Conference aims to build community with technology

Using technology to bridge divides, build partnerships, increase communication and change the world in a positive way are just some of the aims behind the Connecting Up Conference that starts next week in Adelaide.

The annual conference, run by Community Information Strategies Australia (CISA), is in its third year and seems to be picking up momentum as it has attracted a pool of international speakers for the first time. There were no international speakers in 2004 and only two last year.

"This is also the first year Microsoft has come on board as a sponsor," said CISA CEO Doug Jacquier.

Featured speakers include Senator Gary Humphries, the South Australian Minister for Families and Communities, Jay Weatherill who will speak about the SA government's use of ICT in the delivery of community services and CEO of US-based Aptify Corporation, Amith Nagarajan who will discuss how to drive change through information technology and business process automation.

Other international speakers include ICT Hub general manager Nicola Thompson from London, Nonprofit Technology Network executive director Joe Baker from the US and South African non-government organizations network executive director, David Barnard.

Topics will range from connecting communities using blogs and podcasts, VoIP for community organizations, and e-learning, to how open source technology can help NGOs and how the Australian government is helping communities with new broadband and ICT initiatives.

Individual workgroups will demonstrate the power of digital storytelling, early emergency warning systems, how to establish indigenous learning centres and technology projects that are helping to strengthen the world-wide Scouting movement.

Jacquier said he expects topics such as breaking the poverty cycle using IT skills programs, and the growing problem of e-waste to generate a lot of discussion.

The conference has sold 250 tickets already and organizers hope to sell a few more over the weekend.

Jacquier said it is the only national conference of its type that his is aware of, although there are smaller state-based events held periodically.

"Connecting Up is the equivalent of the US and UK national conferences on similar themes. The Nonprofit Technology Conference in Seattle this year attracted 850 delegates from a population of 280 million and the UK ICT Hub attracted 200 delegates from a population of 80 million, so on a per capita ratio we punch well above our weight," he said.

Connecting Up has had no trouble attracting speakers, with a waiting list of presenter hopefuls growing longer each year.

"We'd love to make the conference even bigger, but there are limitations due to the need to gather sufficient sponsorship to achieve that," Jacquier said. "We are giving consideration to the possibility of an interstate partnership for next year's event to be held on the East Coast, but currently even our East Coast delegates like the idea of the national conference being held away from the usual centres."

On average, delegates to the conference have so far been 50 percent community, 25 percent government and 25 percent business, a perfect mix, Jacquier says, for creating partnerships.

Tickets for the two days are $220 for members from not-for-profit organizations, $440 for government or business sector delegates or $110 for students and concessions. Single-day tickets are also available for $170, $300 or $82.50.

"We generally don't do much better than break even, but any surpluses go towards supporting our broader CommunIT program of providing technology and ICT information support to not-for-profit organizations," Jacquier said.

Details of the conference are available at: http://connectingup.cisa.asn.au

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