Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Inventing Digital Civil Society

Here's the video of my TEDxGrandRapids talk on Inventing Digital Civil Society. This thinking is part of the #ReCoding Good Project and will be continued at the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab.

Sorry for all the pacing around. Nerves. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reinventing Philanthropy

Join me, Katherine Fulton, Jacob Harold, Mari Kurashi, Peter Leyden and Clara Miller in a Reinventors Network roundtable discussion on Reinventing Philanthropy.

The conversation takes place as a Google+ Hangout, starting at 11:00 am PST, Thursday, June 27.

We'll be discussing the potential of new rules, metrics, data, resources, and technologies to fundamentally shift philanthropy in the near and longer-term futures. Join us.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Public Action Requires Privacy Protections

(photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leben_der_anderen.jpg)

Have you seen the movie, The Lives of Others? The 2006 Academy Award winner for best foreign film, the movie tells the story of authors and artists living under the Stasi in East Germany, when everyone spied on everyone else, all typewriters were registered with the government, and there was virtually no way to publicly protest the government. In a world with no privacy, there can be no public action. Privacy, in other words, is critical to civil society.

In February, I wrote this post about why we need rules for how, the heart of American civil society, handle our data and protect the privacy of everyone they work with. Protecting our individual privacy is critical not only as a matter of civil liberties, but to ensure our ability to act publicly. Privacy is critical to civil society.

Given the recent news about the role of the government and big companies in monitoring our online and phone interactions, realizing what we need to do to protect our civil institutions - our ability to freely associate, speak, and publish - seems ever more relevant. I'm not talking about just the work of the civil liberties activists, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation. Data privacy should be a top policy concern for all philanthropic foundations and all nonprofits. Their future existence likely depends on it. Defining them by how they use our data is more important now than ever; they may well be our last bastion of protection.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Balancing the voices of good and evil

There's a shift afoot. Those who question the power of technology for good are starting to make themselves heard as nuanced contributors to an overall conversation, not just as polemics. This must come as a bit of a relief to some, a headshaker to others, and just more of the "same old, same old" to others. But I think it's worth noting. Perhaps we've passed through the inevitable phase that accompanies each technological shift in history, that in which the tech is either all good or all bad. Now we can begin to really consider the good, the bad, and the need-to-change parts.

We've had a steady drumbeat of "tech is good" for a long time. We (collectively) have been enamored of the ways global digital connectivity lower costs, ease connections, and enable us to express ourselves.

The "tech is good" side has its cheerleaders - some who see only good and some of whom have become more sanguine over time. And the skeptics have their eeyores, those who look into their mobile retina screens and see little more than the death of democracy or the shadow of Big Brother.

And that's how the conversation has gone - cheerleaders versus curmudgeons.Table dancers versus doomsayers.

We're hearing a little more nuance now - George Packer's The Unwinding, Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future, even Susan Crawford's Captive Audience - they all tell stories of tech's influence on our lives that are not unidirectional. There is good and there is evil. There is generosity and there is greed. there is "unfettered disruption" and either "overzealous" or "toothless" regulation, depending on your point of view.

Research and investigative journalism is beginning to inform a discussion previously shaped largely by press releases. Rebecca Skloot introduced us to the new world of medical research and the role of data, personal privacy, and public goods in her heart-wrenching Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Here's a new report on violence and mobile phones, which  shows another side to the story of how useful these tools are in developing economies. Bioethicists and humanitarians are raising big questions about the frameworks which will guide our use of these tools. Big companies are slowly responding to user concerns about free speech and hate speech. Drones and wearable technology seem to touch nerves that allow us to re-open discussions of privacy and technology.

Our last charrette at Stanford looked at data in the fields of medical research. Ethical questions were at the fore. This is also becoming true in humanitarian aid. Let's hope the ethics of tech use and data can get the attention they need in the rest of civil society.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Data Science for Social Good

The Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship has announced its first class of Fellows.

These 36 DSITs ("data scientists in training" - my term, not theirs) hail from around the country and range in academic backgrounds from Math to Criminal Justice. They'll spend the summer in Chicago, working with various city agencies and local nonprofits to make sense of - and useful tools for - datasets that can help people address social challenges.

It's an inaugural year for the program, run by the Computation Institute and the Urban Center for Computation and Data with support from Eric and Wendy Schmidt. This effort builds on the excitement around civic hacking embodied by CodeForAmerica and today's National Day of Civic Hacking.

I wish them well and I'll be watching!