Thursday, September 26, 2013

Guess the next in the series

So....what color comes next....?

....Do you remember your color wheel from grade school?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Digital Civil Society Lab

We've reached a point where all of our civil society actions have digital components or counterparts. We can organize, petition, volunteer, donate, associate, raise funds, raise awareness, protest and serve our communities using digital tools. Some things we will do digitally and offline, other actions, such as creating a voluntary global encyclopedia, signing petitions, and crowdfunding will rely ever more on digital tools.
This raises a few questions:
  • How will we assure our ability to freely and privately volunteer and associate with others, when our digital communications are being stored and tracked by companies and governments?
  • What practices for doing good digitally really work?
  • What data from the nonprofit and philanthropic sector should be open?
  • How should nonprofit organizations collect, manage, use, and protect data in ethically responsible ways?
  • What should individuals expect from nonprofits in terms of how they use data about us?
  • Can I, as a person or a company, donate data for social good?
  • What are philanthropic foundations doing with all the digital data they collect? How could it be used as a public resource?
  • Do corporate or government data policies violate an individuals' Constitutional right to "peaceable assembly?"
  • If I donate my DNA sample to a nonprofit organization, can I be sure they'll use it in accordance with my wishes, the way they would if I were donating money?

Clearly, we've all moved beyond the superficial choices (should I use Twitter?) to substantive questions about how we as private citizens come together to benefit our broader communities in a digital age. We are inventing digital civil society by our everyday actions. We need to be deliberate about the practices and rules we develop to guide this work.

This is what we're working on at Stanford's Digital Civil Society Lab. We're thinking about these questions in three ways:
  • practical experiments with NGOs to help them and help us learn from the real world,
  • scholarly research in many disciplines, and 
  • policy thinking to preserve our right to use private (digital) resources for public benefit.
We've been learning from other scholars - MIT Media Lab, MIT Center for Civic Media, NYU's GovLab, Harvard's Berkman Center, Columbia School of Journalism's Brown Institute, Oxford Internet Institute, the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life and hope to continue to expand our networks. We're also working directly with activists and NGOs, tech companies and funders, learning from their real world challenges.

Our first research papers are now available for download. We'll be discussing the policy briefs at the Independent Sector Conference on Saturday. The full set of papers includes:
The Emergence of Digital Civil Society 
Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013
The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the Next Century
Please follow us on Twitter at @DigCIvSoc and online at





Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Act like an artist

Back in March of 2012 I commented on the similarities between artists and social enterpreneurs. Artists, it seems to me, have always walk the lines between commerce and nonprofit, between individuals and institutions, between forms. Artists will do whatever it takes to make their art, to have it seen or heard, to share it, and to make more. I encouraged folks to "act like artists."

Laura Callanan, formerly of McKinsey's Social Sector Office and now at NYU/Wagner and The Foundation Center, knows a lot about artists and a lot about social innovation. So I was quite struck when I heard she was investigating the similarities between the two, and talking about them at SoCap (video). Take a listen to what Laura's got to say about "The Surprise Social Entrepreneur." It's good stuff. Laura will be sharing much more of her thinking about these ideas - keep an eye out.

Monday, September 16, 2013

990s one step closer to being useful

We're still waiting for the open data movement to take hold within the IRS and for the annual tax forms from nonprofits and foundations (known as 990s and 990PFs) to be made machine readable, searchable, and downloadable.

Until we get there, The Foundation Center has given us a very useful interim tool - FDOFree - which allows you to run a free, keyword search across all 990PFs in The Foundation Center's (massive) database.

Here's how: 
  • Go to
  • Click on top right - "Search 990s"
  • Enter your search phrase, in quotation marks, in the search box.
  • Up pops a list of grantmaking foundation - click on the name of any foundation and you will be redirected to a digital copy of their 990 form. The form itself has information on grants, contact information, assets and expenditures, and financial holdings. 

I tried several test cases, including "transitional justice," "chinese music" "tea party," and "Luis Ubinas." The first case delivered 29 foundations, "chinese music" delivered the names of 7 foundations, "tea party" identified 31 funders, and the last test brought up just the Ford Foundation, from which Mr. Ubinas recently retired.

Once you are have the 990 on your screen, you can download it to your desktop and search within it, using whatever program you generally use to search a pdf.  I tried this with one sample from each of the test categories above, and, sure enough, the coding was accurate and I found what I was looking for within the text of the 990s.

One more important step in the right direction toward making these forms actually useful. Thanks, Foundation Center.