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Pathfinding: A Different Approach to Software Development

November 3, 2022

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One way to design ethical and empowering Indigenous software  

As an Indigenous-owned technology company, our approach to building custom software is much different from the mainstream.

With values rooted in Indigenous knowledge, we focus on partnering with purpose-driven Indigenous organizations to support their communities through technology, while holding ourselves accountable to our own social impact aspirations.

The best way to explain how we work differently at Animikii is by sharing how our Pathfinding process works

Pathfinding is a systematic approach to impact assessment, product visioning, project planning, and fundraising. 

We consider it our “secret sauce” – except there’s no good reason to keep it under lock and key. Read on to learn about our Pathfinding process, and a unique way to design ethical and empowering Indigenous software. 

How The Current System Works

When custom software companies start talking to a potential customer, they usually go through a process of determining whether they are the right fit for the job. This is the stage where business requirements and goals are defined. 

There are many different names for this part of the process, like:

  • Initial Engagement
  • Initial Requirements Gathering
  • Project Conceptualization

The purpose of this is typically to answer the following questions:

  • How well does your current solution work?
  • Why do you need to upgrade your existing system?
  • What are your workflows and processes, and how will these support a new solution? 

Once this has been completed, it is time to gather and review all relevant information about the proposed solution to determine how to move forward. 

This will typically come in the form of a report, often called a Business Requirement Document, or Software Requirement Specification, serving as a roadmap for the project.

This is the process that a number of our team members have worked with throughout their careers. However, we found a need to address the unique social and technological contexts of Animikii’s partners.

Why Our Approach to Custom Software Development is Different

Custom software needs to be respectful of the partner and the people that they work with.

There are many challenges inherent in running an Indigenous social impact organization, and it can be difficult for mainstream software providers to understand and contextualize these in the process of providing a service.

In addition, we try to stay aware of current issues in technology. We are aware of these challenges in the context of the tech world as a whole and through the current impacts of colonialism.

This is why we think that concepts like data security are equally important to us as Indigenous Data Sovereignty and connecting Indigenous communities to reliable high-speed internet

The meeting place between technology and Indigenous worldviews can be called Indigenous Technology: a term that can be difficult to define but is growing in importance as more Indigenous people make an impact in the space.

This is a major driving factor for our team and the company. We work with the goal of finding technologies that make life easier, enjoyable, and equitable for Indigenous Peoples, other marginalized communities, and society in general.

How Our Pathfinding Approach to Custom Software Succeeds

Pathfinding combines technical requirements gathering with the development of a working relationship.

We build software with a core principle of “nothing about us, without us.” This means that software built for Indigenous Peoples must only be done with adequate representation and participation by Indigenous Peoples.  

Because our Indigenous partners often face barriers to technology, we guide software development in a way that addresses or removes these barriers. 

Our team brings a diverse range of backgrounds, nations, skills, and personalities to the table. This isn’t about diversity or inclusion but rather about respect (one of the Seven Grandfather/Grandmother teachings, our core values) - respect for our partners, our communities, and the broader ecosystem of technology and Indigeneity.

What Pathfinding Looks Like

Pathfinding is the first part of our custom software development process. 

It is a needs assessment process that ensures we are building the right project the right way.

The process includes two key aspects: a series of Pathfinding kickoff sessions (either in person or remote) and a detailed Pathfinding report.

The process uses a fixed budget, with no hourly or daily fee to ensure fair and reliable pricing. This is a part of our commitment as a B Corporation to create equitable outcomes for our partners. 

The final Pathfinding report details the functionality and technical requirements of the project,  including a clickable prototype of the proposed software application. 

What Comes Next

Once the Pathfinding report is completed, we work with our partner to make several key decisions.

Do we build or not? 

Sometimes the pathfinding process reveals that our goals, values, budget, or practical needs are not in line with our partners' needs.  

If we collectively decide to move ahead with the build, we move on to discussing timelines, deliverables, and a project schedule.

The Pathfinding report is designed to be standalone. It contains enough information to allow any software developer to determine the costs of building the project. If the partner chooses Animikii to build their software, we provide a price to develop it exactly as described in the report. The report can be used to apply for grants, as a business plan, for proof of concept, or even be handed off to another software company. 

That last point is important. With humility, we never assume that Animikii’s solution is paramount, and we support any outcome that results in maximum value for everyone involved. It’s about collaboration over competition.

Pathfinding: Indigenous Software for Equitable Outcomes

Animikii’s Pathfinding process has led to impactful partnerships with a number of organizations.

We have developed custom software for Indigenous Cultural Safety training, youth wellness programming, workforce engagement and training, a First Nations internet connectivity tracker, and much more.

And we are not done yet.  

If you have a values-aligned project and you think we are the right fit, get in touch with us so we can begin your custom software journey.

Learning More

Animikii team members Jeff Doctor and Samantha Tweet recently presented on Pathfinding at the 2022 Natives in Tech conference. 

You can read their presentation and view the presentation video below.

 NIT Conference 2022 Presentation Slides (4.51 MB)

November 3, 2022

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