of the world and your own mindset and not just take these technologies as they’re sold, which many of them are just businesses after all. We might get a biased introduction to them. Exploring that can also mean digging in a little bit and seeing what they mean for your community.

Jessica: Let’s get into some action steps that can help you bring technology to community and a sense of community to technology. The first one is ask people for their preferences and comfort level when using different technologies. Don’t assume that everyone is okay with a given technology. Be open to accommodating different needs and be willing to take the time to get everyone comfortable. I tend to be someone who will click on everything and figure out how to use it very quickly and not everyone does that. I learned that lesson over and over again until I finally started to realize maybe I should spend some more time at the front end, just helping everyone get comfortable with what I’m trying to do here. I learned that a lot.

Bob: Another thing that we can do is that before adopting a technology, especially a new technology, introducing something new into a group or an organization, make sure that you consider inclusiveness of all people of all abilities. Check into the accessibility of these tools that you’re using. Will it work for people with no or low sight, those with colorblindness, those with no or limited ability to hear, other members of your community, including people who might only use a keyboard, might not be able to use a mouse? Are there keyboard shortcuts that are in this new technology? There’s a lot to consider, but taking the time to do that, especially if we’re introducing something new into our groups or organizations is really important.

Jessica: The last action step is to research the digital access and connectivity issues in your community. Identify the issues and think about what, if any, steps you can take to help. Some communities have broadband task forces or committees or even digital navigators. Connecting with them could be helpful or even connecting with libraries. The libraries are so knowledgeable about these issues. Chatting with someone at the local library could also help you learn more.

Bob: We hope you take all of this information and think about it and do what you can. It is part of what we discovered in terms of themes for community resilience. I think we can make ourselves and our communities so much more resilient if we use technology where it can help but always think about bringing that inclusive sense of community to technology. That’s it for this episode. You can learn more about how you can help connect communities to build their resilience from our free booklet, Eight Ways to Cultivate Community in Times of Change, which is full of practical ways you can boost your community building and deepen relationships.

To receive a digital version of the booklet, just sign up for the Practicing Connection Community monthly email at Connection. Want to thank you so much for joining us. Hope that you got some information that you could use today. You can keep up with Practicing Connection by subscribing to the podcast in your favorite podcast app, by signing up to be part of the Practicing Connection Community I mentioned at Connection, and by following us on X, which you might also know as Twitter. Our handle is @PracticingCXN.

Jessica: Finally, we’d also like to thank our co-producer, Coral Owen, our announcer, Kaylin Goebel, Hannah Hyde, Maggie Lucas, and Terry Meisenbach for their help with marketing, and Nathan Grimm, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. We hope you’ll join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.


Kalin: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense, under award number 2019-48770-30366.

[00:25:34] [END OF AUDIO]


October 1, 2023
12:00 am - 11:59 pm CDT
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