I want to start this end-of-year letter by thanking everyone who supported the Austin Forum on Technology & Society in any way in 2020: our advisory board and annual partners, our speakers and moderators, our bloggers and interviewees, our amazing team, and of course our awesome attendees and advocates, our fantastic followers and friends! If you’re reading this, then you fall into at one least one of these groups, and thus you helped us have a great year. 2020 brought tragedy, strife, and stress for many, but the Austin Forum found ways to transform itself, to execute our mission and sustain relationships and a sense of community, and even to be a source of education and support on the challenging topics of the year. For that, I want to thank each and every one of you. I am forever grateful for the support we received in a year in which everyone had so many other things on their minds and agendas.
The Austin Forum was created to increase awareness, understanding, advocacy, and active participation in the creation, adoption, and usage of technologies that have positive impacts in society. Our tagline is connect, collaborate, contribute—those are the desired outcomes of our programming, our activities, our efforts.
For 14 years we had achieved this by bringing people together, in-person, to build the relationships after experts and thought leaders shared information on diverse topics. Under that in-person model we thrived: we became the largest monthly tech series in Austin! We added podcasts and blog articles, too, but our in-person events were our foundation—until March 2020.
With the onset of the pandemic, we had a decision to make: do we pause the Austin Forum until it is safe to meet again in person since ‘in-person’ had been an implicit foundation for achieving our outcomes, or do we go online and attempt to continue achieving our objectives and sustaining the learning and sharing, the calls to action, and the opportunities to engage? After much discussion and analysis, we leaned into the new ways of interacting, embracing Zoom and learning how to do it better each month. We even increased our number of activities, addressing the issues of the pandemic and of racial injustice and inequities with extra events. We extended our reach beyond Austin, attracting participants from around the country and world (without a massive PR campaign).
Most importantly, we remained an open, inclusive, welcoming community, modifying our format and our usage of Zoom to be more than just another webinar or meeting. It was a challenging year and transition, but in the end, we sustained a large community, dealt with tough issues, made new friends and fans, and had a record year in terms of number of events. I have never been prouder of the Austin Forum. And we learned how to be better: stay tuned for information about how we’ll be even better in 2021—more types of events, better networking online, and more--when we share our program of activities in our January 5 event to kick off the year!
So, as we close what has been a challenging year for everyone, I want to close as I opened: thanking you for your support on behalf of our team and board. We are more excited about 2021 than we have ever been about a new year. We look forward to sharing our new program with you as we learn and share together, meet new potential collaborators and bring new people into our community, and inspire and accelerating collaborations and creative solutions that advance society and protect people. It’s going to be amazing—all the more so because of all of you.
Jay Boisseau, Ph.D.
Executive Director & Founder of the Austin Forum on Technology & Society
P.S. I hope you’ll stay connected in the Austin Forum Slack workspace over the break! I look forward to hearing what cool tech things Santa brings you!