Friday, May 29, 2015

Data volunteering

The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth has a new series on data volunteering - check out their first post here.

Over at the Digital Civil Society Lab we're getting ready to host a small gathering of these "data volunteers" on Monday. Working with them, legal scholars from Stanford, ethicists from Stanford and Santa Clara Universities, and nonprofit executives we aim to produce a checklist for ethical practice for this emergent field. I've got great colleagues from PACS and the helping to pull this off, so I hope I'm not jinxing it by telling the world our one-day product aspiration. Stay tuned, they'll be more to come once Monday's done. This meeting builds on some planning done behind the scenes at April's Do Good Data Conference, and our outputs on Monday are intended to inform work in the field and get tested and improved in time for a DataKind Summit in New York City in the Fall.

And then Tuesday brings the SSIR Data on Purpose conference. Great speakers coming to town and set of great participants including a panel I'm honored to moderate on opening/closing your organization's data. Panelists include colleagues from UN Global Pulse, Living Goods, and Microsoft's Civic Tech team.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Responsible data practices

(Book Cover Photo

For 100 years foundations and nonprofits have developed practices to use time and money for good.

For 50 years, investors have been developing ways to use investment capital for environmental and social goals.

For about 10 years, (some) foundations have been trying to use both their investments and grantmaking funds to achieve their missions.

Now, it's time to do this with data.

Managing data to achieve mission will be a defining characteristic of philanthropy and civil society going forward. Right now, we are learning now how to do this.

I define civil society as the place where we voluntarily associate to use our private resources for public benefit. This translates into digital civil society relying on "opt in" defaults. Individuals must choose to participate.

The Responsible Data Forum is working on practical applications and guidance about using data well. Their new primer on Ways to practice responsible development data is a critical resource for all of civil society and philanthropy. Get it here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Technology, democracy, civil society

Loved this quote from Nathan Schneider in an article on the "slow technology" movement:
"There is a habit in tech culture of saying that the latest app is “democratizing” whatever it happens to do. This is lovely, but best not to confuse it with actual democracy. Democracy is about participation with control, freedom with accountability, privacy with transparency. Tech companies tend to pick and choose from that list rather inventively."*
Finding this on the same day that Pew Research shows just how little trust we Americans have for our data in the hands of either government or companies, I can't help but say, "Right! And now is the time for civil society to offer alternatives for the safe, secure,  ethical, and effective uses of digital data!"

And I'm looking forward to reading Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, by Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan.  Those of you in DC on June 4th might consider checking out the book at New America Foundation's OTI event.

*Nathan Schneider, "The Joy of Slow Computing," The New Republic, Accessed online May 20, 2015 at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Blueprint 2016

Yes. It is time for me to start thinking about Blueprint 2016.  To get it to you live in December I start thinking, mulling, complaining about, and drafting by June.
I just made my annual notebook to start compiling my papers, thoughts, and ephemera that I don't store online. I start carrying this with me everywhere. I spend a few minutes each day going back through all my online storage spots where I've been bookmarking and filing things since January 1, looking for ideas and patterns and questions.

What do you think I should be thinking about? Almost half-way through 2015, what's on your mind about the year to come?
  • Got any buzzwords you want to share?
  • Feel the need to point out where my 2015 predictions have gone awry? (or, perhaps, any I got right?)
  • Things you want more of from the 2014 and 2015 experiments with learning from outside the USA? Subjects or sections you'd like to see go away?
  • Thinking about trends that feel meaningful? Please share...
Let me know via twitter @p2173 with the hashtag #blueprint16. Or post a comment here.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Digital Sabbatical = brain growth

Thanks to everyone who has asked about my digital sabbatical. It was fantastic. The best way I can describe it? Remember the part in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, when his heart grows three sizes?

 Without the addictive stimulation and distractions of digital life it feels like my brain grew three sizes.

And I returned to an empty inbox. (It filled up again immediately, but it sure looked good empty for that one minute)

For everyone who has asked for the autoreply message I used, here is the text for you to use/modify:
Subject line: It's 1989 and I'm on an EMAIL SABBATICAL [date 1] - [date 2]

"In 1990 I got a Stanford email address that I shared with 2 other graduate students. And a CompuServe address of my very own. I haven't been off email since. I will be off email, blogs, twitter, and all other forms of digital communication until [Date]. I'm going back in time to 1989.

All emails received between [date] and [date] are being automatically deleted. I won't read them. If it's important, please email me again after [date], when I will be returning to the present day.

If you have a question about [all the stuff you do but have put someone else in charge of while you are offline], please contact [your designated contact person]"
I also took the Twitter app off my phone. I shut off the email accounts on my phone and buried the app icon in a folder. I'm keeping it that way. My phone is now a phone/texting device. With a map on it. That takes pictures. We'll see how long I can last this way.

All credit really goes to danah boyd, for her advice on how to do this.

I encourage you to give it a try.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to use private data for public benefit

I've been away, writing. 28 days, 167 draft pages. Probably 50-60 more to go.
And just yesterday, working on something else, I think I've figured out what I'm trying to say.

We need a theory of data for the public good if civil society is going to continue to thrive in the digital age.

In law and economics there are theories of the commons. Theories of the public domain. Theories of civil society. And theories that bring some of these together.  We have theories of privacy and theories of data privacy. At least one theory of intellectual privacy. We have economic definitions of public goods and philosophical frames for thinking about the common good.

We have principles of free expression and free assembly (association). These theories become real in the form of legal precedent and/or lived practice.

Right now we have a full spectrum of ways to give private digital data to other enterprises - most of us do it all day, every day, when we use our phones or networked computers. But these are commercial actions in most cases - we "pay" for the use of various services with our data. So we have a range of ways to give private data for private (corporate) benefit. What we don't have agreement on is how to give away private data for public benefit.

Twenty-one years after Netscape Navigator opened the Internet door for most of us and a decade since we all got mobile phones, basic principles for private and public ownership and use of digital data are still not settled.  We are all over the map in practice, innovation, legislation, and legal standing, regarding what and when digital data are private and owned, how we might choose to share them, when we might want to give them away, and what the recipients of these "gifts" can do with them. We have no consensus on meaningful time horizons for digital assets - are they perpetually private or public? Should there be time limits of some sort?

Civil society and philanthropy currently operate on formal rules around private donations of time and money. Definitions of public purpose. Opportunities for perpetual gifts. The formal rules that guide civil society (in the USA) have come from the Bill of Rights, corporate law, and the tax code.  But they are increasingly going to need to intersect with domains of digital law - from telecommunications to intellectual property, genetic splicing to spectrum licensing.

For civil society to thrive, we need to develop theories and working practices for ownership, use, and governance of digital assets so that we as individuals can donate them for public benefit.