skip to primary navigationskip to content

BLOG: Alix Dunn, THE ENGINE ROOM - CGHR Practitioner Series 2018

last modified Mar 06, 2018 04:06 PM
Jennifer Lee, MPhil in Public Policy, member of CGHR's Student Group wrote about the first talk of this year's Practitioner Series with Alix Dunn, The Engine Room.

Using Technology and Data for Social Change: The Engine Room

Alix Dunn, Executive Director and Co-founder of The Engine Room, talked to students from the University of Cambridge about how activists, organisations, and social change agents can effectively use data and technology to increase their impact. A self-proclaimed “accidental techie,” Alix shared how her experiences working with organisations in Cairo before and after the Arab Spring helped her hone in on the need for individuals to marry technical skill sets with political expertise. 

The development of the Engine Room began with a research question about the usage of new media by communities and political organisers. Since then, it has grown into a social change accelerator. The conversation of “how can technology be translated into impact?” cannot be reduced to “saving the world with an application,” and the Engine Room works closely with partners to solve complex problems in non-prescriptive ways.

Alix described three key skills in this technology-impact space: (1) collaboration, not co-optation, (2) continuous learning, not hype cycles and (3) service leadership, not solutionism. Effective collaboration requires self-awareness, humility and a dedication to contribute to the common good. Continuous learning is important, but it should be tempered by pragmatism. Technology evolves too fast for us to keep up, and it is important to ask yourself whether someone else can solve a problem more effectively and quickly than you. Lastly, service leadership requires leading by serving and building relationships with people, rather than trying to lead by presenting solutions.

The conversation finished off with QAFs — “Questions you should Ask yourself Frequently” when trying to solve a problem:

  • What problem am I trying to solve?
  • How can I help?
  • Is relative privilege leading to a misalignment in roles?
  • Is this rabbit hole of hard skills worth going down or can I ask an expert to help me out?
  • Has anyone tried this? Is anyone else working on this? Are there 17 other organisations out there doing the same thing?
  • What do I like doing?


A wine reception and lively discussion followed the event.