Friday, May 06, 2005

Finally, knowledge where you need it

We've been talking about knowledge as a philanthropic resource for a long time (too long, perhaps?) There are some interesting examples out there of how information and knowledge can be shared, packaged and distributed. Below are two, one for free and one for sale. Please send me links to others that you know of that are trying to do these things:

1) Package information in a way that donors and communities can use it for philanthropy
2) Do this in a 'scalable' way - meaning you don't need to rely on being able to reach directly those who are in the know
3) Useful information that actually helps someone make a decision or think about an issue in a different way
4) Is accessible to those with internet access and at a reasonable cost**

Example One: Community Giving Resource
A free website and newsletter from the Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute that puts together information and tools gleaned by dozens of professional foundation staff and packages specifically for family foundations without staff and individual donors.

The Community Giving Resources site uses data from DataPlace, an impressive searchable database of census and economic information funded by several major foundations.

From a conservative political perspective, The American Enterprise Institute does a very good job of posting video, audio, and print transcripts, plus papers and presentations from its numerous conferences, on its website, immediately following the events, making the materials available for any who might want them for free for a limited period of time. For example, a recent discussion on philanthropy and education is here.

Example Two: Geneva Global Delta Reports**
**NOTE BENE: This example violates principle #4 above - its not free. Its the opposite. Its expensive.

But it is an interesting example of trying to provide meaningful information to donors based on input from a network of global "stringers" who seek out grassroots opportunities in developing countries for analysis by the staff of this Philadelphia-based firm. More information on their Portfolio Management (A term I coined several years ago in Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets) approach is here

Finally, another very cool approach to sharing information is available from Mitch Kapor, Founder of the Open Source Application Foundation and many other endeavors. Kapor, who created Lotus 1-2-3 and thus made us all need PCs, is now building open source software, specifically a calendar program called Chandler. He blogs about this often, puts beta versions of the program out for user input, and it is open source so by definition it is an exercise in sharing and using knowledge together. All that is great.

What I think is a potentially transferable practice to philanthropy, however, is the diary he shares about making the product. Successes, failures, questions, pitfalls - all for the world to see. Imagine if communities and donors tried the same kind of transparency, inviting in other opinions and advice, making the process open as well as the product, and - I would argue - building a better process and product as a result. Anyone out there in the funding world want to take the courageous leap to share their work this way....?

So, those are my cool examples of knowledge where you need it. Send me yours via email or in the comments. Thanks.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A month's worth of musings...

I haven't written in a while because there is a lot going on. Here's a quick recap of some of the many things I'm trying to make sense of these days:

1) What do the death of environmentalism, the state of the commons, media reform activism, the future of community philanthropy, new financial tools for sustainable development, digital media, and the history of philanthropy and k-12 education all have in common? That is, not including the fact that this is only a subset of the really cool issues I work on every day?

Well, at least in part, each of these involve stories of shifting power dynamics from institutions to individuals or vice versa; they all require a better sense of historical evolution of industries than most of us bring to our considerations of policy or strategic decisions; they are all at least partly shaped by global changes in where and how work gets done; and they are all issues that philanthropists are involved in. Philanthropy - soemthing for everyone!

2) If the definition of a mature industry is one in which competition is widespread, prices have dropped to their lowest possible stable level, and innovation is abounding outside the formal edges of the industry, is philanthropy there?* *(With apologies to Michael Porter for paraphrasing his work beyond recognition).

3) As technologies have changed the pace at which information is shared, the places where work is done, and the costs of communicating around the globe, and all media share common elements like creation processes, distribution needs, and licensing requirements - doesn't it make sense that our currently separate distribution and creation structures and the ownership/copyright/distribution laws for cable television, broadcast television and radio, satellite radio, print media, podcasting, blogging, are all about to crash into each other? Do we have any guiding principles that are being espoused, protected, and used to frame new structures and laws for all these media?

4) The crashing together of these different media, with their different business models, nonprofit players, and public subsidies is somehow (operative word) instructive for what appears to be happening between financial service firms, nonprofit philanthropy purveyors, and technology companies that specialize in transactions and data around giving.

Once separate spheres are edging toward each other, in some cases swallowing each other whole (e.g. financial firm buys nonprofit created data management and donor services software, see ChesterCAP LLC Purchases Dot.Che ) and rearranging the chairs around the dance floor, but no one seems to be paying a whole lot of attention to underlying principles about what is in the public interest, what does the market do best, where do nongovernmental agencies reign supreme and what principles might or should guide how the dance unfolds or how people make choices among potential dance partners.

So, there you have it. That's what I need to make sense of today. Any and all thoughts or advice welcome. Please comment.