Structured Abstraction: Online tools for Social Innovators

Posted by Sarah Blue

I had the chance to discuss Structured Abstraction with Jay MacGillivray, who has the official title of Connector at the company. He got me up to speed on all of the projects they are working on, as well as some cool things we should see from them in the future.

Sarah: Can you start off by telling us a little about Structured Abstraction?

Jay: SA is a team of business strategists, artists and computer scientists that formed to provide an effective set of online tools for our target audience of arts, culture and not-for-profit organizations. Our stated goal is to provide ‘Online Tools for Social Innovators’. This translates into unique marketing platforms for our client base of festivals, theatre companies, arts collectives, online publications, startup ventures, universities and health regions. We started out three years ago working with clients that we shared common values with – where SA felt we could make a difference. We’ve subsequently developed a set of tools geared directly at this rapidly growing Social Innovator market.

Sarah: You've got 6 people on the team, all with strong technical backgrounds. How do you think this affects the work you take on?

Jay: Over half the team have formal computer science educations, and everyone has a strong technical background. We have an internal goal to ‘build software right’ – so that all SA projects incorporate the best and most effective technical solutions for our clients. Being vey technical, we can take on unique or difficult projects that require innovative solutions -  with a lot of confidence. Probably the biggest result of our technical core is our ‘content management framework’ (SWIM), built to uniquely tackle the requirement of updating content and design for our non-technical end users. SWIM is our development framework, and allows us to rapidly deploy a highly flexible CMS to a wide variety of groups. This allows us to really customize our solutions based on specific client needs, and then easily update features as their needs grow.

Sarah: Structured Abstraction works with a number of Calgary festivals. Do you see that trend continuing?

Jay: It’s become a real focus for SA. I personally have a large volunteer background helping running a very successful theatre festival, and our creative director also owns a record label – so we started with some real world expertise on how festivals should work. SWIM is ideally suited for providing interactive tools to communicate in real time with audiences, and we’ve now built specific ‘festival features’ for audience interaction - that we recognize as common requirements across all festivals. With this expertise, it’s a created a great niche for SA that we’ll continue to work with. The whole SA team loves the festival atmosphere, and it’s quite a perk to be invited to the actual events. We usually end up being sponsors, and then invite our other clients to attend along with us. It really adds to the fun to see the impact that our work has on the frontline marketing of these festivals – kind of gives a warm fuzzy feeling.

Sarah: What's the best part about working with arts & culture and the non-profit sector?

Jay: We get to work with some amazing and innovative people. These sectors truly want to make a difference in their communities, which lines up well with our personal and corporate goals. And we’ve had great success with making arts organizations and non-profit organizations truly effective in their marketing efforts – and often vastly improving their interactive relationships with their audiences. We’re seen as trusted advisors who really make a difference – a position we take seriously. From a technical perspective, SA delivers website platforms that allow non-technical users to easily post their content and interact with their audiences – and this lines up exactly with what we actually deliver.

Sarah: Can you tell us a little bit about the game Structured Abstraction is working on?

Jay: We’ve been engaged by the University of Calgary’s Nursing program in Qatar. One of their stated goals is to raise the perception of nursing in Qatari society – as a profession generally, and as a vocation specifically. The target audience is the ‘affluent and technically savvy youth’ of Qatar. As one prong in this outreach program, they have asked us to create a game that promotes nurses as problem solvers with a wide breadth of skills. So we are creating a Zombie game with a twist – with nurses as the ‘Heroes’ - utilizing time management skills and an assortment of techniques to actually cure the Zombies. We are launching the game on May 12th, International Nurses Day. The goal is to create a fun and addictive game, garner some attention, and maybe get some press and recognition for the department. Not your normal game or project, but fantastic to be a part of!

Sarah: What type of projects do you hope to work on in the future?

Jay: We have recently completed an internal Strategic Planning activity, and are focused and committed to the Social Innovators market. It merges our goals of providing exciting and ground-breaking technical tools with our overriding intent to make the world a better place. We anticipate that this will result in working with startups and new initiatives that need to approach online communications from unique perspectives. So new marketing platforms, online games, and interactive websites will be the end result – with a few products that we are creating internally to help serve this market. 

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Sarah Blue

Sarah Blue

Sarah is currently in charge of community outreach for Cardinal Media Technologies. Cardinal is a music participation and insight platform that lets users share what they're listening to, discover new music and friends, create ad-hoc location-based networks, and influence what's playing at 'Cardinal Powered' venues. Sarah has partnered with startup and community leaders to educate... more



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