2014 tech trends that will impact foundations

Above: Amy Webb. Photo credit: Knight Foundation on Flickr.

WebbMedia Group Founder and digital media futurist Amy Webb looks at prototypes, patents and societal trends to forecast the near future in technology. But how will the emerging tech trends affect the work of community and place-based foundations? At today’s Media Learning Seminar, Webb outlined four big ideas:

Data and the New Digital Divide


Journalism as knowledge: covering solutions to strengthen communities” by Michael D. Bolden on

Using design thinking for community information needs” by Marika Lynch on

You hear a lot about it, but Webb says 2014 is the year data goes mainstream. From our mobile apps to our music services, we’re always sending data that can be used to track and better cater information to our preferences. It can be harnessed for powerful data-driven journalism projects, like WYNC’s work to connect users to public transit choices or how to get help in storm. Or, companies can use it to better target ads to us.

Webb says understanding how user data is tracked and harnessed is a reality that illuminates a new digital divide — a technology “knowledge” divide between those who have a sophisticated knowledge of how technology is used, and the much larger group of those who don’t.    

Community foundations should seek to have that more sophisticated understanding.

“It’s important to know what data can and can’t do, how it can and can’t be used, and what the implications are,” says Webb. “Have meaningful conversations about this and make wise choices.”

Anticipatory Computing

The capabilities of Google are going far beyond direct searches. Instead, search interfaces are more and more able to predict the next few seconds of your thought process to get you contextual information before you ask for it. Using tools like Google Glass or the new MindMeld service, “We’re having a conversation [with devices or programs] and it’s giving us information to be the invisible information layer. It’s evolving to include sensors, data, context,” said Webb.

For community foundations and news organizations, a way for users to have more information at the moments they need it — or even before — is a powerful change for how we understand our worlds. “This is just the beginning of all these amazing opportunities on the horizon,” says Webb.

Digital Crowdfunding and New Donor Communities

Today’s philanthropy landscape looks a lot different, and younger donors have different attitudes about giving. That means foundation leaders have to adjust where they go for funding and be open to embracing digital communities to find new dollars. “Communities of donors have to be cultivated,” said Webb. “But they have to be cultivated in a different way.”

Millions of new donors are giving — nay, investing — on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Why do these platforms work and help entrepreneurs raise money? Webb said the success lies in the framing. Crowdfunding works because it casts your contribution as “investment” rather than “giving.” “It’s a different way of getting people excited. It’s using platforms instead of a donate button on your website,” said Webb.

The advice for foundations is to consider partnering or launching projects on these platforms and if nothing else, learning why they’re effective. They help projects tell compelling narratives that raise money and empower individual fundraisers to amplify their interests. Charity Water is especially effective in this way.

You could still spend time and money cultivating the 10 people in your communities with high net worth, Webb said. “Or use storytelling and a smart platform to talk with a ton of people at once for learning — and also for marketing.”

Technology Created A New News Ecosystem

We’ve seen a lot of high-profile writers and reporters exit their traditional news organizations to start new ones — Nate Silver left The New York Times to launch FiveThirtyEight with ESPNGlenn Greenwald is working with Pierre OmidyarEzra Klein’s leading a startup with Vox Media. But even high-impact content will need a sustainable business model.

“New news organizations are ultimately going to face the same operational problems as their former employers,” said Webb. So foundations considering funding new initiatives or launching them should think beyond editorial content to emerging technology. Quit taking a square peg of content and squeezing it into a round hole of new technology as it moves forward,  Webb said.  Think instead about inventing entirely different story types for the technology that’s coming and understanding fundamentally how the flow of information is changing.  

Going Forward

Webb said foundations should continue having in-depth conversations to better understand technology and communities. You can ask yourself a set of questions about initiatives and projects going forward:

  1. How does this project address our emerging digital divide?
  2. Will this project anticipate and advance on pace with the tech evolution?
  3. Who are our future collaborators and which platforms can we use?
  4. Who should tell our stories? How are they best told using existing and emerging technology?

“You are stewards of the community. The challenge here is to marry what you do with the realities of technology,” Webb said. “You’ve gotta anticipate for the future.”

Elise Hu is a journalist at NPR and a consultant for Knight Foundation.

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