(photo from http://imgs.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/ybenjamin/index)
I tweeted this question yesterday and quite a few people passed it on - Why don't foundations build a document cloud? What is a document cloud, you ask? DocumentCloud is an online resource of source documents for investigative reporters - you can check it out here.
The site, which has received funding from the Knight News Challenge and has content partners such as The Atlantic, New York Times, TPM, and The New Yorker, is still in development but, once it goes live, it is intended to serve as a shared storage and search file cabinet for all the stuff reporters use to research and write their stories. As described in the New York Observer:
"DocumentCloud's software, once its fully built, will take all those papers that reporters, bloggers and civic groups usually stack in their bottom drawers or computer desktop folders at the end of their investigations, and extract all the information so that it's findable, shareable and searchable on the Web."OK. Now apply this analogy to philanthropy. Imagine if the world's foundations shared their applications, due diligence reports, evaluation findings, and commissioned issue reports....Close your eyes, and imagine this.....
Maybe grant applications would get approved faster because research could be done more quickly. Maybe more funders would collaborate, once they realized how often they were funding the same things. Maybe the quality of funder due diligence would improve, as certain program staff members research and write ups were frequently accessed and began to be seen as a "quality standard." Maybe some siloed program areas would break down, as funders realized they were using the same source information to look at different issues, or were each funding the same organization but one was working from a health vantage point and the other from an environmental justice lens.You can open your eyes now.
Maybe nonprofits would be able to gain the kind of mezzanine view of their issue area that program officers now have, and put that intelligence to work on the ground. Maybe they would find real collaborators, not just "marriages of funder-driven convenience." Maybe the paperwork for applications would decrease, because nonprofits could point new potential funders to the "cloud" where their information was already available (and had already been vetted).
So why not? DocumentCloud is moving into full swing development mode for less than $800,000. The contributing news agencies include commercial newspapers and nonprofit investigative outfits such as ProPublica. They include competing newspapers, news magazines, the Sunlight Foundation, WNYC, Amazon Web Services, OpenCalais, and PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer. During the early days only organizations that contribute documents will be able to access the source, but once it is all up and built the information will be available to any reporter, blogger or interested party.
And the best part? Once the code is written and the site is functioning, it will all be open source - other developers will be able to work from the code and adapt it to different markets. Like philanthropy. So, why don't foundations build a document cloud?