Monday, March 15, 2010

Open Philanthropy: A Modest Manifesto

I've been reading Beth Simone Noveck's book, Wiki Government, which is one outcome of a "modest proposal" for peer-to-patent that Noveck posted to her blog back when she was a law professor at New York Law School. Now she is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government at the White House. Peer-to-patent is real. Open government is a practical manner of working for many municipalities, states, and national governments - in the US and elsewhere. Those are pretty impressive outcomes from a "modest proposal."

At the same time, I've noticed that manifestos appear to be all the rage. Here's one on innovation, here's one on the internet (and the future of journalism), here's one on "awesomeness," and here's one on philanthrocapitalism. One thing I noticed and appreciated about these manifestos is their generous use of bullet points - so herewith, my modest manifesto on open philanthropy:
  1. Open sharing of ideas in philanthropy serves us all as we seek to solve shared problems.
  2. We need a Freedom of Foundation and Nonprofit Information Act. These organizations are tax-privileged data repositories. As such, their tax privileges should be linked to the degree they openly share and contribute the information, data, and knowledge that they produce for the public good.
  3. Openness extends to the interoperability of data - ours and others. Efforts to open government reporting, data sharing from municipalities and states, and open access to public records on donations, nonprofit filings, and public funding sources are all in the best interest of solving social problems.
  4. Experimenting with openness will show us what works. The Sunlight Foundation's recent "datajams" and Sunlight Live coverage of the health care reform discussions are a great working example of what information matters to whom, about what, and when. Their explanation of how they did it is fascinating - and further demonstration of "what open looks like" in practice.
  5. The ability to be open and our expectations of it are changing. These new expectations will change what transparency really looks like and how it works (Here's one version - the Cycle of Transparency). Philanthropy can guide this or react to it but it can not ignore it. Some leaders among large foundations are helping to shape the Glasspockets site from The Foundation Center, and the Center for Effective Philanthropy broke ground in this space. However, the most significant change is still to come - as the tools of transparency are now in the hands of the "viewers" not just those to be "viewed."
  6. Open matters to communities. Given the tools of today, we should consider at least the following possibilities:
  • Crowdsourced peer reviews of tax exempt entities (e.g. nonprofits);
  • Crowdsourced community needs and recommendations on social sector infrastructure;
  • Mandatory online filing of nonprofit and foundation tax forms;
  • Real-time data feeds from state attorneys general on nonprofit openings and closures;
  • Real time data feeds of foundation grants (that can be mashed up with similar feeds from public agencies and other grantmaking bodies);
  • Aggregated analysis of giving and loans from online giving marketplaces to show trends from the long tail. APIs and interoperable data structuring to allow these data and foundation data to be mashed up;
  • Use of external expertise for developing and assessing giving strategies (peer-to-philanthropy model, adapted from peer-to-patent);
  • Interoperable data streams from online games that generate social activism;
  • Standardized privacy protections developed, agreed to, and used by public and philanthropic data sources to protect individuals' identity while providing access to aggregate data;
  • Statements of usage and ownership for intellectual property that align with the nonprofit or philanthropic entities' missions, rather than the default use of copyright protection. Use of alternative and open content licensing where appropriate.
  • The kinds of data and information sharing strategies that underlie efforts like CrisisCamps or Ushahidi should be understood and considered in all domains.
(Section in quotes below was ADDED ON March 18 2010 - see this post also)
"A few more thoughts from me (which I also will go back and post into original)
  1. Data on embedded giving (affiliate marketing, cause-related giving - whatever you want to call it) needs to be open and accessible. This would include how much each company "give at the cash register" effort raises, how much is donated, and to what organizations. These efforts should be tracked and revealed in common visible way.*
  2. How we give is rapidly changing. We need data systems, and open protocols for sharing info on:
  • Text donations.
  • Embedded giving is already the MOST COMMON form of giving (according to recent Convio report).
  • Mobile phones will become the standard platform for organizing, volunteering, and giving - Ushahidi and The Extraordinaries are the tip of an iceberg for how we are shifting to P2P philanthropy (See Tim Ogden in March 2010 Alliance Magazine (subscription req'd)
  • Giving in games and virtual worlds.
Our systems for tracking, revealing, and sharing data on these trends need to account for these revolutions and those to come. Otherwise we face the same disconnect between "data collected" and "actions taken" that we've had for years because we track foundation giving but not that from donor advised funds."

One of the things we've learned from the open source software movement is that codes of professional practice matter - the early licensing efforts to create code that developers could access, use, improve, and share again are critical to how software development happens. We need similar codes of professional conduct and practice in philanthropy.

While the capacity to reach out to and incorporate community and expert input is all around us, the organizational impetus is to act otherwise. This is ever more so as the universe of social good producers diversifies to include nonprofits, social enterprises, social businesses, and corporate social responsibility efforts - each type of enterprise has different incentives for sharing their information openly, and we can not assume that greater openness will be the natural choice for all.

Several years ago I offered these seven building blocks of open philanthropy:
1. Facilitate adaptation, don’t hinder it
2. Design for interoperability, local specificity will follow
3. Build for the poorest
4. Assume upward adaptability
5. Creativity and control will happen locally
6. Diversity is essential
7. Complex problems require hybrid solutions
The tools we have today for gathering input, sharing data, exchanging ideas with attribution while encouraging reuse and remixing, creating sustainable enterprises dedicated to social change, and engaging multiple communities over time have exploded in number and pervasive use since I first offered those building blocks. Now is the time to consider en toto the systems and tools of giving so that they deploy fully the tools, norms, and expectations of our times. This will position them to work most successfully in relation to the public and commercial sectors and increase our chances of making lasting change.

NOTE: I accidentally pushed the "publish post" button instead of the "save draft" button. So now, since some version of this has already gone live, I am pushing this out there and acknowledging that this is thinking "in progress." I'll continue to refine and edit.

Please add to the list, "Vote" on those that make most sense to you, or upload the list to a voting system or turn it into a survey monkey and spread it around. The best manifesto for better philanthropy will come from the input of the many.


Larry Blumenthal said...

Great stuff, Lucy. Thanks for putting this out there. I just want to add another vote for, "Use of external expertise for developing and assessing giving strategies." I would love to see more foundations open up the grantmaking process to broader expertise and crowdsourcing, when appropriate.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks Larry - your "vote" reminded me to note that additions, clarifications, votes for the ideas in the manifesto are more than welcome. A real public discussion of what makes better philanthropy would be a fabulous outcome of this "modest manifesto." Thanks!

Brigid Slipka said...

This is a different angle, but when it comes to openness and transparency in philanthropy one element I rarely see is those of us in philanthropy speaking about our own personal giving. (Recent exception is Martin Brookes at New Philanthropy Capital).

I can attest that doing so makes one feel extremely vulnerable, but putting a personal stake in the conversation actually then encourages more of the traditional elements of openness you mention here: data-sharing, idea-exchange, group discussion of strategy.

Christine Egger said...

This is fantastic, Lucy. This is the first I've seen of a suggested "Freedom of Foundation and Nonprofit Information Act." Consider this a STRONG vote in its favor. Foundations and nonprofits will understandably be slow to embrace optional transparency. Even as the culture is shifting in that direction, I can completely get behind the logic in your #2 above. Have I been under a rock, or this is an idea that's been gaining traction for a while?


p.s. Kudos for taking the opportunity to 'fail informatively' re: hitting the publish button early :)

p.p.s. I've been learning alot from Brigid Slipka (@actuallygiving, lately. Two thumbs up to the idea of considering personal versions of this manifesto, or weaving elements of the personal into the one drafted here.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Brigid - this is interesting on several fronts. First, it recognizes that philanthropy is made up of individuals and institutions - an obvious fact that we all (myself very much included) sometimes gloss over. Second, it recognizes the power of the individual in this system - we know that individuals make up most of the money, but they might also carry far more "clout" with their info and endorsements than we've known. This is why I think the aggregate data from online giving platforms is so important - it "shows" us the long tail of giving in ways we haven't been able to before. Thanks for sharing this idea - lots to think about.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Christine -

I've been soft floating the Freedom of Foundation Information Act for years - which doesn't mean it has had any traction (smile). I used to use it as a threat. Now I think its something else - an aspiration, perhaps. Whatever, it is a policy possibility that has long interested me.

Thanks for your vote of support. Perhaps there is an Open Philanthropy movement building that can move these aspirations into practice.


Gail Perry said...

Hi Lucy, Terrific job! I'm voting for the provocative idea of crowd sourced, peer-reviews of tax-exempt entities. (And this is starting to happen already.) How wonderful to imagine that nonprofits could be evaluated by the community. Maybe this could finally be the carrot (or the stick) that encourages nonprofit boards to make necessary but risky decisions and start act rather than sitting around talking.

Steven Clift said...

Very good.

We are experimenting with an open specification process with our Participation 3.0 effort:

In short, the Ford Foundation gave us modest funding to develop and open process to bring forward some of the best ideas for the next generation of local online civic engagement. We plan to engage many potential funders along the way. It will be very interesting to see to what extent potential partnering non-profits and others will engage a more public proposal development process and whether in the end multiple foundations will fund anything where the "surprise" of the big announcement is muted by prior disclosure. All I know is that we need to do things differently and this is our shot with the Ford funding to try out a new approach in this niche.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Gail - thanks for voting! Are there examples of peer-review of nonprofits that you can share? Just want to make sure I'm not missing anything. GreatNonprofits is a step toward gathering relevant info, and I've been told of efforts in the Philippines and Belgium (I think). Would love to find models and examples - anyone?


Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for sharing this - Just learning about your work and this experiment is a "modest" and helpful outcome of this post! I am thrilled to know about .

Are you aware of this experiment from MIT and others - ?

Thanks for sharing what you are doing - are there other such experiments underway that we could collect in a list? Would someone at Ford be willing to chime in here - on other ideas you've funded, heard of, are watching?



Ann said...

Thanks for the thoughtful manifesto. I am especially enthusiastic about #2 & #3 &#4. If grantees could learn what works and what didn't work from relevant projects, it would help improve programming and metrics for proposed projects.

I'd also like to throw in another idea-more openness regarding later stage funding opportunities. In my experience, during the course of wholly new projects, sometimes goals change course or new information is discovered that might related to the priorities of foundations other than the original funder. Even if that doesn't happen, finding continued/additional funding sources beyond the initial round would be much easier if there were more transparency between foundations and grantees. Perhaps through shared data streams tools could be developed to track similar programming threads across organizations.

Lucy Bernholz said...


Exactly! This is a great example of how, if the data are available, folks can work more effectively. Imagine if you could tap into data on what others in your line of work were doing, what they'd accomplished, where they'd taken a turn, what they did next....Some foundations spend a lot of time and money encouraging idea sharing and networking among their grantees. These kinds of data streams would enable that kind of F2F networking to go global, be managed by nonprofits themselves, and be done as needed. Great addition, thank you!


Mario Morino said...

Thanks, Lucy, for bringing Rep. Israel’s legislation to my attention. If the bill passes, it would certainly be a major step toward improved transparency in government. Just as important, it would give a major boost to American innovation at a time when we sorely need it. I believe it would stimulate new businesses that will mine, analyze, and package information in more effective ways for public, private and consumer use.

For example, the Department of Defense has pioneered many aspects of telemedicine and field triage. Even though much of this does make its way into EMS teams and trauma centers, imagine the lives that could be saved if this knowledge and experience was more readily available and more broadly applied in community hospitals, by rural physicians, small town police and fire forces, and health-centric nonprofits.

One of the areas that I hope the proposed bill covers is also to ensure that public information must stay public even if the management of the information is handled by a private contractor. I’ve seen previous transparency efforts come up short when they neglected to address this issue and the “ownership” of the information went with the outsourced arrangement. Mario

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for this great comment and insights into the innovation that these kinds of regulatory changes can spark. Thanks also for the concern about what happens with public data outsourced to private companies (or nonprofits). We can this scenario already happening and your questions, concerns are appropriate. ANyone from @SunFoundation know how this will be dealt with in the legislation? Is there a way for this concern to be brought to attention of @RepSteveIsrael?


Jonathan Peizer said...

Being provocative for a moment --

I wonder how the dynamics of Crowdsourced peer reviews of tax exempt entities like foundations versus nonprofits might work? The spotlight typically seems to target nonprofits to show results (and Crowdsourcing bullet point does as well).

In the private sector one organization both funds and implements on its objectives. In the nonprofit sector the granter-grantee relationship between philanthropy and nonprofits splits this process between resourcer and implementer -- two sides of the same coin.

We typically concentrate on evaluating the implementer (which I agree is important) but nonprofits *depend* on funders for their support -- which often doesn't extend to satisfying their capacity issues and directly affects implementation efficiency. Nonprofits are therefore financially challenged to grow their organization successfully while simultaneously being increasingly challenged to demonstrate objective results.

By contrast, who in a Crowdsourced environment is ready to peer review the resourcing side of this equation; Donor giving and its efficacy? Would a peer foundation do so or would it act as doctors do, never criticizing its peers. Would the various consultancies to foundations who depend on their clients for continued work do it? Grant proposers and recipients might be best to evaluate the process they must go through with individual granters to receive funding and implement projects for them - but who among them would go on record and potentially put further funding opportunities on the line?

There is a peculiar dynamic specific to private philanthropic institutions that does not make them beholden to stakeholders, stockholders or voters in the same way other sectors and institutional actors are responsible to an outside constituency. It's this specific dynamic that needs to be addressed for the manifesto to function well - because both the resourcing and implementation aspect of the nonprofit-philanthropic partnership must work equally well to effectively address issues.

GayleGifford said...

Lucy, I am so with you on Open Source data sharing by foundations. I also have been raising this issue for a few years. See my August 2008 blog post "Open source final reports on grant funded projects?"

Thanks for getting this idea moving faster.