This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (#14NTC) did not have an official theme, but informal themes could be found everywhere you looked. Beth Kanter launched a vigorous Facebook thread by indirectly suggesting that Franken Panel had emerged as a possible theme for #14NTC.
Franken Panel
Some variation on the Franken Panel theme came up in almost every side conversation I had at NTC. I personally preferred the term “Marriage of Inconvenience.” Whatever one called them, it was impossible to miss the numerous joint sessions that featured mash ups (occasionally awkward) of topics, styles, slide decks and even laptops.

Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

There were panel discussions that went unmoderated, and in some cases seemed undesigned. No doubt, this will be a central topic of discussion at the online NTEN Town Hall next month. However, I would not point to Franken Panel as the defining theme; there were plenty of others. Which, in my opinion, is kind of the point. Franken Panel is a sign of NTC’s strength, in many ways.
NTC remains a vibrant and engaging conference: rooted in its own 15+ year history, but endowed with an endless ability to channel the youthful energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the best in technology. There are plenty of “serious” professional conferences. I personally appreciate the fun, energetic and engaging NTC.
Bringing techie back
It was in this entrepreneurial spirit that Steve Heye and Peter Campbell “live hacked” the opening plenary with a musical number that proposed another theme, Bringing Techie Back. While they playfully dropped tongue-in-cheek references to all things geek, what they actually meant by bringing techie back did not become apparent until later, in the breakout sessions.
I eventually realized that bringing techie back meant something more profound than “wires and pliers” or “gadgets and geeks”. It was a meaning I did not fully comprehend until I attended Steve’s marvelous Business Process Improvement session. It was a theme that also solved, for me at least, the “punchline problem”.
The Punchline Problem
For the last few years, I have noticed that many NTC sessions (mine included!), no matter the topic or subject, ended with the same familiar punchlines:

These conclusions come up so often, that I would suggest future NTC sessions should probably take these as starting points (rather than the conclusion) and then focus on how to achieve them.
Aligning mission or business needs with technology solutions is not just a problem for the nonprofit sector, but one that is challenging business and government as well.
The very best sessions at NTC worked towards solving this problem. In particular, Peter Campbell’s Marriage Counseling for IT and Commnications (#14NTCcounsel) and Steve Heye’s Business Process and Project Management Improvement (#14NTCpmo).  In these sessions both Peter and Steve provided practical hands on tools for doing this.
Definition of a Techie
It is beyond the scope of this post to go into great detail on those sessions that tackled this issue head on. I will save that for a future post (that will hopefully involve both of them as guests).
How this ended up bringing techie back is perhaps best expressed through this set of dictionary definitions:

Steve, Peter, and many others, brought techie back, in all its fullness.  They are both expert in the work they do, and incredibly enthusiastic about it.  They apply their knowledge and techniques to solving practical problems at their respective organizations.  The knowledge they use and share make their organizations better at what they do.
Technology empowering mission.
This was the best of NTC for me, and I am grateful for all the many participants who contribute to it, and for the NTEN staff who work tirelessly to make it all happen.
Hope to see you all at #15NTC in Austin!

All of the sessions that were part of the Online NTC are available to view on myNTC, including 13 breakouts, and the three plenaries. You can also look for the presenter’s session materials and peruse the collaborative notes by conference attendees.
Join us for a webinar on March 27 on Best of Nonprofit Tech.