Thursday, October 15, 2009

Decoding the Future - part 3

(photo from NASA -

This post begins with an apology. To all those who requested draft 1.5 of the technology and philanthropy paper, and to whom it was scheduled to be sent on October 9 - apologies. Simply put - it is not ready yet. We're working on it. We got so much great information and feedback from folks on draft v 1.0 and so much feedback to the blog posts here and here - (and here, here and here) - well, we've got a lot of work to do. Our internal timeline for revisions, edits, revisions etc. put us into the middle of November. If you already requested it, you are on the list - we will send it to you when it is ready to go. Again, our apologies.

That said, here's some insight into what we're working on. (and here and here are the back posts that give you the story so far) - which can be summed up as:
  1. "Data are the new platform for change.
  2. The changes are not about the digital technologies that allow access, or about the data themselves. They are about the expectations and behaviors they unleash.
  3. These changes, coupled with changes in the public and private sectors, are pushing a transition to a "social economy" made up of interdependent public, private and philanthropic capital and creators of social goods.
  4. All of these changes are not an end of a story, they are simply the beginning.
  5. Philanthropy is an industry of passion and volunteerism in which collusion should be encouraged. It may not change in the same way, at the same speed, or driven by the same forces as the newspaper or music industries or the public sector.
We are also looking at cloud technology and peer to peer philanthropic networks. Finally, the rising interest in networks - both for doing work and donating to work (do-ers and donors) - raises fascinating questions about governance and enterprise structures for change going forward. Yesterday there was an interesting discussion of funding in networks that was captured on twitter (Hashtag #netfunders). The Annie E Casey Foundation offers several useful case studies on this, and Working Wikily is chock-full of insights.

Also relevant here, and the topic of one of my books in progress - The Giving Commons - is the re-emergent understanding of the commons as a framework for governance in and around social change. Once the purview of shared agricultural resources, the commons has come to provide a frame for understanding the ways we interact around shared information resources. Elinor Ostrom, who was just awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work in this area, describes it as such:
"There appears to have been a spontaneous explosion of "Ah ha" moments when multiple users on the Internet one day sat up, probably in frustration, and said, "Hey! This is a shared resource!" People started to notice behaviors and conditions on the web - congestion, free riding, conflict, overuse, and "pollution" - that had long been identifed with other types of commons. They began to notice that this new conduit of distributing information was neither a private nor strictly a public resource."*
In addition to the emergent commons awareness around the Internet, climate change has also re-catalyzed interest in the commons. Those of us old enough to remember the Whole Earth Catalogue are familiar with the impact of that very first photo of earth from space which made the beauty and limits of this shared resource starkly visible.

Many of us are familiar with the Creative Commons, the open licensing system launched by Larry Lessig with signifcant financial support from the MacArthur Foundation, among others (and the licensing system that I use for this blog, by the way). Other visible commons-related efforts that matter to philanthropy include the Public Library of Science, the Science Commons, and efforts to make public data freely available, searchable and usable (Obama's Open Government Initiative, the work of the Sunlight Foundation, the work of the Internet Archive, OntheCommons - the list goes on and on.) Ironically, a recent study by the Berkman Center at Harvard noted that, despite the involvement of foundations and philanthropy in developing Creative Commons and other open content licensing systems, few of them actually use them as part of their own knowledge production and sharing policies.** Open content licensing and open access is now cool enough to warrant its own week of activity and activism - next week, October 19-23 marks Open Access Week.

So as we continue writing about the future of philanthropy and technology, these big issues - networks + network governance, the commons, cloud technology - are front and center. We've got a lot to make sense of - I better leave this here and get back to work.

*Hess and Ostrom (eds) Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, p. 4

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