Good (and not so good?)

Huzzah to Brad Smith for this post on the Brave New World of Good. Stop. Go read it. Then come back here. (Please)

Brad does an important job of describing the new "sandbox" of good. The tag line could read: "Good: It's not just nonprofits and philanthropy anymore." It's also social enterprise, impact investing, open government and data, and political giving....This is the point I've been arguing in the last few years worth of Blueprints in which I describe it as the social economy. This is the term we've adopted at Stanford for describing all the ways we use private resources for public benefit.

Brad's absolutely right - the world of good is diversifying and expanding I can add one more item to Brad's list it that crossed my twitter feed today - market research on shoppers who "love shopping AND want responsible consumerism" (italics intend irony, which is mine). This is the extreme example of wanting it all.

But, surprising me, Brad stops short of pointing out the tradeoffs, ironies, limits, or mutually-exclusive intersections within this complicated sandbox of players. Here's the thing - each of the different things in this social economy or sandbox of good may be individually "good." But it's the interactions between them that matter. In some cases those interactions are not so good and may lead to meaningful, negative consequences.

  • Want an example? Supporting political issues through social welfare organizations has put anonymous charitable giving on a crash course with norms of political transparency.
  • Want another? Open data that is used to threaten personal privacy or safety.
  • Another? Market-based incentives that devalue long-term community building or policy focused work.
  • Another? State financing of nonprofit organizations that effectively make those theoretically-independent organizations less accountable distribution channels for public funds. 
  • Another? When philanthropic dollars release public agencies from using public funds for public purposes. 
With my colleagues Rob Reich and Chiara Cordelli I've written about some of the tradeoffs of "all this good." The paper, Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the Social Economy, is one of a series from the #ReCodingGood Project and the new Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford.

We're also trying to lay out the new policy issues - where the tradeoffs lie - that this new reality brings forth. That work is outlined in the Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013. I'd welcome your responses and suggestions to any or all of this work and hope you'll help us think it through.

1 comment:

brad smith said...

Thanks for the shout out Lucy. The potential not so good trends you list could be remedied, at least in part, by greater transparency. As i wrote the brave new world of good post i was struck by how relatively unoncerned many using organizational platforms to advocate new and open ways of doing good seemed to be about the transparency of their own organizations. A new,(un)transparent, decentralized form of social engineering? Maybe that's another blog post!