GuideStar International's Blog

November 21, 2011

Just Do Data

Filed under: Uncategorized — guidestarinternational @ 09:47
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By Jessica Galeria

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog

(Portland, OR) — “Data is the new oil.” In an otherwise humdrum Closing Keynote address by Nike’s VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation, Hannah Jones, this struck me as rather a provocative statement. She’s trying to incite a hotel lobby full of nonprofiters, philanthropists, MBA students, CSR practioners and other business-minded social entrepreneurs “to be disruptive, to innovate and to create a sustainable new world.”  She wants us to get smarter about how we work for social impact – with data.

Three very full days with 2,600 attendees and 395 speakers at the 2011 Net Impact  (NI) conference – against the über-eco backdrop of Portland, OR – and this is my main take-away:

Data is the sexiest new thing at the intersection of business and social impact.

OK, OK, I concede that data is neither new nor sexy. But it is being leveraged by the social sector in innovative and forward-thinking ways that are grabbing attention on a national scale. Here’s an NI-inspired look at three different objectives and examples of how do-gooders  “do data”:

1.      To efficiently deliver needed products and services

…for instance, in the chaotic aftermath of a natural disaster. Consider NetSquared Mashup Challenge winner Patrick Meir, Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi, who crowdsourced and mapped needs in the critical hours and days after the devastating Haiti earthquake, using free and opensource software developed by his organization.

Or Mercy Corps, which is using a mobile app to get food to people in need in Haiti and Kenya through a mobile money (m-wallet) product. By giving recipients electronic food coupons instead of food, they also drive economic development among local food producers – and they pair the funds with financial literacy training. Phil Oldham, Country Director, is quick to emphasize the double bottom line: in addition to a critical social benefit, the tool streamlines distribution, saving the organization precious time and money.

2.  To crowdsource funding and social innovation

Crowdsourcing actually is kinda sexy – or at least it’s the much-touted “big thing” in technology for social good. To borrow a phrase from X-Prize, the goal is nothing less than “revolution through competition.” Ooh, la la.

Less sexily put, crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model used to source both solutions to social problems and cash to underwrite promising projects.  Examples include Groupon and Facebook Causes  (respectively represented by Kyle Klatt, Manager of Development and Matt Mahan, COO at Net Impact), but also Kickstarter, The Hoop Fund, Global Giving, Citizen Effect, Kiva, our own NetSquared, and the exuberant onrushing player in the tech space, Campus Party, with their Hacking for Something Better (H4SB) initiative… I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

3.  To measure impact for smarter iterations and social enterprise field-building

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, cautions a well-worn business adage. Today, organizations have access to more data than ever, from program results and survey data to site traffic and donations. Yet these mountains of information are really only useful if they spark improvements that further the mission. A panel at Net Impact called “Data-Do-Gooders: Organizations Using Metrics to Rock their Missions” shared how to select the right data, how to share it (with the right people), and how to incorporate it into new and better iterations of the programs using  free tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights.

From a 30,000-foot view, data is also used in spades by social investors and philanthropists for proof-of-concept and to demonstrate social and financial ROI, which has positive spillover for thought leadership in the field. Social investing and social enterprise have rapidly gained traction in the investment landscape, largely because the data has been used to tell a compelling story (i.e. doing well by doing good). The need to facilitate due diligence and provide 501c3 equivalency data for international philanthropy came up repeatedly at NI – thank goodness for initiatives like Great Nonprofits, Charity Navigator, and TSG’s NGOsource and  Guide Star International programs.

Let us now turn our attention back to the green-catered, LEED-certified hotel lobby and Nike’s views on sustainability and innovation. Using a soccer analogy, as is fitting for an exec at the world’s leading sports apparel company, Ms. Jones recounted that Brazilian mega-star Pelé once famously said, “I don’t go where the ball is, I go where the ball is going.”

And I wonder:  is data the ball, or does data point up where the ball is going? Or both?

September 22, 2011

Mediating Voices And Communicating Realities

Filed under: ICT for Development — guidestarinternational @ 09:19
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By Keisha Taylor. This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog.

This report by Evangelia Berdou speaks about the benefits of using open source tools like the Ushahidi platform and OpenStreetMap. It examines the use of open source, open data, crowdsourcing, and digital media more generally in the developing world. The way in which use of such technology can change relationships between producers and consumers of information is highlighted. It suggests that this can empower communities.

However, the report also examines the obstacles that arise in implementing projects that use such tools. It examines the ways in which they could negatively affect marginalised and vulnerable populations. A study of Map Kibera, a community information platform that utilises OpenStreetMap in Kenya aids analysis. The report also briefly examines community mapping initiatives in Peru and Georgia and SMS reporting in Egypt and Haiti.

Packed with interview excerpts and useful analysis, it provides insight into the use of open source technology in developing countries. The report says that if open source tools are to be used effectively:

  • Education and training are important
  • There is a need to build awareness of why the tools are useful and how they will benefitcommunities.
  • It must be truly inclusive of citizens
  • Mutual trust and transparency must exist

Potential problems identified with the use of open source crowdsourcing platforms and open mapping data initiatives include:

  • Questions surrounding the use of crowdsourced information: “Many of the questions concerning the character of crowdsourced data and their place in the evidence chain touch upon fundamental ethical issues of journalism,social science and action research, but involve new capacities, networksand practices that have yet to be systematically explored.”
  • Uncertainty surrounding the agendas and values of those that advocate for the use of such tools. It was pointed out that “The ease with which these platforms can be deployed means that marginalised groups may be viewed simply as data sensors, cheap sources of hard to get information.”
  • Risks introduced because of the increased and global visibility of local and vulnerable communities supported through these tools.
  • Difficulty in promoting the use of such initiatives for policy and advocacy: “The greatest challenge, for them (involved in Map Kibera), laynot in the production of the map but in promoting the use of the map in policy and advocacy”.

However, this should not devalue the benefits of open source technology in developing countries. As the use of Ushahidi in Haiti has illustrated it is beneficial for many in times of crisis.  Inter-governmental Organisations (IGOs) United Nations and governments are exploring ways in which such tools can be used to further development. Interestingly, the report also notes that “the commercialization of open source software has generated insights on how altruistic motives for participation can coexist with more selfish, individual goals.”  However, as this report reveals, more needs to be done to ensure that it is used informatively, effectively and appropriately. It must be used in a way which supports yet protects the marginalised and vulnerable.

See the full report here:

Mediating Voices And Communicating Realities: Using Information Crowdsourcing Tools, Open Data Initiatives, and Digital Media to Support and Protect the Vulnerable and Marginalised

December 15, 2010

Crowdsourcing: A Value to Nonprofits?

Crowdsourcing the landscape - Beta Version 1, Ross Dawson

By Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International

This post is cross-posted from the TechSoup blog. You can read the original post and any comments here.

Who can help? Has this been done before? What is the best route? How can this project be sustainable? Crowdsourcing is being used to help find the answers to these and many other questions. According to Wikipedia, “crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” Organizations are crowdfunding, crowd voting, crowdsourcing jobs, and even crowdsourcing films (see Life in a Day). Presentations illustrating its use have also been made available at this year’s CrowdConf2010.

So Why Should Nonprofits Care?

Though there are both pros and cons to its use, the nonprofit sector can also learn many valuable lessons from the ways that it is already being used. Crowdsourcing is used to gather information, have service needs met, get advice, and save money.  It can also help to inform decisions, demonstrate accountability and inclusiveness, as well as increase publicity. Given the voluntary nature of the nonprofit sector, crowdsourcing creates a host of new and exciting opportunities. According to Peter H. LaMotte of GeniusRocket, “the reality is that nonprofits have been at the forefront of crowdsourcing long before Jeff Howe coined this popular term.”

Have a look at this crowdsourced presentation and read Amy Sample Ward’s blog post Crowdsourcing: Community vs Crowd. There she talks about how nonprofits may be able to benefit from crowdsourcing, while also taking care to highlight when it may not be useful. She also provides some examples of ways that organizations are already using it and gives some tips on how to evaluate its success.

A few of the many examples of organizations using crowdsourcing to help nonprofits and the public include:

  • Ushahadi: This nonprofit technology company develops free, open-source software and uses crowdsourcing to find information which can solve problems related to disasters, voting and the environment to name a few.
  • Crisis Commons: This uses crowdsourcing to help countries in the wake of disasters. In 2010, they helped to mobilise workers and support for the Haiti earthquake, Gulf oil spill, Chilean earthquake, and Pakistan flooding.
  • Kiva: This nonprofit provides micro-loans and uses crowdsourcing for their work. They use a P2P money lending model.
  • Crowdflower: Using crowdsourcng they connect organizations that want to get “labor on demand” with a round-the-clock workforce in 70 countries.
  • Aiddata: Their Wisdom of the Crowd project is utilizing crowdsourcing to provide additional information, which can complement the aid data on their database.
  • Ashoka Changemakers: They utilize an open-source and crowdsourced approach to aid social innovation. This year they partnered with the G20 to help them identify innovative SME finance models in the emerging world.
  • Inspired by crowdsourcing, Microsoft is running an Imagine Cup Solve This programme, which aims to inspire students to help intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), and nonprofits solve problems. This year’s theme is
    “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems” and an Imagine Cup competition is being held in 2011 to encourage students to participate.

Organizations are also collaborating to improve the success of crowdsourcing. For example Samasource, Frontline SMS, and Ushahadi worked together with support from the U.S. and Haitian governments to set up a hotline (Mission 4636) to be able receive and translate text messages from mobile phones following the Haitian earthquake this year. This proved essential for Haiti’s earthquake relief efforts and more about this initiative can be read in the article Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief. Crowdsourcing can help to provide valuable information in a cost effective way.

It follows that crowdsourcing can be very valuable to nonprofits, but they must explore ways to make it work best for them.

January 11, 2010

2010: A Year of Online Clouds, Crowds, and Data Visualizations for CSOs?

By Keisha Taylor

We enter 2010 with plans for cloud computing, crowdsourcing as well as mapping and visualisation of data included in the agendas of governments and businesses. CSOs will do well to consider such options as they seek to maximise the impact of their work. Though such applications must be transparent, safe and respect the privacy of users, the potential benefits to those who proactively engage with it can be significant. Have a look at this interesting list of predictions for ICT trends this year.

Recession proof budgets have caused governments and large, small and medium businesses to realise that cloud computing can be a cost effective way for them to provide services to the public. See US and the UK government examples. TechSoup also lists the benefits of cloud technology to nonprofits.

CrowdsourcingRenewed calls for accountability may lead crowdsourcing to become increasingly used to gauge public opinion, solve problems and get feedback, which can inform and direct policies. One example is Vote India’s use of crowdsourcing to monitor the election process in India. However, it is also being used for the questionable Internet Eyes (to be launched in the UK this year), which invites the public to log onto their website to view CCTV footage and search for and report on crimes witnessed. It has even been used to recruit internet volunteers to search for a missing aviator. These are just three of many ways in which it has been used this year and such usage will no doubt increase in 2010.

The mapping and visualisation of data gathered and the use of real time content, may gather momentum this year and help enhance understanding of our world and the way in which individuals and organisations relate to each other within and across borders. It will also aid response to the call for greater transparency as data, which was unknown, inaccessible or muddled comes to light. The Where Does My Money Go prototype developed for the UK government by the Open Knowledge Foundation to reveal budget expenditure is one example of this, while the IT Dashboard provides the public with mapped data on US government spending.

2Paths gave an interesting presentation entitled Show me the Data at the Turning Statistics into Knowledge conference jointly organized by the US Census Bureau, the OECD and the World Bank, which stressed the need to be able to access and link data from multiple international agencies and foundations to answer questions like “Is aid tied to malaria activities making a difference?” As data becomes more readily available, we hope that more will be done with existing data to help us all visually understand what is really needed to realise socioeconomic development.  Philanthropy 2173 also has an interesting take on the ways in which philanthropy can and may use data and ICT this year in their Decoding the Future posts.

As GuideStar International seeks to illuminate the work of the world’s CSOs online we will also be keeping watch on ICT developments to ensure that the CSOs listed on the site can use modern, relevant technology to publicise their work effectively to all stakeholders on GuideStar.  As with all other issues CSOs will no doubt rise to the challenge of ensuring that civil liberties are protected for users of such technology. We hope that GuideStar will be one of the platforms that they use to showcase that work too.

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