Technologists connecting for social good

Network Impact recently completed an assessment of OpenNews for the Knight Foundation. This report released by the Foundation summarizes some of our key findings.

OpenNews is a growing network of developers and designers who are collaborating on open source technologies that journalism needs to thrive. An OpenNews “hub” supports a core set of network resources including Source, a community site that showcases open technology projects, code convenings that assemble small groups of members to work together on last mile solutions and a fellowship that recruits early- and mid-career technologists who are working outside of journalism and places them in newsrooms. These and other network activities, including an annual gathering SRCCON, aim to attract technologists to the field of journalism while strengthening network connections among journo-technologists so they can increasingly work, learn and solve problems together, within and across journalistic settings.

Our research over 12 months – including an analysis of network participation data describing the engagement of more than 1,100 journo-technologists over 5 years, a survey to 514 participating journo-technologists and social network analysis of member connections – yielded insights into conditions that have contributed to the evolution of this highly generative peer learning and action network. Among them:

  • Many doors. Designers and developers can enter the network in many ways with options for participation that match the variety of members’ initial value propositions for becoming involved.
  • Transparent discussion of network culture. Network leaders and organizers explicitly promote network principles of openness, generosity and inclusion. This has had an impact. Eighty-eight percent of respondents to our OpenNews survey reported that they advocate more for gender balance and diversity in the tech community because of participation in the OpenNews network. One journo-technologist started a journalist of color Slack community inspired by the ethos of OpenNews activities.
  • Flexible base of connections: OpenNews provides a foundation for different “nodes” to light up quickly. This flexible base of connections is ideal for peer learning and collaboration in a rapidly evolving field like journo-technology. Per one technologist we interviewed, “With the constant disruption and change that is characteristic of the industry, capacity to adapt is paramount. This places a high premium on access to diverse people and ideas in real-time with low transaction costs.”

Luz Gomez, Knight Foundation’s director for learning and impact explains  “…lessons from the project highlight the strength of networks in connecting people and advancing innovation, while providing journalists with a view into opportunities and gaps as they work to advance newsroom change,”

Because this has implications for the many fellowship and awards programs that funders invest in, we included this important finding in our report to the Knight Foundation:

  • OpenNews fellows and fellowship alums serve as network “bridge-spanners.” Their exposure to many parts of the network allows them to connect otherwise isolated network clusters.

BridgespannerON

(click image to enlarge)

Our survey was co-released with a census of “News Nerds” developed by OpenNews. True to the network’s open and inclusive culture, members have been invited to dig into census results and contribute to the learning agenda and planning for a follow up OpenNews survey next year.

 

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