The Jewish Futures Conference: The Conversation Continues

by Russel M. Neiss

“Open Open Open Open Open Open Open” – Lisa Colton, from Darim Online
@ 7:29 AM Nov 8th via Twitter for iPhone

Last Monday, at the Jewish Futures Conference, Charlie Schwartz and I laid out a vision anchored by four core and overlapping values for the future of Jewish education:

  1. Open, Discoverable & Accessible;
  2. Remixable;
  3. Meaningful and Relevant; and
  4. Community Building.

While we have had many illuminating conversations since our presentation, the questions and feedback we have received overwhelmingly surrounds the first value of “Open, Discoverable and Accessible.” A number of people of asked us, “How can we incentivize people to create open resources or content that are essentially given away? How do we compensate people for their work? How are you going to foster innovation, if you want people to give their stuff away for free?”

These are essential questions, and ones I think the non-Jewish world has what to inform us about.

Google, 3M, and other companies that value innovation understand that part of ensuring innovation is giving their employees and staff members adequate time to think, explore, and experiment. In doing so, Google allocates 20% of an employee’s time to be devoted to their own exploratory projects (3M offers 15%). Put another way, Google subsidizes one day a week of an employee’s time to work on whatever technological side-project they want to work on. If a project has promise, it’s folded into the general production schedule of these various organizations and becomes a core offering. Gmail, one of Google’s core services began as a 20% time project, and those ubiquitous PostIt Notes, began when a 3M employee was spending his 15% time trying to figure out how to keep the bookmarks in place in his church hymnal.

The idea for the Jewish world is similar. While few institutions and organizations could allow for a full 20% of an employee’s time to be devoted to their own initiative, imagine the potential innovation that could occur if educators were given the opportunity to devote a few hours a week to develop innovative curriculum on subjects that are dear to them that would be the property of the “Jewish community.” Or if Jewish coders spent 90% of their time doing traditional tech work for various organizations, and the last 10% was subsidized to allow them to create resources, platforms or technological tools that could be deployed in various Jewish settings. Imagine if 18 hours a month of a senior Jewish leader’s time was subsidized to allow them the opportunity to mentor new leaders in their field. Or think about what would happen if an organization offered an afternoon off once a month to anyone who would participate in an approved social justice cause.

While this cultural change won’t happen overnight, it would be interesting to see what could happen with a small investment in a pilot project. The potential transformative impact of allowing the individuals who already work in the organized Jewish world to think beyond their institutions’ walls for even a few hours each month, I believe has the ability to generate more social good than many other initiatives requiring much greater community investment.

Russel M. Neiss is the Academic Director of Technology and Media Services at the Rodeph Sholom School in NYC, and moonlights as the Co-Founder and Lead Coder for The views expressed above are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.