Book Rec: The Tech That Comes Next

Hey there. I don’t usually share much of my own context on this blog. I’m a boundary holder. But we’ve been at this for two years now. I’ll tell you a little bit about me, shall I? (Don’t worry, this will turn into a management post eventually.)

I have a tattoo that incorporates a line from my favorite novel, Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley. The line is “I thought—But if human life were a matter of style, of means rather than of ends—”

I have it because I love the book, but more importantly because it reminds me of some friends who passed before they had a chance to see what ends their means could have. Steve and Claire both had incredible and lasting impacts on the people around them, but (as far as I know) they really only ever got to see that impact in short glimmers of possibility: the light in the eyes of someone resonating with their music or a thank-you note from a student they helped bring to a new place, light and gratitude not as ends but as quick pauses of recognition on someone’s way forward.

This isn’t to say that we don’t need to care about how things turn out – readers of this blog know that impact matters a great deal to me. I firmly believe that outcomes matter more than intent. But maybe it’s also worth talking about the fact that impact and outcomes, if we’re lucky, aren’t final. We build on them, and what we build is always a foundation for the thing that gets built next.

So maybe I’m predisposed to appreciate a book that asks the question:

“What could we create together without requiring that we know from the beginning what the end point will be?”

(Here, dear readers, is where this turns back into a management blog. Don’t worry, the feelings part is mostly over. I’m relieved too.)

The teams that I manage are in the business of creating tech solutions for social impact and philanthropy organizations, and, as you know, building an equitable world is kind of the whole point of this for me. So when I saw that Amy Sample Ward and Afua Bruce were publishing a book with the title The Tech That Comes Next: How Changemakers, Philanthropists, and Technologists Can Build an Equitable World, my interest was caught.

I want you to read the book, so I’m not going to give you a comprehensive summary, but I do want to tell you why I’m so glad this book is out in the world and why the managers who read this blog, specifically, should care:

This book is rooted firmly in the means, but it doesn’t ignore the ends. Amy and Afua set out a clear vision for the most important aspects of the equitable world we (I’m joining up with this) want to build– and then lay out strategies for moving in that direction with the support of thoughtfully deployed technology. The specifics of what that world looks like will be different from community to community, and the specific technology that supports the strategies will also be different and will change over time. Amy and Afua correctly (I think) leave those specifics for communities to build themselves. You won’t find any recommendations for specific products, but you will find guidance on how to think about choosing them.

The core of the book, for me, is the strategic principles that Amy and Afua outline for how we get there, structured around five key roles that are needed to collaborate toward this vision (technologists, social impact organizations, funders, policymakers, and community members). They frame the concerns that each role is uniquely and best suited to address, and outline how to work together to make sure the focus stays on the community whose needs and dreams are the targets of the work. And, importantly, they frame actionable questions that allow the people playing each role to hold themselves and each other accountable for keeping the community at the center of the process.

Why am I yelling all this at managers, specifically?

I’m lightly embarrassed that in two years of writing this blog, I’ve never talked about one of the key responsibilities managers have: finding tools that support the team’s work in equitable, effective ways. Often, we default to the thing that’s the fastest to implement or the most familiar; I’ve certainly been there. But you’re here because you care deeply about building teams that support and embody a sustainable, equitable future, and that means making even tech decisions with intention and an eye toward those goals. Most of us have never been taught how to make those decisions, and it’s not always easy or intuitive. Whether you consider yourself part of the social impact “industry” or not, when you’re making decisions about what tools your team uses, you would do well to follow the principles that Amy and Afua outline in The Tech that Comes Next.

This isn’t an ad, and I don’t get any compensation from this post or the links. I just want you to read the book. So, in case you missed that Bookshop link: https://bookshop.org/books/the-tech-that-comes-next-how-changemakers-philanthropists-and-technologists-can-build-an-equitable-world/9781119859819

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