Share your idea with mySociety

This is not a regular post but I have been a mySociety (the renowned UK non-profit org) fan for a long time and I thought it was important to share this information: Tom Steinberg has just published a “Call for Proposals” for 2009. The name itself does not do justice to the spirit of the organization which has always been operating outside the straitjacket of useless government or EU funded projects, but the call is a genuine attempt to gather innovative ideas and suggestions for the organization to work on.

More in line with their own spirit, mySociety published a loose but essential set of guidelines which the ideas have to follow (what they call “an insight into the mySciety mindset”). I particularly liked rule no4: “they will be ideas that have clear social, civic or democratic benefits that are really easy to explain to the least political person you know, even if the technology behind them is fiendishly complicated” (my bolds).

Considering the track record of the organization I would urge anyone to think hard and submit ideas to them. If there is anyone out there that can deliver, MySociety is surely one of them. I’ll be watching what type of new projects they may come up with and… possibly think of any of my own.


“See The Difference”: Online video για φιλανθρωπία

Σε μία δύσκολη οικονομική συγκυρία, μερικοί από το φιλανθρωπικό χώρο κάνουν τολμηρά ανοίγματα.
Το See The Difference είναι μία νέα και πολύ φιλόδοξη διαδικτυακή πρωτοβουλία που ξεκίνησε από τον Dominic Vallely, ένα πρώην στέλεχος του BBC. Το project πρακτικά υιοθετεί «digital storytelling» για να προωθήσει φιλανθρωπικά έργα σε όλο τον κόσμο και να δείξει στους χορηγούς τη διαφορά που κάνουν τα χρήματά τους.

Οι ίδιοι πιστεύουν ότι: “See the Difference could ultimately become the standard way in which people choose and express the things they care about and the differences they want to make in the world”.

Αυτή τη στιγμή, μόνο ένα προωθητικό βίντεο υπάρχει στο site (και μία σελίδα στο Facebook) όπου φαίνεται ότι το website θα έχει πολλές λειτουργίες, με καλό και φιλικό interface. Στο βίντεο φαίνεται ότι έχει συντάξει πίσω του μία εντυπωσιακή ομάδα εταιριών, επιχειρηματιών, και ιδρυμάτων όπως: Accenture, McCann Erickson, Microsoft, BBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, RSPB, το Heat Magazine, την Oxfam κλπ.  

Catch; Ο στόχος του να συγκεντρώσει €560εκ σε 5 χρόνια! Όπως γράφει και ο συντάκτης σχετικού άρθρου στο  “Giving in a Digital World” η Kiva έχει καταφέρει να συγκεντρώσει μόλις €53εκ σε τρισήμισυ χρόνια.

Αξίζει να δούμε πως θα εξελιχθεί αυτή η προσπάθεια σε μία εποχή μάλιστα που, όπως αναφέρει η Wall Street Journal, κάπου 1.000 φιλανθρωπικοί οργανισμοί έκλεισαν μεταξύ 2007-2008. Από την άλλη πλευρά, φαίνεται ότι σε περιόδους ύφεσης, το κοινό εμφανίζεται πιο ευαισθητοποιημένο σε κοινωνικά προβλήματα, συνεπώς η ευκαιρία υπάρχει.

Παρεμπιπτόντως, ένα ενδιαφέρον στοιχείο από το ίδιο άρθρο της WSJ είναι ότι στελέχη των χρηματοοικονομικών εταιριών στη Μεγάλη Βρετανία τώρα βρίσκουν δουλειά στο φιλανθρωπικό τομέα, με το 45% να προέρχεται από συμβουλευτικές εταιρίες management, το 20% από επιχειρήσεις και το 11% από εταιρίες private equity!

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Innovate or Perish

The stereotype goes that we live in an age of blurring lines.
But sometimes there is merit in stereotypes and a recent e-debate on e-participation organized by the Pep-Net network  reminded me of this fact. In one of those threads we discussed what the private and public sectors can learn from one another.  Well, a lot it seems. But most of all, the importance of innovation I think; by opening-up, by embracing and experimenting with crowdsourcing ideas and mostly through persistent cultivation of a new more daring mentality. Some are already walking down this one-way street and they will be positioned to reap significant benefits in the future – a few are enjoying these in the present. Let me cite three examples that may hopefully inspire you:

1. Spread the Jam: IBM’s Collaborative Innovation model


IBM, which used to be the embodiment of a huge, “grey”, inertia-stricken conglomerate, has done great strides and has embraced knowledge management in a big way. In this way, it fosters creativity within the organization but one of their most impressive undertakings is none other than the IBM Jam Events, an example of their Collaborative Innovation model.  Here is how IBM describes the concept of Collaborative Innovation:

In a world where innovation is global, multidisciplinary and open, you need to bring different minds and different perspectives together to discover new solutions to long-standing problems. Therein lies the essence of collaborative innovation.”

Inspired by James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” and Jeff Howe’s “Crowdsourcing” ideas, IBM subscribed to the belief that public discussion of research ideas could solve problems faster than IBM’s own researchers tackling them secretly. There came the “Innovation Jams”, where the company’s researchers, employees and outside experts are invited to join in virtual brainstorming sessions. They post their ideas for innovations and then others join in, commenting on the posts and voting for their favorites.

“ValuesJam in 2003 gave IBM’s workforce the opportunity to redefine the core IBM values for the first time in nearly 100 years. During IBM’s 2006 Innovation Jam- the largest IBM online brainstorming session ever held – IBM brought together more than 150,000 people from 104 countries and 67 companies.”

The Bottom-line: Jams started in 2001 and by 2006, 46,000 ideas were produced, the company invested more than $100 million in seed ideas and created 10 new divisions to follow up on those. 

Now, what can the public sector learn? This is what IBM suggests:

“Jams are not restricted to business. Their methods, tools and technology can also be applied to social issues. In 2005, over three days, the Government of Canada, UN-HABITAT and IBM hosted Habitat Jam. Tens of thousands of participants – from urban specialists, to government leaders, to residents from cities around the world – discussed issues of urban sustainability. Their ideas shaped the agenda for the UN World Urban Forum, held in June 2006. People from 158 countries registered for the jam and shared their ideas for action to improve the environment, health, safety and quality of life in the world’s burgeoning cities.”

Naturally, most public officials and corporate leaders will shudder at the thought of disrupting the long-established hierarchical and rigid structures. Adam Christensen –Social Media Manager at IBM- offers a few insights on this process in a short presentation found here.  His main points and suggestions are: Cultivate a bottom-up culture change, trust and empower employees (“after all they are the brand”), don’t be afraid of failure and, experiment-experiment-experiment.  

[Links: IBM Jam Events, IBM Innovation Jam 2008, IBM Social Network to advance SOA, VentureBeat on Jam 08, Global Dialogue Center-Habitat Jam, check also Luis Suarez’s KM blog]

2. Innocentive: A market place for innovation


The idea is simple: You have a problem-any problem. You post it and you let anyone offer solutions. You pay for the best one. In other words, as New York Times puts it: If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone. In “Innocentive-speak”:

  •        If you have a problem (called “Challenge”), you are a “Seeker”.
  •        If you have a solution to suggest, you are a “Solver”.
  •     You connect online in the Open Innovation Marketplace : Seeker & solver identities are kept completely confidential and secure, InnoCentive managing the entire IP process.

“Solvers” who deliver the most innovative solutions receive financial awards ranging up to US$1,000,000 and “Seekers” include commercial, government and non-profit organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Avery Dennison, Pendulum, Eli Lilly and Company, Janssen, Solvay, GlobalGiving etc.  

The company was founded in 2000 as an in-house innovation “incubator” for the Elli Lilly pharma company and gone independent in 2005. Initially it focused in life sciences, pharmaceutical, biology etc but now this marketplace connects companies, academic institutions, public sector and non-profit organizations, with a global network of more than 170,000 of the world’s brightest minds, in more than 175 countries. One of the recent “Challenges” is how to improve the US health-care system.

As they describe it, the system provides a flexible tool-set to be used anywhere in the organization. Considering that Innocentive is often seen as a last resort for organizations that cannot find a solution otherwise (meaning internally), an impressive 40% of problem-challenges posted are solved.

Innocentive believes that if organizations overcome their initial fears -these essentially being “what do they pay me for, if I cannot solve the problem” – and integrate it organically within their strategy, it may well become a “first resort” solution in the quest for innovative solutions.

Exploiting Innocentive for non-profit purposes seems to be an even more successful endeavour and “The Rockefeller Foundation knows that very well. They went into partnership with Innocentive and created the “Accelerating Innovation for Development Initiative”, dedicated to showcasing challenges facing poor or vulnerable populations around the world. Through the partnership, the foundation explores novel and proven approaches, including crowdsourcing, collaborative competitions, user/customer-centered innovation and user-generated innovation. “Reducing Risk of Malaria with Solar Powered Device” and “Solar-powered wireless routers” are two examples of solved problems.  

By the way, Gary Hamel – who has been called “the world’s most influential business thinker” by The Wall Street Journal – was recently appointed to the InnoCentive Strategic Advisory Board.

[Links: New York Times, Business Week Podcast, Corporate blog, InnobloggerFacebook Page, Twitter]

3. SAGE: On track to create the “Google of biology”


One of the most secretive, introverted, patent-based industries in the world, the pharmaceutical industry, is now having a new treatment from Stephen Friend, a cancer research guru and Merck’s former senior vice-president of cancer research. Friend – who believes that Cancer drugs don’t help 75% of the people who take them – seems that has secured $5 million in donations to kick-start a new non-profit organization in Seattle called Sage.

Sage’s vision is to “Create an open access, integrative bionetwork evolved by contributor scientists working to eliminate human disease” and for this purpose it aims:

  • to build and support an open access platform and databases for building innovative new dynamic disease models
  • to interconnect scientists as contributors to evolving, integrated networks of biological data

Possibly oversimplifying here, physicians could look at genetic profiles from their patients, match it up with the Sage free open database – which will contain anonymous genomic profiles collected from scientists around the world – and then prescribe the medicine most likely to work. In other words, get all of the data to talk to each other (sounds like Tim Berners-Lee’s  Linked Open Data project?)  for the benefit of all:  The FDA, health insurers and drug companies, providing better insights and potentially save years of wasted efforts and millions of dollars.
Significantly enough, in order for Sage to gain insights from the open-source model in the computing world, John Wilbanks, the vice president of science at Creative Commons is joining the Board.

Sage’s co-founder Eric Schadt says: “We see this becoming like the Google of biological science. It will be such an informative platform, you won’t be able to make decisions without it. We want this to be like the Internet. Nobody owns it.”

 [Links: SAGE, Open Access Overview, Bio-IT World, Forbes, Xconomy Seattle]

Now you have a choice: Innovate or Perish

The moral of the story is all too clear for business. What about politics?  If private enterprises and conglomerates with a single-minded profit mandate dare to innovate by “opening up” and engaging into a conversation with their employees and stakeholders, there must be something rotten with political parties and governments whose mandate is to represent citizens’ voices but resist even the simplest act of listening, let alone engage into a meaningful conversation and exploit the wealth of human intelligence. 

Unless of course there is a “grand plan” which says that their constituents will eventually diminish so much that they will no longer need the web to discuss…they will simply invite them home for coffee.

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Skoll World Forum 2009

There are only 3-4 world forums that I would like to participate in my lifetime, one of them is the renowned and unique 2009 Skoll World Forum , a joint venture between “The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship” at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and “The Skoll Foundation“.

The forum, which is dubbed as the “Davos of Social Entrepreneurhsip”,  runs between 25-27 March and is covered by Social Edge, the online media partner for the sixth consecutive year. 

The Skoll Foundation was founded by billionnaire Jeffrey Skoll (first employee and first president of eBay) who stressed in his opening speech that ” Nothing can stop a social entrepreneur. The world needs you more than ever”. 

The forum, focuses this year on the theme of “Shifting Power Dynamics” and is attended by record numbers. Some 800 social entrepreneurs, academics, financiers, politicians, policy makers and others from over 60 countries around the world have assembled in Oxford to look at new ways to tackle the challenges that face humanity: poverty, climate change, disease and more. 

  • The coverage of the event is not very user-friendly but the patient reader will find a wealth of information by surfing around the various blog pages at Social Edge
  • The Social Enterprise online magazine has a very good coverage of the event here
  • Live streaming is here:
  • The Twitter hashtag to follow is  #swf09 

About Social Entrepreneurship

Muhammad Yunus (the founder of Grameen Bank microfinance) of course is almost synonymous to the concept of a “social entrepreneur”  and his Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 helped to bring the social entrepreneurship idea to the forefront of attention.  

The definition of a social entrepreneur put forward by the Skoll Foundation is that of “a society’s change agent; a pioneer of innovations that benefit humanity”.  

Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka, the  global nonprofit organization devoted to developing the profession of social entrepreneurship, has described it in this way: “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” 

[Remark: It sounds funny to speak about social entrepreneurship in countries like mine, Greece, where the notion of entrepreneurship as such is still a question mark and it sometimes comes under fire; however it always pays off to open up to new concepts because you never know who listens and where radical change will come from]

Περί online donations

Ένα πρόσφατο post του Νίκου Αναγνώστου για το Kiva, μου θύμισε το θέμα του social entrepreneurship και πόσο λίγο ασχολείται η Eλλάδα με αυτό. Το θέμα είναι πολύ ευρύ και ενδιαφέρον και αξίζει μελλοντικά ένα αναλυτικό post γι αυτό (προς το παρόν δείτε αυτή την ομιλία μου για περισσότερα).
Αξίζει όμως να μοιραστώ κάποια άλλα projects που έχουν ενδιαφέρον σχετικά με online donations και φιλανθρωπικούς οργανισμούς.

Το globalgiving είναι μια πρωτοβουλία δυο πρώην στελεχών της World Bank και αυτό-προσδιορίζεται σαν “online marketplace that connects you to the causes and countries you care about…a marketplace of good”  ή αλλιώς σαν το “e-Bay of philanthropy” (φανταστείτε αυτούς τους προσδιορισμούς στην Ελλάδα, θα είχε πέσει πριν βγει).

Το εντυπωσιακό αυτό site δίνει τη δυνατότητα στον οποιοδήποτε να βρει και να κάνει δωρεά σε συγκεκριμένες δράσεις μη-κερδοσκοπικών οργανώσεων σε όλο τον κόσμο, εύκολα και online. Η καρδιά της πλατφόρμας είναι η αναζήτηση του δικού σου «ιδανικού» project με βάση μια σειρά κριτήριων. Μπορείς να αναζητήσεις οργανώσεις και δράσεις γεωγραφικά, με βάση το θέμα που ασχολούνται, με βάση δικά σου κριτήρια, κλπ.  Σε κάθε έργο βλέπεις το ποσό που χρειάζεται, πόσα χρήματα έχουν δοθεί ήδη και πόσα λείπουν ακόμα.

Όταν βρεις το έργο που θέλεις να συνεισφέρεις, έχεις να επιλέξεις μεταξύ κάποιων ποσών πχ $ 10, 20, 30 και να δεις κάθε ποσό τι πετυχαίνει.  Για παράδειγμα κάνοντας μία δωρεά σε ένα έργο που μαθαίνει 70 γυναίκες στη Νότιο Αφρική να ράβουν δέρματα παπουτσιών, $30 αγοράζουν 3 ειδικές βελόνες για κάθε μια, $50 αγοράζουν δέρματα για 15 ζευγάρια παπούτσια και $100 αγοράζουν υλικά προώθησης μάρκετινγκ για 4 καταστήματα πώλησης.

Συνήθως επιλέγεις μεταξύ μίας-και- έξω προσφοράς ή μίας επαναλαμβανόμενης σε τακτά χρονικά διαστήματα και πληρώνεις με πιστωτική κάρτα, μέσω PayPal ή με επιταγή. Στη συνέχεια μπορείς να ενημερώνεσαι για την πορεία της δωρεάς σου και πως το project που στηρίζεις πηγαίνει. Για τις υπηρεσίες του, το globalgiving κρατάει προμήθεια 10-15%.  
Τους τελευταίους μήνες, το globalgiving ξεκίνησε τη λειτουργία του και στη Μεγάλη Βρεττανία (βίντεο εδώ). 


Το Charity Navigator είναι ένα …«guide to intelligent giving”, και δεν είναι τόσο εντυπωσιακό για τις online αρετές του αλλά για την υπηρεσία που προσφέρει. Τι κάνει? Αξιολογεί 5.300 φιλανθρωπικούς οργανισμούς και ιδρύματα στις ΗΠΑ. Το θέμα είναι ότι πράγματι αξιολογεί και δεν κάνει δημόσιες σχέσεις. 
Παράδειγμα είναι οι περίφημες λίστες του με τους top10 οργανισμούς. Μεταξύ αυτών βλέπουμε:  Οι 10 πιο προβληματικοί οργανισμοί, οι 10 λιγότερο γνωστοί αλλά αξιόλογοι ή οι 10 που απλά μαζεύουν τα χρήματά σας αλλά δεν δίνουν τίποτα σε προγράμματα κλπ

Οι λίστες έχουν δημιουργηθεί με βάση ένα σύστημα κριτηρίων και βαθμολόγησης του globalgiving που τελικά καταλήγουν σε «αστέρια» για κάθε οργανισμό (από 0 εως 4). Παράλληλα, υπάρχουν εξαντλητικοί οδηγοί και οδηγίες για όλους όσους σκέπτονται να κάνουν δωρεές, από tips σε περιόδους οικονομικής κρίσης και οδηγούς εθελοντισμού έως πώς να αποφύγετε τις παγίδες από online απάτες. Υπάρχουν ακόμα και giving calculators και ενδιαφέροντα στατιστικά στοιχεία της «αγοράς».  
Παρεμπιπτόντως δεν αξιολογούν ακόμα την Kiva γιατί δεν είναι σωστή τυπικά με την εφορία, αλλά ενημερωτικά αναφέρουν άλλες 64 που κάνουν παρόμοια πράγματα με την Kiva.

Θα επανέλθω όμως στο θέμα κάποια στιγμή γιατί υπάρχουν πολλά εντυπωσιακά παραδείγματα κυρίως σχετικά με την αξιοποίηση του ίντερνετ και νέων τεχνολογιών από παρόμοιους οργανισμούς.

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Making sense in a senseless world

In view of the hype around the Obama-driven promise of a more participatory governance through ICTs, it is worth remembering that all this discussion is not created in a vacuum; it is a hard road travelled and fought before and things are not as simple as a lot of journalists and other…”experts” make it to be. Many worthy people and organizations have long been investigating models of online deliberation, argument visualization and “collaborative models of sense-making”, necessary when millions of people each with his/her own individual views are called in to co-shape complex policy issues. 

David Price reminds us of this fact in his article in Independent Minds (the Independent’s contributors’ blog), where he rightly says that,

Deeper challenges remain…. The emerging set of collaborative sensemaking and deliberation tools….are still nascent, still figuring out the basic principles….The tools require a basic visual literacy that itself is only just beginning to emerge in society. And the maps, and other sensemaking constructs, require time to build and time for reflection in an impatient and attention-poor age.”

And he should know, as he is one of the people behind some innovative projects like Debategraph (co-founded with the former Australian cabinet minister Peter Baldwin), which is a wiki debate visualization tool that enables users to decompose a conversation, by visualizing the arguments and counterarguments surrounding complex issues and track different debates which are semantically interrelated.
For example, Ofcom, the UK regulatory authority, has praised the attempt to use the platform to map its own consultation into the future of Public Service Broadcasting in the UK.  The tool has also been used to visualize and disseminate the debate on “what Obama should do next”  (and here) and the current discussion on the “Crisis in Gaza”.
 (sorry could not embed, but click to go to maps)


Click to visit map


Click to visit map

Click to visit map

David Price is also one of the people who have initiated Global Sensemaking(GSm), a group “dedicated to helping humanity address complex, interrelated global problems—such as climate change, energy policy, poverty, and food security—by developing and applying new web-based technology to assist collaborative decision making and cooperative problem solving”.

GSm’s current leading project is ESSENCE, the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event, an internet experiment designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools. The aim is to develop a comprehensive and distilled visual map of the issues, evidence and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Why am I saying all that? Simply to show that the intelligent use of social media to elect a president, although admirable marketing-wise, is not an indication for successful crowdsourcing politics…the road ahead is more demanding and more bumpy than it looks.

e-participation: Are we on the right track?

Following my participation at the relevant session of the Global Forum 2008 in Athens last week and my experience from e-participation projects, here are a few scattered thoughts that I would probably raise if time allowed me to do so.

  • e-participation and e-democracy are frequently hosted within ICT related events. Is this right? What does that mean? It seems to me that e-participation should be more about methodologies, sound political thinking and insights into citizens’ needs. It would seem that socio-political and media-communication fora are more apt for this kind of conversations. It’s interesting to note that many people from the ICT-related sector “re-present” e-participation projects. Has the “e” overtaken the essence of the debates? After all, e-democracy is about democracy not technology.
  • Related to this point is also the fact that way too few people with communication expertise also have a presence in those fora – and actual projects for that matter. I believe there is an immense know-how within people, organizations and companies that deal with communication, opinion polling & research and this is greatly underutilized in most of the projects that see the light of day.
  • A related symptom is Continue reading