Noel Dickover's TechCamps gaining speed
- By Frank Konkel
- Dec 04, 2012
Noel Dickover says the State Department's TechCamp program helps organizations build digital capacity for little cost.
Noel Dickover earned a 2012 Federal 100 award in March after organizing and leading five TechCamps around the world, and he hasn’t slowed down since.
Dickover flew all over the globe this year training grassroots organizations and building their digital capacity through interactive TechCamps, bringing together innovative technologists, nongovernmental organizations and civil society to adopt tech-centric approaches to issues like democracy, economics, disaster response, and youth and women empowerment.
Dickover, senior new media advisor for the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy,led two-day TechCamps in Thailand, Israel, India, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Senegal and Zanzibar since March, and spent significant time planning future events.
“I’ve racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles,” Dickover told FCW. “We’ve gotten so much interest from the TechCamp approach, people are coming out of the woodwork to do these. We ended up doing a lot more than we originally intended.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative created TechCamp. The initiative is an effort to utilize the resources and capabilities of the tech community to assist civil society organizations outside of the U.S. Dickover said TechCamps specifically target successful local non-governmental organizations -- rather than government agencies or businesses -- technologists and civil service organizations because, unlike in the United States, those groups “don’t often get together” in other countries.
The TechCamp format also gives technologists a platform to make a positive difference in the world. “Technologists love to be Superman,” Dickover said. “The TechCamp format gives them that opportunity.”
At a TechCamp event, Dickover said the first day is dedicated to showing participants “what is possible through low-cost, easy-to-implement tech solutions,” and includes discussion on problem topics and developing the engagement points that will guide the remaining time. On the second day, NGOs take the lead and help develop an action plan for implementing solutions to previously discussed problems. Some TechCamp events have brought several hundred participants, and each has been rewarding for Dickover.
“You find very interesting projects where people have taken things and run with it,” Dickover said. “They might not have had that opportunity otherwise.”
The first TechCamp was held in November 2010, and the tally now stands at 19, attracting more than 1,100 civil society organizations from 81 countries along the way. The program has had a large impact at the grassroots level in myriad ways, he said.
For one, Dickover said, TechCamp surveys administered directly after an event and then again six months later, overwhelmingly indicate a rise in digital literacy among participants, and shows participants taking advantage of low-cost technology.
The program also looks at solutions resulting from TechCamp, and there are success stories to tell, such as the NGO collaboration tool programmers built in Kenya based on a problem statement that came out of a TechCamp in Chile, or the Guatemalan man who used mapping technology to turn unreadable spreadsheet data into maps identifying underperforming schools.
“There are six to 20 of these successes in every event,” Dickover said.
The program’s success is magnified because it doesn’t have a high price tag. A small staff manages TechCamps – three people in the Office of eDiplomacy and two others in the Office of Innovation put significant time in – and the program does not have any significant operational costs.
“It’s not something where we’re showing up with a bundle of cash,” Dickover said. “The folks on the ground, once the topic has cleared, we get the right technologists there. But we don’t pay for them. The running of TechCamp, we don’t pay for at all.”
Rather, overseas embassies or other entities usually pick up operational costs, and Dickover said the program is in high demand. He said at least two months of planning time is mandated for each TechCamp.
“We have others lining up,” Dickover said.
Where the program goes from here under a new administration remains to be seen, but Dickover said he’d like to see it continue.