NetTuesday. The How To.
If “netsquare” were a verb, this is how to (based on our experience in Romania).
Today’s episode: NetTuesday*.
*A NetTuesday is an informal gathering between civil society and IT people, organised by volunteers throughout the world. It is a 0 budget event that gets people talking about IT for social change, while they befriend each other."
People of NetTuseday
You want your NetTuesday event to be awesome from its first edition, so some preparations are in order:
- Start fishing for people. You’ll need a bunch of technology-oriented people that want to save the world while getting more social, and a group of activists that fancy being in the same room with IT brains. How do you get these folks? We shamelessly used others’ events to get to these 2 crowds.
Interesting advice – with NGOs being 90% women and IT being 90% men, consider sending a lady to the IT community events, and a handsome man to the civil society gatherings. It works…
- Find a nice place to host it. The challenge here is to be able to maintain the ‘0 budget’ philosophy of the NetTuesday events. It has to be cozy and we recommend beer on the menu, but at the same time provide some intimacy and have low volume non-irritating music, if any.
- Brainstorm for some hot discussion topics. Do some research on what’s currently trending in the technology for social change discussion. Ask your target group about its needs, but make sure you’re not boring people to death with your questions.
- Master the tool: meetup.com is the perfect helper in setting up the meetings and providing user-friendly feedback on the events. I cannot stress enough how cool and idiot-proof this tool is.
Now that you’re all set up, start organizing these people’s Tuesdays:
- Find a knowledgeable and friendly speaker to deliver content on the topic of choice. Use his/her presentation to start the group discussion. Powerpoints usually kill all the fun, so you would want somebody that feels comfortable with a lighter style presentation. The speaker can also attract people to the event for the networking opportunity, so make sure all the participants crave for his/her business cards and handshakes.
- Be the ultimate matchmaker. Getting people from 2 very different worlds together is probably the best thing that you can accomplish as a NetTuesday organiser. If you are a good host, you will set up an environment that helps them develop relationships that go beyond your meetings. This is how a civil society member can find a long-term IT volunteer, or an IT guy marry a gorgeous civil society representative. Everybody wins.
- Don’t stop. Even if you have 11 people cancelling their presence at the last moment (one of which is the speaker himself), and you end up with 4 participants and have to step up and deliver the talk yourself. It is important to have continuity and make NetTuesdays a part of the groups’ monthly schedule.
And some advice for the bold organizers:
- Don’t be afraid to get into trouble. The success of a NetTuesday event is, much like a wedding, measured in terms of how much craziness happens. So don’t be scared of any outrageous happening. It would only turn out to be that memorable episode that you use as a conversation starter when you meet cool people.
For example, we had a special guest at one of the NetTuesdays in Romania, one that we remotely help organise. A great opportunity came up - a very controversial blogger, anti-system fighter from Russia was visiting the country and we all agreed he would be amazing, as we wanted to do something on flash mobs for quite some time. The guy delivered and then some more, and the talk was absolutely harmless (aimed at revealing the best tools to help set up a flash mob, not actually overthrowing the power).
Funny enough, he was on a list of activists to watch and TechSoup Ro and its director were later featured on a super-conspiracy-theory blog that is used for discrediting people and actions that might endanger the status quo. To cut a long story short, we were very surprised to find out that we are responsible for a number of outrageous epic events, such as the Arab Spring. A bit frightening but it became a good conversation starter. I think we all deserve some beers, right?
- Speaking of beer, I might have mentioned it before, but its presence can be instrumental in the success of the event (depending on the culture of your country), so it needs a special paragraph. People here are much more friendly over a beer, and absolutely lovable after the second one. Make sure they are ordering the right stuff and people will network at your event. Next thing you know- they’ll be asking you “What’s happening with NetTuesdays? It feels like it’s been over a month since our last beer together!”
- Bake a cake or something. I am quite sure that the ingredient behind the success of our NetTuesday events is homemade-stuff-with-lots-of-chocolate. I bake cookies for every event, and, leaving joke aside, it is my way of showing people I care. The cake doesn’t even have to taste good, as long as it shows you took the time to do something for your nice guests. Whatever you decide to do to surprise them, make sure your evening ends without human casualties.
I hope I convinced you to start netsquareding and that you’ll have as much fun as we do in getting people together at your events. You will very soon see the outcome of your effort: NGOs that have a stronger online presence, programmers that feel good about their work, creative new tools that come out of random beer talks, and friends that help each other while producing an important change in the community.