Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#tech, communities and disaster #Sandy part 7

I took a brief break to watch the #SFGiants celebrate the World Series Championship - a great day in San Francisco. A bit of cheer (from about 1 million crazed fans).

(The view from nine floors above Market Street, confetti guns and players in cars. I'm going to miss that office space...especially if Giants keep winning)

Here's my 7th post on technology, communities and disaster response.
  1. TechPresident has a great roundup of stories related to tech infrastructure and rumor debunking on its site. If you are interested in how technology is changing politics and our communities, you should check out this site (and consider joining Personal Democracy Media - unsolicited, heartfelt plug from me, People ask me all the time what I read on the web - PDM is always part of the answer)
  2. ModestNeeds - a fundraising site - is connecting to #SandyAid to help folks put out by the storm.   (HT @CDEgger)
  3. Google.Org expanded its tech-driven efforts - mapping shelters, evacuation routes, and danger zones.
  4. The intrepid #hurricanehackers and Geeks Without Bounds are organizing and encouraging crisiscamps this weekend - you can find out more and join one or start your own. Here's a sign up for DC.
  5. CrowdRise and CraigConnects got busy raising money for relief efforts, as did NetworkForGood.
  6. Scientists at Purdue enlisted citizen scientists to gather rain and snow samples during the storm and send them in for isotope analysis. 
  7. The Atlantic reported that the FCC blamed #Sandy for knocking out 25% of all cell towers
  8. I posted earlier about social media self-correcting efforts (see item #2) - debunking myths and lies and fake photographs almost as fast as they could spread. Alexis Madrigal adds some more insight on this. This turned into a robust debate about ethics and disasters and scams - and will probably be something we hear more about as social media become our expected news sources.
  9. The United Nations tweeted out emergency information regarding delegate and staff access to headquarter building. 

Here are the previous posts:

Tech, communities and #sandy (big data version)

This is my 6th post on how communities - physical and virtual, issue and skills-based - are using technology and social media to prepare for, respond to and recover from the storm #sandy.

1) Big Data
All of the #hurricanehacker mapping and needs/haves tools that have been created rely on data. They're taking tweets, FourSquare posts and images and aggregating them, sorting them, and making sense of them. I was also thrilled to get some insight from Direct Relief International about how big data plays into their work in times like this - specifically in determining who is most vulnerable and where they are. This is critical for Direct Relief International which, among other things, distributes prescription medicines to those hit by the storm. They have several interesting posts about how they work with a big data analytics firm in advance of, and during the storm. Disaster relief is not unlike UPS ads - logistics, logistics, logistics. It's good to see how both informal networks of hackers and established organizations like Direct Relief are using data tools to help our communities.

2) Fundraising
Will #sandy disrupt giving totals for the year? It hit just as New York's "gala" fundraising scene was ramping up. East coasters also account for a good percentage of blood donations and The Red Cross has been actively trying to encourage donations elsewhere both to meet the needs created by the storm and to fill the gap as east coast donation drives don't happen. We'll need to see how giving flows shift over time and whether giving in response to the storm outweighs those funds lost due to canceled events and fundraisers.

3) Infrastructure
Roads. Bridges. Tunnels. Walls. Homes. Businesses.  Cell towers, server farms, Internet cable. All damaged, all in need of repair. Some of the infrastructure is public, other parts are owned by commercial firms and dependent on public right-of-ways. Our communities need it all.

4) Learning from the present and past
Here's a useful collection of what works for neighbors using social media to help each other. Based as I am in San Francisco, it should go without saying that emergencies and disasters are something I think about a lot and try to stay prepared - I appreciate this one personally. (And I should point out that I found this through Twitter)

Here are the previous posts:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(More) Tech and #Sandy (part 5)

Still more examples of technology communities' contributions to, and use of social media by, hurricane #Sandy relief efforts. Earlier posts from yesterday and this morning.

1) Senator Gillibrand tweeted out about #NYC volunteering coordination via email and Facebook:

2) Here's the volunteer sign up page being circulated by New York City Public Advocate's office. The Mayor's Office is encouraging people who want to volunteer to use NYC Service.

3) While every natural disaster recovery effort has its share of fundraising scams, #sandy gave us "social media scams" - as BuzzFeed explains in "outing" a tweeter who was spreading false information about the state of the situation in NYC. The equivalent of "shouting fire in a movie theater," says BuzzFeed. I'm still thinking about that.

4) Perhaps it's just my filters, but I didn't receive a fundraising pitch for #sandy relief efforts until an email press release arrived at Noon (pdt) on Tuesday, telling me all the SMS short codes I could use to text a donation.

5) Here is FourSquare tracking of #Sandy's impact. There is also a group called Aftermathpocalypse built on FourSquare and showing photos and check-ins.

6) And here's a quick list of foundations acting on behalf of disaster relief, courtesy of Grantmakers in the Arts.

7) Some New Yorkers, but not all, got emergency alerts on their cell phones. Here's how it worked.

8) Finally, in recognition of just how dependent we've become on cell service and internet connectivity, here's a report covering the storm's impact on NYC based operations of Verizon, Google, Cablevision and others.

Tech, communities and #sandy (part 4)

Continuing my collection of tech-related #sandy relief, rescue, clean up resources. Two earlier posts on tech efforts and one on community foundations.

1) Here's a page of #SandyVolunteer efforts for folks who want to contribute their time or expertise. Here's the read-only page of #hurricanehackers projects - including efforts at partnering with CouchSurfing and SeeClickFix to coordinate shelter and repair efforts. 
 (These are great example of individuals working together to coordinate resources and trying to take some of the pressure off of public systems such as 911) This is an important set of behaviors - the intersections of community actions and public service is what we're seeing here. (not the replacement of one with another)

2) CrisisCommons pointed me to the TweakTheTweet map from the University of Washington's Human Centered Design and Engineering program. It is a layered map, colorcoding tweets about power outages, shelter, needs, offers, blocked roads, etc. etc.

3) is a software toolkit for communities to use to organize responses and relief. Here's what NYC's lower east side put together.

4) Some are noting the "superstorm" of weather systems was mirrored by superstorm of social media - this from @NYMag
"As it unfolded, a different confluence of factors — namely the simultaneous rise and ubiquity of Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, along with the endless churn of the 24-hour news cycle — combined to create another hybrid vortex in which the virtual community experienced the storm both in seclusion and all together. We all watched through our screens first, interacting all the while, and out the window second."
And this from @TechPresident
"While Pandodaily suggested that Sandy could be "Instagram's big citizen journalism moment," the Internet also became a source of unsourced, viral and often misleading images. Last night a Twitter account that was spreading incorrect information about the state of the New York subways and the stock exchange that was then cited by some TV news reports. But towards the end of the night a website emerged that hoped to crowdsource reliable New York transit information."
So #Sandy might be the event in which the social media/tech communities show they can source, sort, and verify information - an important evolution from simply spreading information.

5) Donations to The Red Cross, of both money and blood and FeedingAmerica for food aid and delivery are much needed. Here is some guidance from VolunteerMatch on how to help.

6)  Of three major charity information sites - GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and GiveWell - only GuideStar had storm related donation/help information on its home page (as of 9:20 am PDT, Tuesday October 30th).

7) The twitter feed for @invisiblepeople was a great resource on how to help the homeless during and after the storm.

8) The Red Cross has an app for finding shelter information

Community Foundations and #Sandy (part 3)

(map from
(Updated at 8:22 am PDT Tuesday October 30th)

I scooted around the web at 8:30 pm Monday night (October 29th) to see what community foundations were saying about disaster relief and response. Here's what I found by searching those community foundations in the storm zone. I'm only listing those community foundations I found that had disaster info on home page.

I may have missed some - if so please send me the links. All in all, not a particularly impressive showing given that there are more than 100 community foundations between New England the mid-Atlantic States and west to Illinois  and there was a fair amount of warning about the storm.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Technology and Disasters (#sandy) Part 2

Earlier tonight I posted a quick list of communities using various technologies to respond to Hurricane #Sandy, as history has shown that disaster preparedness and response often yields very interesting uses of ICT.

1) Did you see the picture of the flooded yard complete with shark? Yeah, me too. It was debunked by intrepid reporters. Fake #sandy photos being debunked - a key service as Twitter becomes major news sources. Where else but on Tumblr, of course.

2) Here's a #Sandy Timeline built by the crowds at #HurricaneHackers

3) TechPresident did a nice update on #HurricaneHackers - including a link to #sandy jokes

4) The day before the storm hit the eastern seaboard, CodeForAmerica reported that the CfA Commons had 640 apps in 266 cities. Will be interesting to watch how these are reused, reapplied, and added to over course of relief and recovery.

5) Old tech meets new as Twitter became a repeater for folks monitoring Fire and Police scanners -

6) Around 8 pm PDT Monday night I started seeing specific requests for help on Twitter. I tweeted  #HurricaneHackers to ask if there was a site compiling needs/haves -

And within about 20 minutes I was pointed to #sandyAid - an aggregator for assistance requests - thanks #hurricanehackers

8) And four more #data visualizations of the storm - See #Sandy as flight map, internet usage, words,  and wind maps.

9) Mayor Bloomberg's real-time sign language interpreter became an overnight sensation

10) PolicyMap made it possible to search for specific address on FEMA's flood maps

Here's a post on tech, innovation and the storm from FastCompany.

Technology and natural disasters (#Sandy)

We've come a long way with regard to technology and natural disasters. As Hurricane #Sandy rages across the eastern seaboard, I'll try to track new uses of ICT in natural disasters. Please send anything interesting you find my way.

#hurricanehackers are already collecting data into a live stream of the storm  - you can see their other Projects in Progress.

1) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is recommending people use Twitter to communicate (Picture from The Hill)

The Washington Post ran a story on how to use Twitter when you lose Internet connectivity.

2) Apps such as Public Stuff, built as part of open government movement, are donating their back end systems to cities and neighbors to use for coordinating relief

3) Six apps for tracking hurricanes - from CNN. You can get the Red Cross app by calling "**REDCROSS" (**73327677) from your mobile phone. They will send you a link to download the app to your phone or you can download them directly from the iTunes or Google Play.

4)  NYC published evacuation zones using Openstreetmaps

5) Google's got maps and tools for crisis responders.

6) Live webcams are popular - here's one on the USS Intrepid Museum and The Statue of Liberty. Here's from top of New York Times Building.

7) News sites like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are taking down paywalls so people can get the news. I wonder how much of this is response to competition from Twitter/Facebook as news source?

8) You can send a text message to find a shelter:
  • Text SHELTER and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA)
9) Twitter is donating Promoted Tweets (advertising space) to @RedCross and others

10) The technology to shut off the power grid in lower Manhattan, empty the train stations and subways, remove the water and rebuild the electricity connections - mind boggling to think about.

11) Mayor @CoryBooker of Newark was driving around his city with a fully-loaded SUV from which to help neighbors - #RollingBodega

12) And here's some #datavisualization of the storm courtesy of FastCompany.

13) Should be some great uses from the contents of #CFACommons -

Seen something new in use of ICT for either preparedness, response, or relief efforts? Please add it in comments or cc me @p2173 on Twitter.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A picture worth $3.8 billion

(From The Hewlett Foundation)

The Hewlett Foundation is launching a free, Creative Commons licensed tool for looking at grants data. It's hosted now, on their web site, and makes it much easier (and more fun) to find patterns among the 7,148 grants that the Foundation has made since 2000.

·       Largest grant made?  $460.8 million
·       Organization most frequently granted to: Stanford University: 162 grants over 12 years, covering programs as diverse as nuclear disarmament, school reform, and for Black physics students
·       Program area with most grants: Global Development and Population (GDP): 1,658 grants

You can display the grants data by year, program, type of grant and then dig into the Hewlett Foundation’s funding history for each organization as well as click over to the organization’s own website. 

“We created this tool to visualize data so anyone can quickly identify key trends and patterns in our grantmaking,” said Patrick Collins, the Hewlett Foundation’s Chief Information Officer.  “You can easily find our largest grants or follow the level of funding for a particular subprogram or geographic region over time.  By clicking the shaded boxes, you can learn more about the organizations we fund and see a detailed, 12-year history of our support for each grantee.  We think this tool takes foundation transparency to a new level and we hope it enables users to easily address two of the most common questions we receive: ‘What do you fund?’ and ‘Where do you work?’  

The most exciting thing about this persicope view is that the Hewlett Foundation is making the software that powers it available as an open source resource. Other foundations and grantmakers can use this to display their data, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has already received the source code. Perhaps the 15 foundations (so far) who have signed on to report their grants in common format will use this to display all of their grants. We'd then be able to see the trends across participating foundations, identify gaps and overlaps, and ask new questions of the data. You can also check out the company that made the site to learn about the choice of visualization techniques.

This tool from Hewlett, along with the recent reporting commitment announcement and the launch of MarketsForGood represent a collective step forward in sharing and showing philanthropic data. It's up to us now to put it to use.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What's Public, What's Private, and Who Decides?

There are probably a dozen posts on this blog with this same title.

"What's public, what's private and who decides?" is the question that has animated my work for more than two decades. I was reminded of this last night when I attended a class at Stanford, co-taught by one of my dissertation advisers (of 20 years ago), and had a chance to return to the pattern-seeking, historical evidence hunting ways in which I was trained. Back then, trained as an historian and interested in the relationship between public and private, philanthropy seemed like a good petri dish for asking these questions.

Now this question of public and private is everywhere - and it's (finally) starting to creep people out.  I was reminded again this morning by this post in TechPresident, about the use of public voting records plus social network data, as a new tool for getting out the vote. Everyone of us who uses the Internet or a mobile phone is creating a "data trail" that well-financed enterprises can mine for their own purposes. How do we want to influence or limit that use and what rights do those with the power to aggregate and mine have over each of us as individuals?

How we use data, how we control our own data, how we respect the rights of others regarding their data - these are defining issues for our age. They are fundamentally questions about rights and power. Which means, somewhat ironically, they are questions for civil society and philanthropy (as well as government and business).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Passing on philanthropy in San Francisco

At least three foundations in San Francisco have recently announced that they will spending out the "parent" foundation into separate foundations managed by the third or fourth generation.

The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund started the process in 2011 upon the death of Mr. Goldman and will close its doors by the end of this year. The Columbia Foundation announced today that they would do the same by the end of 2013.  A small family foundation that I know (that keeps a low profile) is also in the midst of this process.

Is it a trend? Is it a good one or a bad one? What do you think?

(It should be noted that both Columbia and Goldman are genealogically-related to the "founding father" of San Francisco philanthropy, Levi Strauss's heirs, the Haas Family.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rules, Tools, and More - a reading list

I'm moderating a panel at Stanford with Beth Kanter and KD Paine on their new book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. October 18, 2012 (Today) - 5 pm - open and free to all. It will be recorded and available from Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society for those who can't be there.

(If you tweet me questions I'll try to work them in - @p2173)

Jonathan Peizer, who knows as much as anyone about ICT and nonprofits, has a new, free manual out for both grantseekers and grant reviewers regarding technology grants.

Cole Wilbur, former President of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, has a new book out with Fred Setterberg, called Giving with Confidence. It's a humble, straightforward guide based on decades of experience in family philanthropy and the world of institutional foundations. Without any of the jargon, the book makes it clear that heart, head, patience, and personal connection remain key - no matter how shiny the gadgets get.

Dan Pallota's book, Charity Case, ought to be raising more of a stir than it seems to have, simply for it's typically blunt and controversial recommendations regarding the sector and policy and politics. Heading into 2013, when charitable regulations will be on the agendas (not just the minds) of Congress, it's past time to think hard about where and how we use private resources for public good. It's the focus of my work at Stanford (#recodegood) and we need a livelier debate about these issues than we've been having.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Things we can no longer assume...

No one in the room has a video camera.

People in one house share a phone number. 

Every American wants to own a car.

A college education will pay for itself.

Home ownership is the best long term financial investment.

We will work until we retire.

The planet can provide for us all. 

These are (obviously) of different scale. Taken together, I think they help us see how different the world we live in now is from the world for which we created many of our institutional philanthropic and nonprofit practices, purposes, and regulations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Libraries and the future

(Photo from Imgur )

Two notes on libraries that got me thinking about technology and communities:

1) The Digital Public Library of America is several years into trying to figure out and launch a digital public library of America. Is it all online? What materials? Who are the stakeholders? What's different about it - is it the code that shares the materials? What does it mean for those cherished physical libraries? What gets included? Why would it have national borders if its all digital? And so on...huge questions, great work going on. I attended a planning session in San Francisco at the Internet Archive, follow their work online, and find myself loving the discussions among librarians, authors, parents, community members, publishers, museums. This effort is one of the living laboratories for creating "digital civil society." The Knight Foundation just made a grant to help the DP.LA establish several regional pilot sites.

2) Small, local, "unofficial" lending libraries that pop up on the sidewalks of Brooklyn or in farmers' fields in Florida. Hipsters and fieldworkers - sharing, trusting, building community. See this story on Little Free Libraries,  or these on "guerrilla" libraries, and corner libraries.

These seem like opposites, don't they - national and digital, local and analog, run by professionals and volunteer-driven? Yet here they both are, complementing each other.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Let's Play "Let's Predict the Future"

Last year several studies looked at the the possible effects of changes in the tax law on American giving patterns. As I noted in November 2011 the studies found a range of giving decline of between $.8 billion and $5.6 billion (the high number estimate is only about 2% of annual giving.)

Given the variation of these expert economic models, let's all play experts for a second. 

Here's the question, "What would affect donors' behavior more, changes in the tax deductions associated with their their giving or rules requiring greater transparency about their giving?"

Let me know what you think in comments or on twitter (@p2173). Unlike 6th grade math you can just share your opinion, you don't need to show your work, although I also welcome you to explain your opinion.

(The savvier of you will, of course, realize that I'm asking because I think changes of either kind might lie in the year ahead....)

Friday, October 05, 2012

Let our data define us - part II

Here's the second part of my "screed" on data from Markets for Good. Pasted in below and you a link to  part one.

"In Part I of  “Let Our Data Define Us”, guest blogger Lucy Bernholz charged the social sector to be the standard-bearer for one of biggest issues of our time: how we use data. She continues the thought here and outlines a new definition for the sector at the forefront of taking on our biggest challenges."

"Ours is a sector that should set the standards for data use, innovation, and sharing. The sector should be a leading voice on issues of digital access and personal privacy and an innovator when it comes to trying new enterprise forms built on data: think Khan Academy.
Social purpose organizations should be careful but willing partners in efforts that use data to find disruptive insights into shared public problems.
We should leapfrog old technologies where possible. Social networks, search engines, text messages – all yield massive aggregate data sets that may reveal how we the people are really making change happen in the 21st Century. When we think about the “data of change” we need to see past our own established boundaries to ask if there are new, better ways to organize to accomplish our stated missions.  In building shared systems of data, let us not limit ourselves to the revenue and enterprise flows that we’ve long used: instead, let us look to the data to see what is going on around us.
The social sector is no longer the purview of philanthropy and nonprofits. Social businesses, informal networks, crowdfunded prototypes, and social investments are all part of the mix.
We cannot define the social sector by the enterprise form (nonprofit), or type of revenue (philanthropy) – this is too limiting.
Nor can we define the sector by its outcomes. Although it is the first-gathering place of those seeking to use private resources for the benefit of others, the social economy relies on relationships with business and government. Should we ever get around to agreeing on outcomes we will still be faced by the hairy problem of attribution – better to focus on doing the work then claiming false credit.
More important, the economy is consciously defined by conflicting results. The deliberate diversity of the sector – that it is home to both pro-life and pro-choice, gun control and gun advocacy organizations – makes its inclusivity more salient than its outcomes.
With enterprise structure and outcomes set aside as defining  characteristics, let us look to data as a revealing asset.
If we set and meet high standards on data sharing in pursuit of mission, provide incentives to gather and share, and demonstrate results by virtue of our practices, the social economy in all its healthy diversity will stand apart. With respect to both the power of aggregate data sets and the rights of individuals, the sector will  become a trusted ally on issues of personal privacy. With a justice-based lens on ownership and property rights and default position of contributing to and taking from shared repositories of data, the sector will can become a proving ground for inclusive practices.
Americans have long taken pride in our tradition of independent associations. Let us now bring that associational tendency and tradition to our use of data. As we have long been known for our civic action and participation offline, let us be come to be known by shared practices around data – how we contribute and draw from it, use it to better opportunities for all of us, protect it and those it makes vulnerable, and value it as a critical resource for change in the 21st Century."

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Let our data define us

Information is power. As we become surrounded by data, as data get counted as are assets, as data access, synthesis, ownership and privacy must be recognized also as issues of fairness, justice, and equity the independent sector should be leading data initiators, educators, users, consumers, and sharers.

We who care about the commons should care about data. We, not business or government, can identify the throughways between personal privacy and aggregated insights and light the way forward. Democracy depends on information and relationships - access to, control over, understanding of, and definitional contribution to the data that shape our collective decisions is key.

Dumping data on people is not accountability, transparency, or effective practice, and big data holds threats as well as promise, injustice as well as insights. Sharing and making sense of data and information as part of seeking change, creativity, and making progress is part of problem solving. Let us not "do data unto" others, rather "let our data, and our generation, use, and sharing of it, define us."

This is the spirit in which I've contributed a two-part blog post series to the new Markets For Good Initiative. The first post is online and pasted in below. Read more at

"Solutions to shared social challenges should not be proprietary. To achieve our social missions we should share what we know – widely, accessibly, and openly. We should define our work and our enterprises by our data and data practices.

What would this mean? Data used for and generated by efforts at improving the human condition should be shared. Investments in structures that allow for data cleaning, sharing, maintenance and appropriate use should be fundamental parts of all funding strategies – as their benefits will rebound to (and beyond) each contributor. Creative Commons or other open licensing standards should be the default for research and findings. Open data protocols should be the norm for data sets developed with philanthropic resources. The best privacy protocols and attention to human rights protections should be widely understood, available, and used when needed. Equitable access to broadband, data analysis and digital skills must be provided. The skills that are required for using data – assessing credibility, identifying bias, seeing significance, storytelling – should be part of the sector’s workforce.


We should show business and governments what it means to use data well and imaginatively to solve problems, vet solutions and protect individual privacy. We should be encouraging the innovators and “miners” who can manage huge data sets and see new solutions in them. We should be nurturing the ethos of hacking for good, encouraging techies, coders, and public agents to put our data to work in making communities safer, healthcare more accessible, transportation more reliable, cities greener, and art more available. We should be willing to experiment and innovate with mashed-up data sets and stay the course until the efforts yield new insights, new partnerships, new forms of giving, and new knowledge about solutions.

Why should we do this? To achieve our goals. We exist to address shared problems, we should share the resources that can help move us forward. Data are such a resource.


Foundations and nonprofits lag far behind both commerce and government when it comes to using data as assets and resources. The Markets For Good initiative, with its recommendations on infrastructure, interoperability, and access is a great start. It details a platform and set of operating standards by which existing data sources – reports, compliance documents, grants, and due diligence reviews can be made visible and useful. It lays the groundwork for better mapping of issues, shared planning efforts, and potential new ways of working.

To define ourselves by our data we also have to recognize that Markets for Good is only a start. It will make available data that we can use, but more important it will set the stage for innovation off of that data. Let’s look to these markets for the raw materials of change – just as the National Weather Service fuels the weather channel and countless weather apps, or federal satellite data unleashed the creation of the GPS industry and mobile maps, lets not stop at the stage of collecting, cataloging, opening, and sharing data.

Let us view the Markets for Good initiative as a small step toward a giant leap in making change. One in which networks of individuals can crowd fund experiments and link them to sustaining institutions. Where the data created by a failed foundation investment in a digital news experiment becomes the raw material for another experiment, one that might work. Where the lessons learned from hundreds of independently operated after-school programs can be aggregated and analyzed for all to use. Where the data trails generated from online giving sites are re-constituted into “community sensors” that reveal the needs and strengths of different communities. Where new forms of enterprise and fiscal sponsorship, peer-based accountability and mobile payment mechanisms can be created." 

…to be continued. Part II of “Let Our Data Define Us" will be posted on October 3rd.