Ending the year on data and transparency

Two posts I'd like to bring to your attention before the year gets away from us.

The Hewlett Foundation on their transparency efforts so far. This post points out that the foundation has begun sharing grant summaries as well as program officer memos to the board.

The video of a talk I gave at the Next Generation Evaluation conference in November. It's really easy for evaluators (and conference hosts) to talk the talk about respecting the data rights of the people and programs they evaluate. As I discuss in the video, talk is one thing - it's the  technicalities (terms of service, speaker release forms, embed codes (ahem), data collection protocols, etc.) that actually matter. There is potential in digital data, and peril. Proceed accordingly.

The Ethics of Data

In my role at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) I am having a great time organizing a conference on The Ethics of Data. Our event, which will happen in September 2014, is a joint effort with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Brown Institute of the Columbia School of Journalism (and Stanford School of Engineering), and the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS.

We're going to be focusing on questions related to the ethical challenges and opportunities created by digital data use in a number of domains, each of which has a large civil society component. We're working on medical research, civic tech and citizen data, digital scholarship, and crisis response - but expect those domains to be fairly fluid during the planning. The sessions will include scholars, activists, technologists, funders, and policymakers - stay tuned!

We're deep in the planning now - website and details should go live in late January, early February. In the meantime, we're trying to connect with and keep track of others working on similar questions and issues. Two events to put on your radar screen : RightsCon and the Responsible Data Forum.

Folks at The Engine Room (one of the hosts of the Responsible Data Forum) are starting to collect and track resources also. Here's their working list. Please share other resources or events with which you think we should connect.


Measuring ourselves and perceptions of progress

The Center for Effective Philanthropy just released a survey of foundation CEOs that asks them about their sense of progress on the issues their organizations work on. I was honored to be asked for my thoughts on their findings - which are posted on the Center's blog. The process reminded me of my own efforts to learn about "How'm I doing?"*

How do I measure my work? How do I know if I'm making progress?

Since selling my consulting business and focusing now on writing, learning and teaching, my goals have changed. I'm focused on thinking hard about philanthropy, the social economy, digital civil society so I need to reflect on what I'm learning, who's talking about similar ideas, who's pushing back on these ideas, who disagrees with me and what can I learn from them?

  • At the lab we're also trying to frame new policy conversations - so we can track who and where those ideas are being discussed and what formal/informal recommendations they seem to be influencing.
  • We're also trying to understand the research landscape about these ideas - so we'll be able to compare types and amount of research over time.
  • Every year in the Blueprint I include a scorecard of how I did on the predictions I made the previous year. You can find the most recent Blueprint here - scorecard is on pages 19-20. Sometime soon I ought to go back through the five years of Blueprints and check on my overall "score."
  • I pay a lot of attention to the questions I get when I give speeches or that people send me via the blog or Twitter. How do those questions change over time? Do people seem more acquainted with my ideas - is there a general familiarity with the work or is it new, over and over again? (both are important - depth and breadth of reach) I also try to track who is writing to me, asking questions, inviting me to speak, debating my ideas - is the group expanding and diversifying or am I speaking to the same people over and over?
  • Because I'm trying to learn I also pay attention to whether I'm breaking new ground - reading new things, exploring new fields (I learned a lot about telecommunications security and surveillance in 2013. In the new year I plan to learn about biotechnologies and robotics. I'm also reading and re-reading a lot of American intellectual history from the revolutionary era). 
  • One thing I do "measure" every year or so is this diversity of what I'm reading. I've subscribed to certain periodicals for 32 years (Hint: they all have New York in their names). I subscribe to two periodicals with whose political slant I disagree (and I read them). I use the sources cited in those periodicals as a way to find new things to read. My goal here is to try to listen to the "other sides' opinions" in the "other sides' voices," not filtered through the pundits with whom I agree. What I'm trying to track here is the degree to which I'm hearing echos or finding new ideas.
  • And yes, I use web analytics, citations, and distribution numbers for all the digital idea sharing I do - but I learn more from the qualitative feedback then from raw numbers or percentages.
There's more (there's always more) but those are some ways I reflect on my work.

I wish I had a group of peers to reflect on this with me - to push me further, to tell me where they think I'm making progress, and where I'm falling behind. I do this informally with colleagues at Stanford and elsewhere but there's no single mechanism or place I can get the kind of feedback I want, so I have to piece it together. I'd welcome your ideas or thoughts on other ways for me to learn and improve and make a difference.

How do you measure your work? How do you know if you're making progress?

*Ed Koch, former NYC Mayor, lead quote in my CEP post

Blueprint 2014 Now Available!

I'm thrilled to announce the release of Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014.

Download yours for free from GrantCraft. It's fitting that I am in Annecy, France, at the annual meeting of the associations of French and Swiss Foundations, as this year's Blueprint includes a few thoughts on philanthropy and the social economy in Europe.

The focus of the Blueprint this year is on the idea of digital civil society - a concept I'm exploring at Stanford and in conversations with people around the globe. It also includes the annual buzzwords list (revealed today by the Chronicle of Philanthropy), predictions for the coming 12 months, my scorecard on past predictions, and a few wildcards.

Download it, read it, share it and tell me what you think.

Thanks to my partners in producing the Blueprint, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the leaders at GrantCraft from The Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre. Special thanks to my editor, Anne Focke, who's been part of this annual experiment for each of its five years.

Philanthropy Buzzwords - Full list




The list of top ten buzzwords is intended to capture the gist of the jargon in the year gone by and serve as a guide to terms you’re likely to hear in the next twelve months. Some are meaningful; some are satirical. Some may have lasting implications and be a catchphrase that summarizes an important idea; others will pass by as quickly as they came.  (Reprinted from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014 - available for free download)

1. Privacy
Privacy gets my vote for the buzzword of the year – and it’s one with real sticking power. Edward Snowden put it on the front pages, our pervasive reliance on digital communications makes us all vulnerable, and the delicate balance between private and public that defines associational life makes us all stakeholders.

2. Performance Management
This is the next generation measurement buzzword. We’re still working on measuring outcomes, but in the meantime organizations of all sizes and shapes are working to improve their own operations. Hence, performance management tools and buzz. Don’t be surprised to find a management consulting firm (or two) with just the solution you need.

3. Peer-to-peer services
Peer-to-peer[af1]  is another name for the sharing economy. There is an deepening schism among enterprises that help people share cars, bikes, and couches. Some of them are still rooted in a resource-saving, sharing mentality while others, particularly those funded by venture capital, have taken on the growth expectations and business practices of big ticket commercial enterprises.

4. Constituent Feedback
Now that almost everyone on the planet has a mobile phone, the cost of speaking directly to constituents is within reach for almost any organization. Getting feedback from beneficiaries has never been less expensive, though it’s still not simple. Using the information one gathers is also hard. Expect more and more efforts such as the GlobalGiving Storytelling project, the YouthTruth project started by the Bill & Melinda[af2]  Gates Foundation, and Keystone’s Constituency Voice work.

5. Makers
One of the odd outcomes of the digital age is newfound interest in old-fashioned handmade goods, such as wooden birdhouses, knit sweaters, and other crafts. Libraries, museums, and independent workshops provide space and equipment for these Makers. There are frequent Maker Faires, a magazine, and an explosion in urban workshops to serve the crafting needs of DIY-ers (do-it-yourselfers) everywhere. Makers especially like to mix and match the digital with the analog: think remote control robot inside crocheted baby toy[af3]  or hand carved wooden drones.[i]

6. Bitcoin
Bitcoin is a digital, nation-less currency with a value that fluctuates at rates previously only seen during tulip-buying frenzies and dot-com booms. It’s popular with financial speculators and some nonprofits, including the Internet Archive and Sean’s Outpost, a homeless shelter and food bank in Florida that uses it to raise donations.[ii] Because it can be “harvested” by anyone with time on their hands and an Internet connection it recently drew attention as a new form of panhandling.[iii]  


7. Commons
Nothing has put the old-fashioned concept of resources held “in common” back on the front burner as powerfully as the metaphor of the Internet coupled with our collective fear of a warming planet. Thankfully, there’s Nobel-prize winning research behind these ideas and some efforts, such as a new approach to development being pioneered in Ecuador that could put some meat on the rhetorical bones.[iv]  

8. Metadata
This is the data about data. Once the purview of coders and librarians, metadata came to public attention when the American National Security Agency claimed it wasn’t storing all of the content of our emails and phone calls, just the metadata about them (in other words, who we emailed or called, when, and where they were). Metadata has also brought down many a philandering politician, scam-conducting executive, and lying schoolboy. Human rights activists are particularly careful about the metadata tracks they leave behind.

9. Randomista
The tongue-in-cheek derogatory term for an evaluator or social scientist who believes that the only meaningful evidence is that which comes from random control trials.

10. Solutionism
Evgeny Morozov coined this term to describe the digital innovators who think they can solve every community problem with an app. Solutions, as compared to progress or adaptation, run counter to the lessons from one of our 2013 buzzwords – resilience. PBS even ran a program on this - mixing sharing economy with solutionism

Bonus Buzzword – Hackers
Those who break into, remix, repurpose, and create software code. Some do it for good – think of all the hackathons, codejams, and data–mining events where software coders and social activists create new digital tools for organizing. The term, however, still retains it allure of the outlaw, malicious “black hat” even as the mindset and skills of hacking are recognized for the potential positive outcomes.


[iv] Elinor Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her research on the commons. In 2013 Ecuador announced a new development planning process to be led by Michael Baumens, founder of the P2P Foundation and a global proponent of commons-based governance.