Several years ago during a conversation with Harlene Appelman of The Covenant Foundation, I learned an important term: The Positive Deviant. Harlene uses this term (and now so do I) to describe those people who are doing things in new and different ways, perhaps disrupting systems and organizations from the inside out in good, productive, and important ways. They are the people who are worthy of cheerleading and supporting because they are making change on the ground, and their work will — in time — impact many people. In the field of nonprofit technology, we have another term for these sorts of folks: The Accidental Techie. As defined by Webster’s Online Dictionary:
In the field of nonprofit technology, an accidental techie is an individual who has gravitated toward responsibility for an organization’s information technology infrastructure, even though his or her professional training or job description did not include tasks of this kind.
In other words, someone’s filling the void, charting new territory, and becoming a resource for others in their organization. More often than not, we find the accidental techies in synagogues are the educators. Today in the last of our 6 part webinar series for NATE and JEA educators, we explored why this is often the case (they love learning curves, rather than being intimidated by them; they are willing to try new things and refresh their approach often; the "new rules of the game" walk in their door every year; and they know technology alone isn’t a silver bullet — the SMARTboard doesn’t educate the student, the teacher does), what their colleagues and organizations actually need, and how it feels to occupy this role. As social media and other technologies are influencing individuals, society, and business, organizations must evolve the way they conduct their work and communicate with their constituents. Enter technology. From data management to communications to customer service. While few will argue about the importance of these tools, most organizations have not actually made the structural changes to support their use. One important shift is staffing. Who has these responsibilities written into their job description? Who is in charge of listening and engaging community members? When do you need to move from the occasional IT consultant to someone who has expertise in-house? In today’s webinar, educators shared the roles they are playing — from IT support to providing in-house trainings, from being the communications "nag" to the "technology advocate". In some cases participants felt they are swimming upstream in a culture that does not yet recognize the importance or need of these tools and applications, nor recognizes the asset they have in a tech-savvy educator. In other cases, participants felt that their congregation is in fact very appreciative of the expertise they bring, and are so eager to take advantage of it that they don’t have enough time to do their "real" job. This is a moment of important evolution. If you are an accidental technie or positive deviant, please know you’re not alone. It’s so valuable to hear each others stories, to know what’s working well and where you could use some creative ideas and support from your peers. How are you problem solving, balancing your various responsibilities, gaining respect and appreciation for this additional role you are playing, and ultimately advancing and maturing your organization? I invite the NATE and JEA participants — and everyone else — to use the comments on this post as a space for sharing, listening, asking and supporting. Interested in learning more about accidental techies? Judi Sohn, from the Colorectal Cancer Coalition, writing on the NTEN blog Robert Weiner, nonprofit technology consultant, writing on the NTEN blog