30 July 2010 at 1:43 pm
As enormous databases and powerful new visualisation tools can be accessed instantly by anyone, at any time, information networks are transforming philanthropy. In this excerpt of “Disrupting Philanthropy: Technology and the Future of the Social Sector,” the authors offer a glimpse of what is to come.
Lucy Bernholz (Blueprint Research & Design), Edward Skloot (Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University) and Barry Varela (Duke University) explore the immediate and longer-term implications of networked digital technologies for philanthropy:
Here in the US, the public sector is leading the way. Governments at the municipal (San Francisco, Washington, D.C.), state, and federal (data. gov, the Open Government Initiative) levels are making data available on the web.
In the arena of campaign finance, the Sunlight Foundation enables users to tease out who gives how much money to whom, when they give it, and (by implication) why. On the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Subsidyscope website, users can track federal subsidies.
As more such data become available, new correlations and connections will be revealed in every area in which philanthropy has an interest, from test scores of middle-schoolers to disparities in public health to racial discrimination in housing.
The ability to mix and remix public data will influence both governmental and philanthropic approaches to producing social good.
Of course, most government data are not accessible via the web. And philanthropy (with some important exceptions) has been even less pro-active in making data available. It’s not yet known what force—third-party intermediaries, regulation, the market, leadership within the field—will drive an opening-up of philanthropy, but open access to philanthropically funded data and research is within our reach.
To the degree that new data will lead to new measurements of change, we should also expect to see major changes in the sector.
A relatively recent innovation is the storage of information in “the cloud.” The cloud refers to data and applications that are hosted remotely (i.e., stored on third-party servers) and that can be accessed via the web. The best-known examples are probably Facebook, Google Mail and Google Docs, Flickr, and SalesForce.com.
Shifting from data storage on desktops or mainframes to cloud computing can save organizations money on hardware and software and allow them to allocate human resources differently.
Disrupting Philanthropy can be downloaded here (PDF).