Nick Martin is an educator, technologist, and social entrepreneur with over ten years of international development and peacebuilding experience. He is the founder and CEO of TechChange, a Washington DC-based social enterprise that provides tech training for social change. The TechChange model for technology training has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, Economist, Fast Company, PBS NewsHour and more. Nick is a PopTech Social Innovation Fellow (2013), an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow (2014), and an International Youth Foundation Global Fellow (2009). He was also the runner-up for the Society for International Development’s prestigious Rice Award which honors an outstanding young innovator in the field international development under the age of 32 (2014). Nick is an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown and George Washington Universities where he teaches graduate courses on Technology for Social Change, Technology for Crisis Response, and Mobile Phones for International Development. Nick received his BA with honors from Swarthmore College and holds an MA in Peace Education from the United Nations mandated University for Peace (UPEACE).
This past summer TechChange supported a week long workshop for USAID’s Digital Development Advisors (DDAs) and other Digital Champions scattered across the agency.
This amazing group of 25 humans are driving forward incredible technological innovation and digital agendas inside USAID missions around the world from Kenya to Vietnam to Colombia.
It was truly inspiring to bring this cohort together to facilitate incredible connections between them and other headquarters staff and support them in developing some new skills along the way.
We also put together a session on AI tools for presentations, research, and summary analysis with my TechChange colleague Benjamin Seebaugh.
The week also included hearing from experts like Jane Munga from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (thank you Jane!)
And some excellent site visits to Google and Microsoft learning about the latest AI tools that have development applications, cybersecurity trends and tools, and more! Huge thank you to Zoe Mentel Darmé and Ria Strasser-Galvis for making our visit to Google possible – such a blast!
I’m coming away very inspired by the digital work that USAID is implementing around the world. This work is clearly poised to grow in scope and relevance in the years to come and this group of DDAs will undoubtedly be leading the way.
What are the most exciting examples of AI for Education Training and Learning, particularly for adult learning and global development?
Here are the 6 things I’m most excited about (some which we’re already doing on the AI front at TechChange)
1. Powering captioning and translation services: Translating training and learning materials has been a huge challenge for TechChange over the past decade. I see huge potential in the global development sector for AI technology to reduce cost and time needed to translate and caption content for our cohort based learning experiences. Live captioning for our events has also been something we’ve worked hard on through partnerships and the AI for live captioning continues to improve. And lastly our multilingual learning and events platform is already available in dozens of languages but AI tech has opened up the possibility for hundreds more less spoken languages to more efficiently be used in our stack.
2. Creating more opportunities for accessibility. The AI accessibility revolution is upon us. We are big on inclusion at TechChange from making our courses 508 compliant to providing sign language service options for our partners for virtual and hybrid conferences. AI tech will allow us to provide more inclusive spaces for those who need it.
3. Generating virtual environments and scenarios for simulation-based learning: Simulations are a powerful way to build skills and demonstrate learning. I see huge potential for AI to power the building of complex scenarios and environments quickly and efficiently, especially when paired with VR/AR. At TechChange we have designed many 3D virtual environments for events and conferences and are excited to be piloting some immersive training projects with several partners this year. Get in touch if you are interested in working with us on this.
4. Recommendation and matching engines: At TechChange we believe that building relationships is as important as building skills. We are social creatures and we learn better with other people. That’s why we’re excited to experiment in the coming months with engines and tools that help facilitate networking connections and personalized learning experiences for our learning cohorts.
5. Summary generation: ChatGPT and other tools are great for generating content but I am really excited about summary generation. We have been capturing summaries for meetings, summaries for trainings, summaries for conferences, etc. – Both text based and video based – that can be easily processed and shared at speed. In today’s FOMO world I think this is a powerful application that will only improve.
6. AI-supported workshops and trainings: We also see potential for using ChatGPT and other tools within flow of activities exercises to support learning outcomes for both in person and virtual experiences. AI can help to do time bound do-read outs of group conversations, support with research and synthesis prompts, pair groups and participants up more effectively based on specific criteria and more.
Educators and global development professionals- Curious what you think? How are you using AI to support your learning outcomes?
Some other news…
We are excited to bring back our AI for global development online cohort course. This was one of our more popular offerings from 2017-2020 and given the interest and demand in 2023, we are thrilled to be revamping it and adding additional content related to ethics and responsible data.
We don’t have a specific date yet but you can register for the waitlist here.
Get in touch if you want to explore how TechChange can support you in delivering best-in-class AI-powered learning and convening experiences.
As TechChange’s CEO and someone who finds great joy in bringing people together to discuss topics that matter, I love pushing the envelope on how we convene. On reimagining what a conference or event can be, and what it can mean for the people who participate.
And after nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the distance that it necessitated, people are hungry for connection. The kind that gets brain cells stimulated, but also the kind that you can feel in your bones. We believe TechChange’s hybrid event model brings together the best of virtual technology and in-person experiences for a new kind of convening that is accessible, inclusive, and downright fun.
With some help from our founding sponsors USAID, Chemonics, and the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), exactly one month ago, we put our hybrid model to convene the first-ever Frontiers of Digital Development Forum to explore the role of frontier technologies in international development. This two-day conference took place online and in Washington D.C., with nearly all in-person elements available to virtual participants and even more virtual-only content and networking opportunities. More than 600 people joined us from 55 countries– because conversations that impact the whole world shouldn’t just take place in D.C.
What went well
1. Virtual participants felt “centered.” There is such a temptation with hybrid events to focus on the in-person experience. The food, the drinks, the lighting, the seating charts… it can be all-consuming. But we tried hard – super hard – to focus our attention equally on the in-person AND the virtual experience. We wanted to create a hybrid conference that made our virtual participants in Kenya, Jordan, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, Argentina, and everywhere else feel like they matter just as much as those who could be in-person with us in DC. And I’m happy to report that FDDF participants online resoundingly felt exactly what we intended for them: that the virtual experience far exceeded their expectations. In fact, 84% of participants who joined virtually reported FDDF improved their opinion of hybrid events.
2. Diversity of content types: For a nuanced topic like this, we knew that we needed to look at the subject matter from different angles. For FDDF, we had 25+ engaging and robust conversations, tech demos, breakout sessions, and networking activities that dug into aspirational, frontier technologies and their practical utility for large-scale humanitarian and development objectives.
3. Surprising session formats: For Day one’s kick-off, we tried a new session format, “The Long Conversation.” This unique Smithsonian-inspired approach staged timed two-person dialogues on frontier tech skepticism, aspiration and progress with luminaries from USAID, Google, and more from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. No moderator, no speeches, and no slides. Just interesting conversations on stage between two people at a time. You can watch it on YouTube or listen on Soundcloud to check it out.
4. The Pop-Up Studio: One of the goals of hybrid is to break down the barriers between in-person and online participants. One of the ways we do this that allows online participants to dig into the energy of the conference is the Pop-Up studio. I’m biased, but this was easily my favorite part of FDDF22. I got to interview speakers fresh off the stage for their impressions and hot-takes, and talk with conference goers about what they’re thinking about all the material. Our on-site production team streams these interviews out to virtual participants like TV news. This allows people at home on their computers to get a back-stage view of the conference, and get a taste of the energy of the day.
What didn’t go so well…
No event is perfect. We had an honest conversation with our organizing committee about what went well and what we’d improve next time. Here are a few:
1. Timeline: I gave the team a deadline that was nearly impossible– under three months to envision, build, and execute a brand-new hybrid event from scratch. And yet they rose to the occasion to meet it. I’m still amazed they pulled it off – and didn’t even once try to kill me in the process!
2. Lack of a content czar: Next time, we’ll build in a longer lead time, and have a content Czar whose job it is to oversee the overall narrative of the conference and make sure all of the dynamic pieces fit together holistically. This is also something some of the partners we support may also want to consider.
3. Improv comedy is great, but not without some serious preparation: We tried something wild, y’all: we invited comedians to be part of our event. And not to just do some stand-up entertainment at the opening and closing plenary. We wanted them to sprinkle it in throughout the event. Does that sound nuts? Maybe it was, a little?! While we heard positive feedback on the comedians’ prepared sets, we gave them the pretty impossible task of doing improv – on camera – throughout the entire day. But we’re excited to keep exploring ways to make global development content more innovative, accessible and entertaining with more creative partnerships like this.
4. Not quite enough on-stage controversy: FDDF was meant to explore the boundaries of frontier technology within digital development, not shying away from tough conversations. And we did that – through sessions on the information war in Ukraine, the pros (and cons) of partnering with tech firms, and a feminist, Global South critique on AI. The topics were hard-hitting, but we think we can do more to set the stage for difficult and important conversations in the future. We’ll be exploring the role of anonymous inputs, and crowd-generated content, in order to further engage new voices in each conversation.
At TechChange, we don’t just put on hybrid events for our partners, and sit back and watch. We are actively involved in putting on our own events, where we have skin in the game and a major role in planning and organizing. These events are our own R&D labs. They help us test out the technology we’re offering to partners, and always keep an eye on opportunities for improvement. Not only that, it keeps us empathetic to the stressors and joys of conference planning. When we say we’ll be the partner that does more for your hybrid event, we mean it. We’ve been there, and we want to put our lessons learned to work for you. From recommending ways to keep global participants engaged from afar to project management suggestions around timeline, our team can help you shorten the learning curve to engaging, inclusive, and fun hybrid events. We love this stuff!
As a professor and an edtech CEO, I love thinking about new ways to facilitate conversations and inspire authentic moments on stage and online.
I’ve also participated in too many poorly-executed panels. You know the ones I’m talking about: where there’s little to no dialogue among panelists, too much Powerpoint, no limits on speaking times, badly moderated audience Q&A, etc.
So I was excited to try something new.
The long conversation is essentially a relay of timed two-person dialogues around a central theme.
The first person interviews the second, asking a series of questions (some predetermined, some spontaneous), then the first person exits, the second person becomes the interviewer, and a third person takes the stage.
Set-up for Long Conversation
Interviewers and interviewees sit facing each other in the center of the room with audience seated around them. So it feels a bit like a closed fishbowl with predetermined speakers.
“The Long Conversation” format was adapted in this instance from Rachel Goslins and her work with The Smithsonian, where 25 leaders from the arts and sciences participate in a relay of two-person dialogues. But the unscripted back-and-forth of experts-interviewing-experts has also been used by organizations such as The Long Now Foundation, in 2010 which combined the 6-hour 19-minute presentation with data visualization performance by Sosolimited and a live performance of composer Jem Finer’s Longplayer.
Here’s what Veronica sent us in advance to set the tone:
“We are creating an intimate space to exchange ideas, thoughts, experiences to help everyone in the room appreciate the importance of and connections between resilience and creativity at various levels – whether it’s personal, community-level, organizational, or societal. Keep your ideas simple and concrete. Be yourself. Have fun.”
Preparation and reflections:
Planning: The IFC team clearly worked hard to select the theme (Resilience), pick the participants, and determine the order for the conversation. They shared a number of potential questions in advance and asked us to think of three personal or professional stories related to the theme. They also put us in touch with our interviewers and interviewees beforehand to settle on specific questions. I’m a professor so I tend to over prepare anytime I go on stage. This format lends itself better to spontaneity and storytelling but it’s still important to check in with your interviewer and interviewee before the live conversation (even it’s 30 mins before the event) to agree on questions and a rough story arc.
Timing: The IFC team set the time limit at 10 minutes per conversation with a chime at the one minute mark to prompt a final question/answer. The total time for our session was 1.5 hours with seven 10-minute conversations. 5 minutes may be too short but 10 can also feel a bit long in our current era of diminished attention spans.
Audio: There are no options for powerpoint slides or AV in this format,but audio is important. Be sure to use microphones (ideally lavs) because at every moment, some audience members are not facing a speaker.
Stage and seating: If you go with the fishbowl setup be sure to have the central platform raised enough so that folks can see the stage. And ideally, create a stadium seating effect so that audience members in the back are higher up and can see above folks in the front.
Audience polling: This format doesn’t lend itself well to audience Q&A. I tried to do a hand-raising poll during mine (how many of you think that in 20 years the majority of traditional education (HS and College) will be delivered online?) and folks seemed eager to answer. I think this could be a neat technique to interject between sessions as new speakers join on stage.
Order of roles: In our relay the new person on the stage started out as the interviewee and then transitioned to the interviewer in the second conversation. I am someone who always takes a few minutes to settle into the spotlight and imagine others are in the same boat. Interviewing seems like an easier way to do start on stage. I think there’s room to experiment here.
At TechChange, we are going to be working on adapting this format for our next online certificate course: Agriculture, Technology and Innovation which kicks off on June 11th. COO Chris wrote about the experience watching the webcast of the long conversation here. So if you’re interested in helping to pioneering a virtual version with us then sign up or reach out.
Thanks again to the IFC and Smithsonian teams for an enjoyable session. I’m always on the hunt creative ideas to improve and innovate beyond the traditional conference model (keynote/lightning talk/panel/breakout).
What other creative session formats have seen/tried/enjoyed at a conference?
Is your organization trying to figure out how best visualize program or organizational data? Perhaps struggling to find the best tools to tell your stories better?
After two years of offering our most popular course Technology for Data Visualization, TechChange has decided to go off-line and create an in-person workshop on the topic. For those of you who are in the DC area, this in-person workshop offers a social, hands-on way to better understand data visualization.
Participants participate in a human likert scale exercise called “Agree-Disagree.”
The workshop is composed of three fundamental building blocks:
Part 1: Building a foundation: Participants learn how to identify elements of successful (and unsuccessful) visualizations and are taught tips and best practices for designing effective products. Participants also explore popular theorists and practitioners of data visualization like Edward Tufte, Jonathan Schwabish, David McCandless and more.
Part 2: Telling your story: Participants engage in a guided design workshop using their existing datasets & visualization ideas. Building a dashboard? Working on a donor report? Need to convince an audience of something? This interactive exercise helps refine and stage the story that you want to tell.
Part 3: Learning new tech skills: Participants learn how to visualize their data in different platforms: Excel, PicktoChart, Canva and Infogr.am. Facilitators stage a series of mini-demos and exercises to do everything from cleaning and formatting data to building both static and interactive visualizations. This component includes basic exposure to additional tools like Tableau, CartoDB, and PowerBI for further exploration.
Workshops can be tailored to feature a variety of mapping tools and software.
The workshops can be tailored with custom content and designed for a half-day up to a full week.
As part of the workshops we’ve included a number of hands-on interactive activities using human likert scales, balloons, ping-pong balls, stickers galore, emojis, neon hats and more. Plus, if you’re someone who likes to have someone to coach you through navigating a new software, we can provide you with that guidance in real time.
So far this year we’ve been busy facilitating workshops for Georgetown University, Jhpiego, Arabella Advisors, and more. Case studies and exercises have focused explicitly on examples like public health, water & sanitation, climate change, financial services for the poor, human disaster response but can be tailored to any sector or industry.
Sign up for one of our monthly in-person workshops at our new training space on 13th and U. St NW Washington DC, or write to us about doing a custom training at your organization on Tech for Data Visualization today. Workshops are offered on the following dates:
Friday April 28, 2017
Friday May 26, 2017
Friday June 16, 2017
What stories would you tell with data from your daily life?
In September 2014, two award-winning information designers living on different sides of Atlantic, Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, collaborated on a year-long project to collect, visualize, and share information about their daily lives. Each week they would hand-draw representations of their activities and thoughts as part of a process to use data to become more humane and connected on a deeper level. The end result is Dear Data: an award-winning project to make data artistic, personal, and open to everyone.
(Watch starting at 6:45)
In Spring 2016, we asked online students in our Tech for Monitoring and Evaluation Online Diploma Program to try their hand at a similar month-long project and send postcards to one another. As we have 110 students in 35 countries, many of whom had only just met in the preceding weeks, this provided an excellent opportunity to recreate some of what made Giorgia and Stefanie’s project so special. And it gives me great pleasure to share some examples of their work.
For one project, two of our students (Madison and Ann, who both work with Health Policy Plus), sent one another postcards every week on the following four topics:
These postcards are presented without commentary below, so that you can see the postcards as they did.
When asked for their reflections as part of the exercise, both Madison and Ann claimed that the process made them mindful of issues and habits that they had previously ignored, and that they were able to discern larger patterns when looking at their week as a whole. Though neither were professional information designers, their work improved over multiple iterations, as well as became a fun, inclusive process.
“Our different styles quickly became apparent and added to the reflective learning. Apparently Madison is calm and cool, and Ann is, well, a bit excitable,” said Madison.
“The involvement of friends and family was an unplanned bonus. Visualization and art attracts attention…they got drawn in (especially Ann’s 10 year-old son Harry) and got a kick out of seeing what arrived in the mail,” said Ann.
And both agreed: “Overall it was a fun challenge—we highly recommend it. Many thanks and acknowledgement to Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, the Dear Data creators”
Samantha Wapnick, Field-based Climate, Gender, and KM Manager—Feed the Future Naatal Mbay
Eric Couper, COO, GreenPath Food
David MacAfee, Founder and CEO, HNI
Karen Hampson, Regional Program Manager, East and Southern Africa Farm Radio
Alex Dunlop, Digital Green
Anushka Ratnayake, Founder & Executive Director of MyAgro
Shaun Ferris, Catholic Relief Services
The four-week online certificate course will explore a number of design considerations and technologies to help make agricultural production increasingly accessible and affordable in the developing world. These include: digital financial services, SMS and IVR campaign tools, remote sensing technologies, mobile applications and services, drone surveillance, GIS data and more.
The course will use the principles of digital development as a guiding framework and feature a variety of discussions, activities, case studies and live guest expert presentations around the following weekly topics:
Week 1: Introduction, Crop Planning and Financing
Week 2: Planting and Growing (Crop Cycle)
Week 3: Post-Harvest and Farm Management
Week 4: The Horizon of ICTs for Agriculture (Sensors, GIS, Big Data, and Digital Photo Recognition, Data Analytics)
Across all four weeks, we will weave in several topics that go across the agriculture cycle, such as:
The trade-offs between different digital “channels” (e.g., mobile versus radio versus GIS) for different types of information and learning
The potential role of farmer profiling and its opportunities and challenges
The roles and challenges of using community or rural service agents
Terms such as “push” versus “pull”; direct to farmer or mediated
The role and capacity of local service providers, international ones, and mobile network operators
The role of government ministries
Gender and youth as factors in the design, rollout and scaling of digital services
The course will also consider a range of challenges to implementation like access to power, language barriers, literacy levels, high transactions costs, access to quality extension services and more.
Participants can expect a dynamic learning environment with a number of real-world case studies from countries like Mali and Kenya, custom animations and video tutorials, interactions with leading experts in the field and practical simulations to apply new skills and strategies.
Judy Payne, USAID’s ICT Advisor for Agriculture, has served as an advisor in the design of this course. She is also the Bureau of Food Security (BFS) lead for the Digital Development for Feed the Future Collaboration between the Global Development Lab and BFS.
If you are interested in taking both the online certificate course and attending the ICT4Ag conference, FHI 360 and TechChange have partnered up to offer a discounted bundle price of $395 for both the course and the conference! Email us at email@example.com for more information.
Below are a few case studies and guest expert presentations we’ll be highlighting throughout the course:
The dairy industry in Kenya is a 395 million dollar industry supported largely by a network of 1.6m farmers. Most farmers are small scale and use rudimentary methods to manage their cows’ estrus cycle and milk production. Smallholder farmers are estimated to sell an average of 3 to 5 litres per day; calculations show that 15 litres per day is the required production to bring a family over the poverty line. Green Dreams TECH Ltd developediCow®™ with the main motivation being to help small scale farmers maximize their returns throughout their cows’ lifecycle. Read a recent blog post by National Geographic here.
“There’s about 35 million small farmers in Nigeria, and 80 percent of that number, about 28 million, pay for off-farm labor at the same time,” stated Hello Tractor founder Jehiel Oliver in a recent interview. “There’s huge demand for labor, but not everyone can pay for high-season help. As a result, those farmers end up planting later, underusing their land and losing out on income. Often, those farmers are women.” Hello Tractor is a social enterprise that is improving food and income security by building a network of “Smart Tractor” owners that farmers obtain service from via SMS. This way, small landowners have access to affordable farm machinery services to increase their productivity. Right now Hello Tractor primarily operates in Nigeria. Jehiel will be joining us for a live guest expert presentation.
Digital Green is a not-for-profit international development organization that uses an innovative digital platform for community engagement to improve lives of rural communities across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. They partner with local public, private and civil society organizations to share knowledge on improved agricultural practices, livelihoods, health, and nutrition, using locally produced videos and human mediated dissemination. In a controlled evaluation, the approach was found to be 10 times more cost-effective and uptake of new practices seven times higher compared to traditional extension services. See a sample video of plant and soil management here.Alex Dunlop, director of business development, will join us for a live guest expert presentation.
Back in 2013 I had the wonderful privilege of meeting Anushka Ratnayake, Founder & Executive Director of myAgro as part of the PopTech social innovation fellowship. MyAgro sells agricultural inputs (fertilizer and seed) on layaway via a mobile phone platform and a network of local village vendors. They work primarily in Mali because even though Mali is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, it also holds a tremendous amount of growth potential. Bamako is the fastest growing city in Africa and the 6th fastest growing country in the world. The average Malian farmer has around 5 hectares of land (10 acres) which makes them well-placed to be mini-agribusinesses – where a small investment can make a big return. Read more about the MyAgro model here.
Farm Radio International
Because of its unrivalled access and its low production costs, radio is the technology that best meets the information and communication needs of farmers worldwide. Farm Radiohelps African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities. FarmRadio works primarily in Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mali. Read a recent interview with FarmRadio on FoodTank.com here. We’re thrilled to have Karen Hampson join us for a live expert presentation on their exciting work.
HNI has created a service called 3-2-1 — a mobile phone information service to prepare resource-poor individuals in take action to improve their health and well-being. Callers dial the toll-free number, 3-2-1, anytime, anywhere. They are greeted by a welcome message in their local language.The voice prompts them through the menu of topics until they find the trusted information they need, when they need it. HNI founder and CEO David MacAfee will be joining us for a live expert presentation. Watch a video about 3-2-1 and listen to sample 3-2-1 messages here.
If these innovations excite you and you’d like to learn more then be sure to reserve your spot today.
The TechChange project with Malaria Consortium that provides digital training to over 3,000 pharmacists in Uganda and Nigeria in how to properly diagnose and treat Malaria was recently featured by both TakePart.org and Nonprofit Quarterly.
Over the past five years, we’ve been providing skills to over 6,000 alumni in more than 170 countries. During this time, we’ve been asked by both alumni and the organizations we work with: how can they get more? As a response to the crippling costs of graduate school tuition and the desire professionals have to get the hard skills they need to be successful, we’ve created this diploma program.
Whether you’re a working professional or a recent college grad looking for an alternative to graduate school, we have a diploma track suited to you. This 16-week online diploma program in Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation is designed to give you the technical skills and real-world experience you need to succeed in your career and make an impact in the world.
We’re here to help you learn new skills, build your network and grow your career. Ready to get started? Learn more and apply here. Hurry! Applications close September 4.
So long, 2014! Building on our annual posts in 2013 and 2012 (as well as a repeat performance at FailFest 2014!), we wanted to share a few highlights from our year, as well as appreciation for our amazing learning community, partners, and staff.
Underpinning all of this has been the extensive improvements developed by our tech team. We launched a new user and course management system that now has 2,461 users and 72 courses. We also provided white-labeled platforms for 8 organizations including USAID, TOL, MAMA, URC, THNK, Ashoka, A&PI, and more. Stay tuned for new offerings in the space of educational technology for development as a service.