Monday, May 09, 2016

Redesigning civil society organizations

Digital data are everywhere. They are replicable, generative, storable, scalable, nonrival and nonexcludable. Digital data are different enough from time and money - the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed - that it's time to redesign those institutions.

It's time for institutional innovation. 

Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are familiar corporate forms that manage private monies (and time) for public benefit. Their corporate structure, reporting, and governance requirements direct resources to the public mission and provide bulwarks against misuse of financial resources. There is nothing in their corporate code or governance structure that equips them to do the same with digital data.

We need a new type of organization to manage and protect digital data for public benefit, especially digital data that is voluntarily contributed by individuals or other organizations. 

There are a lot of building blocks for something like this. We know a lot about governance, digital data, and organizations. We have lots of models from participatory development to community based data collection to trust forms. We have ethical scaffolding in biomedical research and digital data collection that we can draw from. There are legal experts, design thinkers, experienced digital data users, digital rights activists, research reports and people from vulnerable communities who can inform the design of new structures.

There are many driving forces and vested interests. A map like this one - for this issue - would be helpful.

It's time that we:
  1. Assume digital resources are here to stay
  2. Get past pilot projects and stop acting like using digital data is a one-off action
  3. Develop systems and standards for using digital resources well and safely
  4. Use what we know from adjacent sectors, and
  5. Reinvent organizational governance - possibly reinvent organizations - to manage digital data for mission.
The Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford is hosting a workshop on the role of Community Focused Ethical Review Processes as one step. We'll look at how a variety of nonprofits and corporations are developing new mechanisms to inform how they collect and use digital data from their communities. We'll report out on it and use what we learn to inform an ongoing effort to imagine - and reinvent - the institutional forms we need.

1 comment:

Christine Egger said...

I haven't tuned in here for a while. fwiw I really like where you're going, what you're pointing to, and where you're encouraging this goes next.

Continued thanks, Lucy.

ps I'll never forget the conversation where you told P and me that "there are people out there that eat people like you for breakfast." You were right.

pps All the more reason for what you're encouraging.