Friday, August 30, 2013

SoCap and CoCap

By now you've heard of the SoCap conference. Started in 2008 (the very week Lehman Brothers went belly up) SoCAP is all about social finance, impact investing, social returns - everything related to social capital markets. From somewhat humble beginnings it's grown into pretty much a "must attend" for social investors, social enterprises, and lots of philanthropists.

So they're launching something new. This year the CoCAP conference precedes SoCAP. What's CoCAP you ask? Community Capital. Tongue-in-cheek it's social capital for the 99%. Or, as the organizers put it:
"A hundred years ago, individuals invested in their own community. It was really common for you as a businessperson to own an interest in 5-10 businesses in your town," says John Katovich, President of Cutting Edge Capital. "It was a strengthening of common bonds - a vote of confidence in each other. But slowly we lost that. We're bringing it back."

The problem faced by ordinary investors is what financial reformers call "Investment Apartheid." Under the law, companies can only easily offer investment opportunities to "accredited investors" - those with a net worth beyond a million dollars and $200,000 in annual income. To offer the same investment to someone with less than a million dollars in net worth is illegal.

But pioneers of the Community Capital movement are bringing together both non-accredited investors, who demand the right to invest, and entrepreneurs, who are seeking new ways of raising funds. Financial innovators are using old and new laws that are giving everyone more financial freedom."
The conference will feature the launch of a new "online investment platform called CuttingEdgeX (CEX)" and includes breakout discussions on:
  • Beyond Crowdfunding: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Community Capital
  • Main Street Markets: The Investor's Playbook for Local Opportunities
  • Capital for Communities: A Leader's Roadmap to Growing Local Economies
The event is hosted by
Cutting Edge Capital, the Local Investing Resource Center, HUB Oakland, Sustainable Business Alliance (a network of BALLE - Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), and Springboard Innovation. (That any investors are holding a conference on Labor Day is perhaps more than a little ironic, but maybe that's just me) I can't be there but am eager to hear how it goes. Drop me a comment if you attend.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Updates on Open Gov, Data Policies, Philanthropy and the Body, and Social Media

Open Government Data and Innovation
1. I wrote about Marc Joffe and his one-man effort to develop and map municipal credit ratings last week. It's a great example of what individuals can do with open data, and it also exemplifies the challenge of keeping something like this going as a lone ranger. I'm thrilled to announce that the Sunlight Foundation made an OpenGov Grant to Marc (announced a few days after the blog post - but timing was coincidental) to help him expand the site and his efforts. Congratulations!

2. Data Policies
Digital data stored online are regenerative. They can be used, reused, and applied to purposes beyond those for they were originally collected. This is a basic feature that distinguishes the economics of digital resources. It's also why we see tweets like this:
This is why data policies matter - not just where the data are, who owns them, who has internal access them, how long they will be stored. But with whom will the data be shared? Sold? We're learning more every day about which data corporations and governments collect on us as individuals. Nonprofits need to think about how they manage our data and how and what they communicate to us about it. And we, as individuals, need to think about what we want each of these enterprises to have, to hold, to use, to store, to sell, to conduct research on, to integrate with other data sets.....

The link to the story in the tweet above is here - the story about data gathering, collecting and sharing across government agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Security Agency and the Internal Revenue Service, reads like a modern-day crime caper with outcomes that are likely to remind us of how Al Capone was eventually busted for tax evasion.

3. Philanthropy and the Body
I found this book review of "The Ethics of Transplants: Why Careless Thought Costs Lives" quite interesting. Haven't read the book yet, but this set of ideas was right in line with our recent "Philanthropy and the Body" Charrette.

4. LinkedIn
I'm also blogging over on LinkedIn - in their Social Impact Influencer series. Here are my posts so far:
5. Contagious Magazine
CORRECTION: I had posted an excerpt from the current issue of Contagious Magazine (a UK publication for marketing industry professionals) that looks at philanthropy and social media. The Magazine asked me to remove it, so I have. The content is available only to subscribers - subscribe here Contagious Magazine.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Can "open data" improve democratic governance?

On September 12th the Data and Democracy Initiative and Institute of Government Studies will host a one day conference on the relationships between data and governance at the University of California at Berkeley. The full program is here. Registration information is here.

The conference features sessions on public/private sector relationships around data, making sense of all the data, data and civic engagement, and data and its discontents. Given how the pendulum of public discourse seems to have swung from "more data, more good" to "who's got my data?" informed discussions such as this one strike me as timely and important. Several of the participants in the event have informed my thinking at Stanford, including speakers from Sunlight Foundation,, and Steven Berlin Johnson. Michael Gurstein's work on community informatics was just recommended to me. I'm particularly interested in the session on the ethics of data, as this is an area I'm looking into more closely at the Digital Civil Society Lab and the next phase of the #ReCodingGood Project.

I'm excited about the burgeoning field of civic tech, especially as research is beginning to learn from, inform, and move forward with practice. I recently attended #FridayNightHack in which coders from various Jewish communities worked across national borders and time zones (San Francisco and Tel Aviv) to expand some of the open data efforts underway in Israel. There I met a guy named Marc Joffe, a former Moody's analyst, who has built a credit rating system for cities. His work is incredibly important - and amply demonstrates how much a smart, skilled analyst can do with the right data. Not only has Marc created a new way of thinking about credit and the financial health of cities, he's shared his work and his analysis openly. He was at the hackathon to contribute some of his skills, to see if his system would work with Israeli data and for Israel cities and investors, and to find partners who can help him continue his work. His is a great story of what individuals can do, and why we still need institutions - the tools that he's built need to be used, maintained, and expanded on beyond the capacity of a single person.

I was also pleased to find this recent case study by Susan Crawford on Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics - providing insights about how that civic tech initiative works and bringing some academic expertise to the folks at City Hall.

We've been experimenting with data, digital tools, and governance for several years now. In my efforts to inform and learn about digital civil society, I'm drawing a great deal from these related efforts.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review - Ethan Zuckerman's Rewire

Reprinted from Stanford Social Innovation Review. This review appears in the upcoming print issue (now online)

Ethan Zuckerman
Not many people who write about the future frame their argument in the context of rabbinical teachings from the first century AD. But in the closing pages of Rewire, Ethan Zuckerman quotes Rabbi Tarfon: “It’s not incumbent on us to finish the work, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it.”

Zuckerman, director of the Civic Media Lab at MIT and founder of the widely read website Global Voices, clearly recognizes the rhythm of history. In that way, Rewire marks a refreshing shift in tone from most other books in the futurist genre, which tend to read as if time had only just started and as if the issues that we face today had never before confronted humankind.

Zuckerman’s argument is simple: Now that we can all connect via low-cost global communications tools, we must use those tools to achieve positive change. That’s what Zuckerman has aimed to do with Global Voices, an online service that provides news and opinion about more than 100 countries around the globe. The site, which offers content produced by in-country volunteers, grew out of his concern about the parochial nature of most print and broadcast news.

Since launching Global Voices in 2004, Zuckerman has learned a humbling lesson: Just because we can gather information from every corner of the earth faster and more easily than ever before doesn’t mean that anyone will pay attention to that information. Internet technologies won’t make people care about world events if they aren’t already prone to do so. “I had hoped Global Voices would influence agenda setting. … I believed that by providing coverage of events that other media outlets had missed, we would help challenge the imbalance in attention,” Zuckerman writes. In fact, he notes, journalists today use the site for purposes that don’t always reflect his lofty goal: “It means that Global Voices offers reporters a way to get quotes from countries experiencing sudden turmoil, rather than using us to find important unreported stories before they break.”

Rewire is at its best when it focuses on the dynamic interaction between digital tools and those who use them. Zuckerman observes how the choices that engineers make can facilitate serendipity or ease the process of making new connections. One important contribution that the book makes is to help nontechnical readers truly see the way that sites do (or do not) respect their wisdom and their needs. Zuckerman cites Jane Jacobs’s views on city planning, and his book resembles her work in its focus on helping ordinary residents of the “digital city," as he calls it, better understand how their surroundings—digital surroundings, in this case—shape their behavior.

But in paying homage to Jacobs, Zuckerman doesn’t go far enough. He stops short of directly challenging the wisdom of the new digital-city planners. Jacobs didn’t play nice with Robert Moses, the legendary New York City “master builder” who became her nemesis. She organized take-to-the-street confrontations to stop him. In her books, she didn’t mince words. When she thought that the big shots were wrong, she said so—and offered strong arguments to counter their top-down approaches.

Zuckerman, by contrast, seems more intent on persuading Web designers and online managers to do the right thing—to “curate,” “translate,” and “contextualize,” as he puts it. He doesn’t ask the reader to consider the structural impediments, the competing motivations, or the basic power struggles that might stand in the way of individuals’ use of Internet tools to foster greater engagement or activism.
Such faith in the goodwill of engineers and designers doesn’t seem adequate. Zuckerman nods to the power of manifestos (including the one that launched Global Voices), but in the end his message is not one of revolution. Instead, he merely calls for a more deliberate application of the lessons that we’ve learned over the past two decades. That’s a good idea, to be sure: All of us who shop on, get news from, seek a job through, or connect with friends via the Web should have a better understanding of how design choices shape our behavior. Yet we’ll need more than mere understanding if we are going to rewire our own behavior, and not just have it rewired for us.


In a twitter conversation with the author following the posting of this review on SSIR, I noted my frustration with the last chapter of the book. To me, that chapter reads like it was written by an editor - suddenly Zuckerman's personal voice is lost and we're given bulleted lists of things businesses could do to follow his advice. He noted that, yes, that last chapter was shaped in such a way to appeal specifically to business book readers. I laughed to myself about this - I am so tired of lists, 2 x 2s,  sidebars, and icons in books, a structure so common in  "business books" it's hard to find actual paragraphs anymore. I could go on about this but I won't. My advice - read Zuckerman's book up to the last chapter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trust and civil society

Nonprofits bank on trust. Private assets held on behalf of the public good are even said to be "held in trust" - land trusts, charitable trusts, etc.

Over the weekend two providers of encrypted email services, Lavabit and Silent Circle, shut down. What does this have to do with civil society? These email providers shut down because they could no longer provide a secure way for people to communicate in private. Change that to "associate in private" and you have the very essence of civil society.  This is the moment for civil society organizations - nonprofits, foundations, voluntary and mutual associations - to seize their place as digital "trusts." They need to establish practices, norms, and, yes, new regulations, by which they will hold our digital assets in trust, will respect and defend individual privacy in the pursuit of shared public goals, and recognize that the distinguishing feature of nonprofits in the 21st century will be how they manage private digital resources on behalf of public goods. Business and government are not doing this - we, as citizens, must.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Digital Humanitarian Network

I came across the Digital Humanitarian Network because of their fabulous hashtag #DigiHum - I saw it go by, was interested, and clicked on through.

The network seems to be a coalition of organizations each of which has some role in deploying technology savvy individuals to social change situations. From crisis mapping to data visualization expertise, the ten or so organizations are each global networks of technologists who work with, partner with, serve, and voluntarily complement humanitarian efforts. At least one of them, ESRI, is a commercial purveyor of technology tools (GIS mapping, in ESRI's case). The other member organizations are:
  • DataKind (full disclosure, I'm on the advisory board)
  • Geeks without Bounds
  • Translators without Borders
  • Humanity Road
  • Statistics without Borders
  • Map Action
  • URISA's GISCorps
  • Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
  • UNV Online Volunteering Team
  • Standby Volunteer Task Force
The website gives you contact information to "activate the network" and its member organizations. It provides access to the coordinators' meeting notes, contact info for the coordinators, and - impressively - the Codes of Conduct for each of the organizations and the Network itself.  Here they are:
The Network will open to new members- there is an application form on the site. I find the effort interesting on several levels - as an example of coalition building in the digital environment, as a network of digital civil society organizations and their partners, as a portal to key issues about the ethics of data, and, as it grows, it will be a useful source of information about the expanding field.  Glad I found it.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Nonprofit Times 50 Top Influencers

I was just named one of The Nonprofit Times Top 50 Power and Influencer Honorees for 2013. The honor specifically calls out my use of
" media to push out and gather thoughts on how to create, fund, and distribute shared social goods in the digital age. She writes about how data are fundamentally reshaping the flow of philanthropy, calling it the future of good."
In other words - this honor is because of you blog readers and twitter followers, my incredible colleagues at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the great people at The Foundation Center and European Foundation Centre who make the annual Blueprint possible, and my new colleagues at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation where I am about to begin my role as a Visiting Scholar. So thank you.

The timing is nice as my #ReCoding Good Project colleagues and I will be releasing our first round of white papers (they're out with reviewers this month) and formally launching the Digital Civil Society Lab very soon. You'll be able to follow that work on this blog and @p2173, on twitter at @DigCivSoc, in person at Stanford events, and on the Lab's (soon-to-launch) website. I hope you'll join in.

Thank you for this honor. I'm proud to be among such world changing colleagues.