Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Rules that Matter

[Part 5 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. Over the last 5 days I've been thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment and suggest additions or corrections as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]

Do you remember the way the SOPA/PIPA debates went down? In January of 2012 the U.S. Congress was considering two bills about content ownership and distribution on the Internet.  Most of the public wasn't paying any attention. Then, suddenly millions of people were paying attention - organized by advocates within the open source, free press, free speech, free internet communities - and supported by actions of some big Internet organizations. Wikipedia, Craigslist, Google, Reddit, Wordpress, and other major sites blacked themselves out on January 18. Voters took to petition signing, tweeting, blogging, and even took to the streets. The bills were dropped. Many have written about this as the event that marked "the internet standing up for itself."

On a grand scale, it reminds me of book store lovers standing up for their bookstores. I've written about how this has happened near me in San Francisco and is ongoing now in Menlo Park on behalf of Keplers, but it's actually happening in many parts of the United States.They're both examples of people coming together to stand for things they care about - millions of people in the SOPA/PIPA instance, hundreds of people in the case of each local bookstore.

It is only a matter of time before the same forces of self-organizing take on the established rules that guide philanthropy. We'll be reinventing the rules of civil society before you know it.

We're seeing the pre-policy change behaviors - activists and donors rising up to protest a Board decision at the Komen Foundation, leading to policy change, personnel turnover, and organizational disruption. Implications - what are the new rules of governance and accountability our digital civil society?

We're also seeing pre-policy change innovation - consider the steady move toward opening up research, science, and information funded with public dollars. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) reported an 83% increase in articles published from 2010 to 2011. What are the new rules about content for our digital civil society?

We've seen innovations such as Kickstarter inspire change in how social sector activities are funded.  They've already led to changes in the policy landscape for raising capital through crowdfunding. What are the new rules for financing and owning social sector enterprises?

We're seeing experiments in democracy and political engagement through Pirate parties and deliberative democracy. What are the new rules for civic engagement and how will that alter the social sector?

It's hard to know for sure which innovation, from car-sharing to crowdfunding, from social media accountability to intellectual property practices, will lead to policy change. Steven Berlin Johnson does a great job in his upcoming book, Future Perfect, of outlining the common behaviors and practice changes that matter in what he calls the "peer progressive" movement. We can't necessarily predict what will sprout, but I think the seeds have been sown for multiple new ways of financing, distributing, and creating social good in a digital age. The rules to guide those practices will also change. What are the new rules for personal privacy and collective action in our digital age?

Finally, because the purpose of this five-part series has been to help organize my thinking for Blueprint 2013 I've concentrated on information and communication technologies, as these are furthest along in how they're visibly shifting civil society.  That won't be the case for long. Digital communications is becoming infrastructural to the social sector and our attention will soon shift. Advances in genomics, biotech, and even self-driving cars are accelerating at such a pace they will soon start shaping the daily lives of millions of people. As that happens, our understanding of technology and philanthropy also needs to expand.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch]

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