Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big News in Data

I just got the word - SubsidyScope - an incredibly important project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, has just launched its site on the nonprofit sector. As the site describes it:

"Subsidyscope presents government data and summary statistics on federal spending and subsidies in the nonprofit sector. Our work is organized by type of spending on subsidies, such as direct expenditures, risk transfers and tax expenditures."
This is HUGE - for policymakers (a group that is very busy thinking about the regulations of the sector, both nonprofit and philanthropic); to donors; to activists; to social businesses; to B corporations, L3Cs, and every single entrepreneur I've spoken to (and there have been 8 in the last 4 days here in NYC) who is trying to choose what corporate form (nonprofit, commercial, B corp) to pursue for their enterprise; for taxpayers; and for the public. In other words, this matters.

Pew collected and is making public data on subsidies to the nonprofit sector as part of their larger effort to share information about public subsidies in several walks of life. Are the data perfect? No. Is the system for using it perfect? No. Is it an incredibly important experiment and first step? Absolutely. As I wrote in Blueprint for Philanthropy and Social Innovation: 2010 this kind of data analysis, done in and for the public, is key to understanding how we produce, finance, and distribute social goods. It is one source of data that is changing the "infostructure" of how we give and think about giving. It offers a baseline look that will prove invaluable to advocates for a robust nonprofit sector, advocates for new forms of commercial enterprise devoted to public good, and for scholars.

I can't wait to dive in.

"Oprah Closes Charity and Opens Store"

"Oprah Closes Charity and Opens Store"

That headline, from, sums up so much about this moment. As part of my New America Foundation Fellowship I'm writing a book about the changing nature of our social sector. Technology, which I've published about at length, is one of two key changes.

The second of two key forces, as I discussed in this Stanford-hosted panel with Rob Reich, Diana Aviv and Steve Gunderson (Video) comes from market-type enterprises and finance.

Now I'll just have to look into celebrity philanthropy ("celebanthropy") again, and that headline would cover it all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Beyond open data

I'm in the basement of The World Bank building in DC, listening to Beth Noveck and Hans Rosling talk about #opendata and "Mindset Upgrades for a Multipolar World."

One slide from Rosling shows a sideview of a garden. Underneath the ground surface are "root balls" of data repositories - from NGOs, the national government, and sources like the World Bank or UN. Shining down on the garden plot is the sun - represented here by the "public" - in other words one of the sources of life to the data rootballs. The data form roots that interconnect and eventually send shoots above ground. A variety of applications, translations, visualizations and other "story telling interpretations" of the data bring life from these seedlings and eventually sprout "flowers" - useful, beautiful manifestations of that interconnected, unseen, but vitally critical set of root databases.

If ever there were proof that a picture is worth a 1000 words, that preceding paragraph is it. Hans Rosling made the above point with a picture - it took me 10 times longer to write the words than make sense of the picture.

And that's his point. We need good data to help us tell stories. We need a lot of tools to interpret, visualize, represent, and mashup the data - and the good news is, we have these tools and many are free. Gapminder is one among many tools that let us "see" data.*

Tools aren't enough. Sensemakers and storytellers are key - those who will look at the data and make the pictures, look at the pictures, and ask for more data. Many of the people who will do this, and who can do it best, are the people whose lives are represented in the data - those in the neighborhoods, reporting the corruption, with kids in the schools, looking for work, and seeking healthcare. The Grameen AppLab is one example of working this way.

There are important analogs for this. Meteorologists are leaders in gathering huge, complicateed datasets and then standing in front of a map and making the information meaningful to anyone. Music is written in a notation form that is standardized and read by many - but it is only through the associated efforts of instrument makers, musicians, conductors and audiences that the scribbles on the page become beautiful to most of us.

As once independent datasets from government, multilaterals, and NGOs get connected through interoperable data standards several things will happen:
  1. The free open access to the data becomes platform for private and community innovation in terms of using it, presenting it, and deriving value from it. (this is what Clayton Christensen refers to as "adjacent profit" - where once there was value in holding the databases close, now there is value in releasing the data and building it from it)
  2. As more and more data becomes connected, those whose data are not included will cease to be found. It will be like writing a book but not letting Amazon find it. Even those of us who shop at indie bookstores or borrow from libraries often search Amazon to find out what exists. From the perspective of the reader, if you're book isn't there, it might as well not exist. You can lead or you can follow in this regard, but if you don't connect, your data won't matter.
  3. Data are the beginning, not the end. They are the rootballs, not the flowers.
  4. For #opendata sharing efforts the key is issues of interoperability so that datasets can be mashed together, which allows new questions to be asked, by new people. These people -in turn - add and look for other new data. There is a feedback loop that will drive use, improve data, improve its representation, and improve its use.
After the meeting I had a chance to talk with several of the meeting hosts and other attendees about the opportunity to deliberately work in this feedback-driven way. We were talking specifically about Apps and Contests - a topic I'm quite excited about. These are exploding in number - as they serve one important purpose in efforts to share data - they create tools to put the data to use. But we need to take this a few steps further down the feedback loop:
  1. Put the built apps into use in communities or organizations and watch how they are used. Give built apps for healthy eating into the program participants in a community health program, for example, see what they do with it, improve it based on their feedback and listen carefully to what they say they need in terms of other data or other features. Pushing out data is one step. Building an app is a next step. Using it and improving it and putting it to work in the context of community improvement efforts is what really matters.
  2. We need to connect those building the connections - what are all the App contests out there, what are they focused on, how do you participate, what is missing, who is partnering with whom, what tools are they using to run their contests, and what do these contests accomplish?
An easy proposal for addressing the issues of number two above:
  1. begin identifying all contests, share that info on web. (wiki)
  2. build small cadre of people that will provide data and turn to crowds for more
  3. Identify public agencies and private players and communities doing apps and contests in open way
  4. encourage app contests to share info with each other deliberately on the web
To do: I will reach out to a few of the folks at the World Bank event, plus those who've done research on apps/contests (White House, Case Foundation, McKinsey and Arabella), compile slide decks, lists, and links to apps. Involve as many people as want to be engaged in this conversation and sharing about apps.

Can you help? Want to build the public wiki? Have info on apps contests? Research that matters? Comment below or email me lucy at blueprintrd dot com

* (Sidebar - I'm now at the New America Foundation Retreat learning how "bad" the data we have on our economy are - because they are out of sync with the shape of the global, supply chain economy. So good data, that capture the information we need, are important and shouldn't just be assumed to exist)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Apps, Games, Challenges and all that

(Note to email readers - there is a photo and slidedeck in this post. May need to read on the site. Thanks)

For the last several months I've been starting my presentations or speeches with a plea for folks to turn ON their cell phones.

First, I bet folks that their phones won't ring, because no one talks on their mobiles anymore. But the real point is that your mobile phone is your point of access to whatever information you need and whatever Internet-based tweet/blog/web/socialnetwork information archives and livestreams that might matter to you. Assuming that you came to whatever venue we find ourselves in to learn something or meet someone, it seems logical to keep yourself connected to the "ozone of information" from which you also might learn and meet. So I was quite happy to find some data to support my observation that no one talks on the phone anymore.

But the real news: Lots of apps and games contests are underway or under consideration to get people engaged in a variety of issues. The DataJam slide deck shows several examples.

So I thought I'd develop a running list of others - please feel free to add and share. Some of what I've got below are other people's running lists, so this is a list of lists.

Apps for Democracy (one of the first. This link includes pdf on "hosting your own")

Design For America - from Sunlight Foundation, my super co-conspirator on the DataJam

Apps for Healthy Kids

The Health Games Challenge

Apps for the Army

Mobile App Contests - A meta list of app challenges - some for social good, others not.

List of Apps contests - list maintained by GovLoop

NYC App contest winners

Community Health Initiative - note mention of contests in the plan. No announcement yet.

The White House Open Government Initiative is involved in a lot of the federal level innovation efforts - their site keeps a great running list in the Innovations Gallery. In this speech at the Berkman Center in April, White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck explains the open government initiative and outlines its progress to date, noting the number of departments and agencies working on efforts such as these.

One question I have - what comes after the apps? How do we learn about how these apps are used, improved, re-configured, or used in unexpected ways? One panel at Gov2.0 expo will look at this. As I begin working on the west coast DataJam v2.better I'm talking to all my co-conspirators about this as well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recoding the public good

Flickr Creative Commons, JeromeLeslie

I have been on the road and in all day meetings for three days. I now have a 6 hour flight (minus my much needed 3 hour "nap") to try to get to inbox zero. This post will wander through the themes and ideas that are generated by my emails and that are still floundering around in my head from the real world. Consider this blog an experiment in simultaneous productivity, reflection, and note taking. More accurately, consider it an experiment in manual creation of my own semantic web (or, at least, inbox). I should add that I'm also listening to a Berkman Center podcast of a discussion with Beth Noveck, Chief Intergalactic Officer of Area 51, also known as the author of WikiGovernment, creator of Peer-to-Patent and now The White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.

On metrics. One email asked me to chime in on a post about SROI. Another email sent me this blog post from an experienced entrepreneur lambasting the Venture Capital industry for their national association's outrageous claims about the impact that VCs have (measured in dollars, job creation, value creation). The post made me think - "Geez, if VC can't find meaningful measures of dollars, jobs, and corporate value, can anyone measure anything?"

After reading the post about VCs, and since I'm in the middle of Bruce Sievers' great new book, Civil Society, Philanthropy and the State of the Commons, I decided I had nothing to add to a discussion on SROI.

The DataJam that took place in DC on Monday, and about which you can read, watch, download stuff - gave me an opportunity to think hard with many smart folks about how to actually understand how people in communities want to use information to solve their problems. We are at an exciting nascent moment of pushing out data - from government, foundations, NGOs, etc.

This is great. And it is also happening in a top down, inside to outside fashion. There is demand for raw, downloadable data - Noveck mentions in her podcast from April, 2010 that there have been 64 million hits to and a recent Pew study found that 46% of internet users search for public policy information on a government website. But we don't know what people do with information, we don't know what info they need that we have, and we don't know what people would do with foundation data. That is the next move on the chess board - even as we take this first step to release the data let us also actively learn from and listen to people about what they need, what they want to do with it, and how they would do it. This is more than just building apps and games - though that is a helpful start. It is about getting those apps, games and data into existing community initiatives - from health to environmental justice to neighborhood safety to worker safety and environmental protection - and find out what those folks need and can contribute. Lets not make the same mistake with data apps that we've made with other tools - build it and they'll come. Data, apps, web2.0 etc is all about interaction - so, gasp, lets get out there and interact.

And then I had the chance to talk about policy with Steve Gunderson, Diana Aviv, Rob Reich and several hundred NYC based meeting participants to the Americas Society/Council on Americas. (This was webcast, but I haven't yet found out how to get the video stream - will do so). Big questions raised and discussed:
  1. There are code level changes underway that have the potential to vastly reshape the types of enterprises that we depend on to produce social goods. The first of these, the rise of B Corporations and L3Cs, are changing state laws to allow new commercial forms to be chartered as producers of social goods. The second is the Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United, which removes limits to the money that corporations and nonprofit organizations can contribute to political campaigns. Both are legal changes. Both have happened. What implications do they have for the production, distribution and financing of social goods?
  2. On a grand scale, what do these changes we are making mean for us as a society about what and whom we think should be providing public goods? All enterprises - private, public and nonprofits? Some but not others?
  3. On a small scale, what will the mix of commercial, nonprofit and public providers mean for how certain public goods are produced, distributed and financed in your community? Who will get health care and from whom? Who will make art and music with our children? Who will advocate for and against policy proposals? Who will report on the community needs and local government? Who will care for the elderly, educate the young, and police our communities or put our fires?
After the panel, a few of us left to go crash Demos' 10th anniversary party (Congratulations, and, truth be told, one of us was actually invited). We stopped for Vietnamese food first and continued the conversation above in earnest. Can we - as people - actually discuss the public good? Have the political dynamics of the last two years and the shocking statistics about our declining trust in government, corporations, nonprofits, and religious organizations (anything I left out?) left us without organizations to trust? And if so, how can each of us be part of meaningful discussions and thoughtful considerations of the new policy landscape for public goods? One is coming - that much we agreed upon. We are at a moment where the rules that guide giving, volunteering, and the common good are facing serious scrutiny. Can we have a proactive, informed, societal shared values based part in rewriting these rules - or will it fall to the level of short-term adversarial negotiations?

Given that the formal panel discussion was called Disrupting Philanthropy: Changing the Rules we also had to consider how mobile technology and the new ways we access information and each other fit into the above discussion. As I write this, Beth Noveck is talking about the reconfiguring of expertise - it is no longer held solely within organizations - and the demands that puts on organizations to find new ways of governance that allow them to access expertise they need, where ever it is. This is an opportunity for not only the "new rules" for good that we are on the cusp of creating, but also for how we create them and who gets to participate.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ozone of Information

Here's the intro video to the DataJam that the Chronicle of Philanthropy produced. If you're reading this in email, or want to see the story the Chronicle included on their site, please click here.

Thanks to everyone who made it to the Philanthropy DataJam, virtually and in person. The full video of the event is available here. There were about 1500 of you on and off the livestream over the course of the meeting - wow!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Disrupting Philanthropy: The Data Jam

Thanks to everyone who made it to the Philanthropy DataJam, virtually and in person. The video of the event is available here. There were about 1500 of you on and off the livestream over the course of the meeting - wow!

Here's the intro video that the Chronicle of Philanthropy produced - thank you!

Thanks so much to Owen Barder of IATI, Aman Bhandari of the White House Office of Science and Tech Policy, Gavin Clabaugh of the Mott Foundation, Clay Johnson of the Sunlight Foundation, Jessica Sloan of AidData, Brad Smith of the Foundation Center, Aleem Walji of The World Bank and Dennis Whittle of GlobalGiving and the staff and leadership of the Sunlight Foundation, New America Foundation and HAND Foundation. And thanks to the Chronicle of Philanthropy for relaying the video stream.

Here's what I learned, in no order other than that produced by near-exhaustion:
  • There is value in bringing together people from different places in the same sector. I thought the DataJam really benefited from the mix of users, data providers, media, techies, and others.
  • We have to start really listening to potential data users. We are at the beginning of big data supplies, but who will use it and for what is nothing we can predict, we can only listen, experiment, and listen some more
  • One of the ideas shared at the DataJam (Link below provides full list) really seemed to capture people's interest - The RUNNER UP APP, which would provide access to proposals that weren't funded by certain foundations so others could consider them. Interest level is based on informal scan of twitter discussion during and after the event.
  • The paper which fed my thinking for this event, Disrupting Philanthropy, was written "in public." This event was public. Working this way takes a lot of extra time, but the collective thinking is, really, remarkable.
  • App contests are very cool and very fun. But there are a lot of them. Who uses the apps? How do we iterate on the apps? What kind of usage matters? It may be time to move beyond building apps to "field labs with community users.

Here are two documents from the event:

Ideas and questions shared from the group and twitter followers during the IdeaShare:

Set of URLs for the many datasources, apps, and other stuff in my slide deck - many thanks to Adin Miller for pulling this together:

Both of those are editable Google Docs so improve them, share them and - above all - let me and others know what ideas you might want to pursue.

Here is my slide deck.

Here is a link to the final copy of the Disrupting Philanthropy paper.

What, if anything, should we do next? What should we do better? Please share your comments below or on the google docs above about next steps, ideas, steps you'd like to take, things you'd like to try.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Data deficits and surfeits

(Photo courtesy of LogoMan at logomorphosis)

This morning I heard this (totally typical) set of reports on the radio about the doings in financial markets:

Around 6 am pdt: "The Dow is up 42 points, on news of a report that the Eurozone economy is still expected to expand at .9% in 2010, despite the heavy debt burdens of Greece and other member countries."

Approximately 7 am pdt: "The Dow is down 15 points as investors worry about debt in EU countries."

These kinds of swings in stock indices are daily events. What always catches my attention is the attempt to link the market's gyrations to some cause - "investors' worries" or "data from a new report." This effort to link the ups and downs of the market, which result from a collection of of millions of independent transactions, to any a single cause has always struck me as....well...ludicrous.

Yesterday TechSoup Global* posted this roundup of news on giving online. It cites three different analyses (Convio, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and NTEN) of online action. So far this week I've received three press releases, one from FoundationSource, one from Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, and one from Convio, about their analyses of 2010 giving. Each study looks at different data sets. Convio, Fidelity, and FoundationSource are mining the data from their own proprietary transaction platforms.

None of these sources let anyone else use their data, though the Chronicle posts its database of grants online for users to search.

This is the state of data in the sector right now. Proprietary data sets used to generate publicly shared analyses. There is no way to check the data or the analyses. There is no way to compare or mashup or integrate data sets (or even to really cross reference the analyses).

To get a little techy here (and somewhat oversimplify the problem) the holders of the data are sharing pdf's with us, instead of sharing data in RSS streams. Anyone's who's ever tried to edit a pdf knows how hard it is. Anyone who's ever had to re-enter a bunch of numbers from someone else's pdf into their own spreadsheet so they could ask the questions that interested them knows what a pain it is.

We have an abundance of proprietary analysis and a surfeit of publicly available data.

Now, not everyone is a wonk who's going to want to mash up the data or check anyone else's analysis. But some folks, such as those managing major public funding programs or foundations looking for funding partners or individual donors looking to do some deeper analysis of giving trends on their issues might. With these kinds of closed analyses, the only thing we have is what the analysts tell us. This may not be as ludicrous as linking millions of stock trades to one piece of news...and then changing your analysis an hour later when the index swings the other way....but we can do better.

If you'd like to imagine a different way of making sense of and using giving data, please join us, in person or on livestream for the first ever Philanthropy DataJam - Monday, May 10, from 12:30 - 2:00 EDT.

Presenters include experts from the White House Open Government Initiative, The World Bank's Open Data bank, The Foundation Center and its new GrantsFire Project, The Sunlight Foundation, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, GlobalGiving, AID DATA, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Thinkers and doers making and using these data tools include experts like you!

Join us at 12 for sandwiches at The New America Foundation in Washington, DC.. Join us at 12:30 from where ever you are on this site and on Twitter at #GiveData. Stay tuned for other events in the coming months.

The DataJam is made possible in partnership with The HAND Foundation, The New America Foundation, The Sunlight Foundation, and Blueprint Research & Design.

Full disclosure: I served on the Board of Directors of TechSoup Global's predecessor, Compumentor, from 2000-2008.