Recoding the public good

Flickr Creative Commons, JeromeLeslie

I have been on the road and in all day meetings for three days. I now have a 6 hour flight (minus my much needed 3 hour "nap") to try to get to inbox zero. This post will wander through the themes and ideas that are generated by my emails and that are still floundering around in my head from the real world. Consider this blog an experiment in simultaneous productivity, reflection, and note taking. More accurately, consider it an experiment in manual creation of my own semantic web (or, at least, inbox). I should add that I'm also listening to a Berkman Center podcast of a discussion with Beth Noveck, Chief Intergalactic Officer of Area 51, also known as the author of WikiGovernment, creator of Peer-to-Patent and now The White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.

On metrics. One email asked me to chime in on a post about SROI. Another email sent me this blog post from an experienced entrepreneur lambasting the Venture Capital industry for their national association's outrageous claims about the impact that VCs have (measured in dollars, job creation, value creation). The post made me think - "Geez, if VC can't find meaningful measures of dollars, jobs, and corporate value, can anyone measure anything?"

After reading the post about VCs, and since I'm in the middle of Bruce Sievers' great new book, Civil Society, Philanthropy and the State of the Commons, I decided I had nothing to add to a discussion on SROI.

The DataJam that took place in DC on Monday, and about which you can read, watch, download stuff - gave me an opportunity to think hard with many smart folks about how to actually understand how people in communities want to use information to solve their problems. We are at an exciting nascent moment of pushing out data - from government, foundations, NGOs, etc.

This is great. And it is also happening in a top down, inside to outside fashion. There is demand for raw, downloadable data - Noveck mentions in her podcast from April, 2010 that there have been 64 million hits to and a recent Pew study found that 46% of internet users search for public policy information on a government website. But we don't know what people do with information, we don't know what info they need that we have, and we don't know what people would do with foundation data. That is the next move on the chess board - even as we take this first step to release the data let us also actively learn from and listen to people about what they need, what they want to do with it, and how they would do it. This is more than just building apps and games - though that is a helpful start. It is about getting those apps, games and data into existing community initiatives - from health to environmental justice to neighborhood safety to worker safety and environmental protection - and find out what those folks need and can contribute. Lets not make the same mistake with data apps that we've made with other tools - build it and they'll come. Data, apps, web2.0 etc is all about interaction - so, gasp, lets get out there and interact.

And then I had the chance to talk about policy with Steve Gunderson, Diana Aviv, Rob Reich and several hundred NYC based meeting participants to the Americas Society/Council on Americas. (This was webcast, but I haven't yet found out how to get the video stream - will do so). Big questions raised and discussed:

  1. There are code level changes underway that have the potential to vastly reshape the types of enterprises that we depend on to produce social goods. The first of these, the rise of B Corporations and L3Cs, are changing state laws to allow new commercial forms to be chartered as producers of social goods. The second is the Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United, which removes limits to the money that corporations and nonprofit organizations can contribute to political campaigns. Both are legal changes. Both have happened. What implications do they have for the production, distribution and financing of social goods?
  2. On a grand scale, what do these changes we are making mean for us as a society about what and whom we think should be providing public goods? All enterprises - private, public and nonprofits? Some but not others?
  3. On a small scale, what will the mix of commercial, nonprofit and public providers mean for how certain public goods are produced, distributed and financed in your community? Who will get health care and from whom? Who will make art and music with our children? Who will advocate for and against policy proposals? Who will report on the community needs and local government? Who will care for the elderly, educate the young, and police our communities or put our fires?
After the panel, a few of us left to go crash Demos' 10th anniversary party (Congratulations, and, truth be told, one of us was actually invited). We stopped for Vietnamese food first and continued the conversation above in earnest. Can we - as people - actually discuss the public good? Have the political dynamics of the last two years and the shocking statistics about our declining trust in government, corporations, nonprofits, and religious organizations (anything I left out?) left us without organizations to trust? And if so, how can each of us be part of meaningful discussions and thoughtful considerations of the new policy landscape for public goods? One is coming - that much we agreed upon. We are at a moment where the rules that guide giving, volunteering, and the common good are facing serious scrutiny. Can we have a proactive, informed, societal shared values based part in rewriting these rules - or will it fall to the level of short-term adversarial negotiations?

Given that the formal panel discussion was called Disrupting Philanthropy: Changing the Rules we also had to consider how mobile technology and the new ways we access information and each other fit into the above discussion. As I write this, Beth Noveck is talking about the reconfiguring of expertise - it is no longer held solely within organizations - and the demands that puts on organizations to find new ways of governance that allow them to access expertise they need, where ever it is. This is an opportunity for not only the "new rules" for good that we are on the cusp of creating, but also for how we create them and who gets to participate.

1 comment:

Xerographica said...

With the internet exponentially increasing accessibility to information the next step is to allow tax payers to vote with their taxes.