By Jacen Greene
Most people look out on a crowd of conference attendees and see, well, a crowd of conference attendees. Graeme Byrd, president of the Net Impact professional chapter in Portland, Oregon, sees a resource. For this year’s Net Impact conference, Graeme worked with Meg Busse, Strategy + Community Consultant at Context Partners, and Jen Schmidt, Senior Development Officer at Mercy Corps, to plan Portland Impact, a crowdsourced conference session for audience members to solve challenges faced by area organizations. Busse explains that Portland Impact “takes a traditional crowdsourcing model and moves it offline and in-person. With this model, five local Portland organizations leverage the collective intelligence of a group and walk away with actionable solutions. Participants not only have the opportunity to contribute to these solutions, but they get to network and connect in a way that doesn’t happen in online crowdsourcing.”
Facilitated by professionals (full disclosure: including yours truly) paired with local graduate students, the sessions will address a specific challenge selected by each of the organizations. Focus the Nation, a clean energy advocacy nonprofit, is looking to develop innovative, replicable financing models for small-scale renewable energy projects. The Bus Project, a voter registration and engagement nonprofit, hopes to create new strategies to engage millennials in philanthropy. Other local businesses and nonprofits seek help developing expansion plans or innovative marketing campaigns. Sound interesting? Maybe you can help.
Audience members are asked to join the ideation and problem-solving process. Moving beyond the typical conference session model of passive listening followed by a brief Q&A, attendees are instead asked to fully engage with issues and organizations from the very beginning. And in these sessions, outcomes matter. Without great audience support, the businesses and nonprofits taking part may walk away empty-handed. It’s a risk for the firms involved, but the sessions offer a number of potential benefits.
Graeme Byrd says that “these processes and techniques are critical to engaging both employees and community members. We know that the best ideas don’t always come from the C level. Collaborative approaches to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges are essential.” By working with the public, organizations can demonstrate greater transparency, enhance engagement with their stakeholders, and hopefully resolve pressing issues faster and at less cost then if they relied on internal resources or outside consultants.
Attendees benefit as well. The Portland Impact sessions are designed to not only give audience members a chance to contribute to the success of local organizations, but also to provide them with a replicable model for collaborative problem solving. Each participant is expected to walk away with the satisfaction of helping a local organization overcome a major challenge, as well as the tools to create collaborative, positive change elsewhere.
If you plan on attending this year’s Net Impact conference in Portland, Oregon, consider dropping in on one of the Portland Impact sessions. Leave behind more than just business cards—leave a solution.
— Jacen Greene works as a freelance social enterprise consultant in Portland, Oregon.