Archive - November 2008

The Wiki That Isn't on
Citizenship Is Not a Game of Gotcha
3 and MySpace launch "Ideas for America"
Working Wikily Blog Up
The Future of the Net is in Good Hands
Fantastic Offer for Social Citizens
Inexpensive Fundraising Tips for Tough Times
From Spoof to Social Change

The Wiki That Isn't on

Working Wikily, a paper and idea crafted by The Monitor Institute and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (although originally coined by Lucy Bernholz), describes a collaborative way of working that is inclusive and transparent.

The Obama administration is putting these ideas to work using wikis and public policy on their site reports Nancy Scola. Launched yesterday, the health care discussion with two members of the transition team, Dr. Dora Hughes and Lauren Aronson, on a wiki on  This certainly strikes me as more transparent and constructive than the black hole of resumes with which the site started.

I like the opening statement on the page, “Our policy teams will be sharing new developments with you, the American people, and asking for feedback. It’s up to you to respond.”  In particular, the “it’s up to you to respond.” part putting the onus on us, citizens, to participate is great.  Brava!

Here’s the part that I don’t like about this wiki:  it’s not a wiki.

This is a blog post, think Huffington Post not Wikipedia.  Here’s a wiki:  This is what we used to organize Twitter Vote report and you can see the different pages that participants created throughout the project on the right side:  such as partners, media outreach, project tracker, user stories.  Volunteers created these pages, posted content, others revised and edited it.

Perhaps I’d let this technical issue go if the opening question were better. “What don’t we like about the healthcare system” is waaaaayyyyy too broad as a starter.  Here, I’ll give you all the answers and then we can move on:  It’s too expensive, not portable and doesn’t provide things we need, like medications, inexpensively.

OK, so it’s not a wiki and the opening question doesn’t work, is that all I’ve got?  Nope, here’s the big one, and the one that stops too many efforts from being truly transparent: Drs. Hughs and Aronson posted a question, invited us to wrestle with it, and . . . And, what?  What are they going to do with this conversation.  Without a commitment to listening it runs the risk of becoming a long thread that starts out with long, thoughtful responses (and these really are that so far) that will ultimately degenerate into something less civil and run the risk of petering out all together. Why not extend the challenge by posing several questions that people can begin to wrestle with (e.g. what are you willing to pay for health care? what are the pros and cons of a government-run system?  how can we reduce the significant liability risks that health care providers have now?) and asking people to wrestle with them online, and engaging groups like Public Agenda and Everyday Democracy to facilitate local disucssions and develop real proposals and solutions?

You had us at wiki,, now really challenge and engage us, please!


Citizenship Is Not a Game of Gotcha

Election Day seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? There was the great exultation that at long last a new day was here in America. Hope had returned, but just for an instant, as the economy kept going down, down, down and the inevitable “now what?” questions arose. Eight years of pent up frustration have come pouring forth from Deaniacs and Obamanics who poured their hearts and souls into two campaign cycles and now, at last, the kingdom is theirs.

So what to do when there is no clear Election Day deadline or structure to keep us focused? Naturally, a phalanx of well meaning efforts have sprung up from Obama CTO to All chaotic, cacophonous, well meaning efforts that will inevitably add up to nothing.

Oh, the sacrilege of criticizing well meaning crowd sourcing!! Shouldn’t citizens be allowed, nay encouraged!, to throw do-goody ideas against the wall so that we can then all vote on them and then . . . and then . .. well, somebody should do something, right? These well-meaning, misguided efforts have fallen into two categories:

1. The Confusion of Service Category. The discussion of using a Craigslist approach to scaling up service, as my friend Nancy Scola outlines rightly points out is not very helpful if it’s just more of the same. The notions of increasing voluntary, community service as the solution to government not working right needs to end. I have written about this morphing of public and private service before, most recently here and the basic premise of my argument still holds. Americans have increasingly been volunteering (particularly young people who are required to do so in school and are continuing to do so beyond school), the number of nonprofits has exploded in the past twenty years and yet problems abound. That is because the size of government far overshadows the size of volunteer efforts in terms of resources. Peter Levine compared philanthropic dollars to government dollars for Katrina repair and you will see the difference, $6.5 billion in private philanthropic dollars, nothing to sneeze at, but compared to $120.5 billion in government aid. So, more volunteer databases are not what we need to strengthen the civic infrastructure of the country and overhaul our government.
2. The second category are the idea generating sites that are automatically set up as an “us vs. them” paradigm to help the Obama administration “set priorities”. Ah, yes, we are going to tell you what we think you should do — as if we haven’t just had that conversation over an exhausting marathon of an election — and then we’re going to hold your feet to the fire by stomping our feet and holding our breath until you do. Or just as bad, we, the Obama campaign, are going to “listen” to you as you fill out a survey (oy!) and then we’ll . . . well, we’ll say that we listened to you.

I know I am verging on curmudgeonly, really I do, but I want to make a point, that is that we need to get focused and constructive before we look up and it’s April and all we have are millions of frustrated people who are feeling left out. (Oh, and btw, I don’t buy the idea that because Obama has a large mailing list its the same as a constituency, it’s a mailng list of people who were involved, not a list of people who have signed up for the next phase of the journey – big, big difference that campaigns and nonprofits need to understand much better.)

So, here’s my plan of action:

1. The focus has to be on changing government to include citizen participation. In many of the essays in Rebooting America, essayists wrote that the relationship between the governing class and the governed has to change. As Jeff Jarvis wrote, “Today the default in our discussion of government is negative: they are doing bad things badly, and we are the watchdog who’ll catch the bastards in the act.” The fundamental premise of this election was that the old Reagan adage that government is the problem is dead. Our government needs us to help it to govern. The advocacy models of the 1960s were created to protests against government; we need a new model of advocacy that helps us to participate in government. So, the question changes from, “What do we want government to do?” to “How are we going to participate in running our government.”
2. Continue the training. One of the most successful elements of the Obama campaign was training local organizers. Now we need to educate and train people on what government does. We are starting from scratch, young people aren’t being taught about government in school, older people, if they ever knew, have become caught in the gotcha game described above. We should set a date of say, January 3rd and 4th and use to get everyone go to your local library for a seminar on the fundamentals of government; local, state and federal. How does it work, what does it do, how can we participate?
3. Start local today. One of the dangers of the “throw an idea up against the wall” strategy is that the ideas tend to be too big (“alleviate global poverty”) and too hard for individuals to participate in tackling (not that you can’t participate, go give $25 on Kiva today and you’ll feel better.) Let’s make a national to-do list for transforming local government, someplace where we really can make a huge difference right now, today, if we show up and participate. Steve Clift gets us started here. Run for office, go to planning board meetings, ask your town supervisor to start blogging and post the budget online (and keep it updated in real-time!), promote local businesses, revamp the outdated recycling program.

Start, now, today, make a huge difference by transforming advocacy and government for the 21st century — this is the change that we need.

Share and MySpace launch "Ideas for America" and MySpace have launched Ideas for America (or on MySpace). The idea for Ideas is simple; post an idea for reforming government, get your friends to vote for it, watch your idea rise (or not!)

The top ten ideas will be matched with advocacy groups to follow through to try to make the ideas a reality.

So, want to shut Guantanomo Bay, eradicate global poverty, find a cure for AIDs, make sure every child is literate? Or maybe your idea is much better than that — let America know through Ideas for America!


Working Wikily Blog Up


A few months back the Monitor Institute and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation released the paper, “Working Wikily“.  It’s a terrific overview for philanthropic efforts of working in connected way — I highly recommend it.

This week, the Monitor Institute launched a blog to further develop the ideas of collaborative, networked philanthropic action called, naturally, the Working Wikily Blog!  It’s a very thoughtful place and one of the few areas that I’ve seen dedicated to figuring out ow to activate and measure social networks for social change.


The Future of the Net is in Good Hands

With the advent of a new administration, there’s lots of talk about the future of the economy, the future of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the future of the climate, but not as much talk of the future of the Internet.  Remember that series of inter tubes that connects everyone around the globe instantly and inexpensvely?  And remember those corporations and telecoms that wanted to create different classes of net users and charge different (read higher) rates for the transfer of data to and from different people?

This huge fight over net neutrality isn’t over, it’s really just in its infancy, but, great news just arrived from the Obama transition front:  Susan Crawford had been named one of the two co-chairs of the FCC transition team!

This is big, big news for anyone who cares about preserving the essential level playing field of the web.  Susan is an Internet intellectual property pioneer, a former board member of ICANN (it’s like the UN for domain names) and founder of One Web Day (of which I am a board member.)  Susan is a passionate advocate for the open web and it is outstanding news about the intent and interests of the Obama team that they recognized the importance of having someone with her background, interests and skills involved in the formation of hte plans for the FCC which governs much of the activity online here in the US.

Oh, and did I mention that Susan is my friend, and guide, and inspiration, too?  Brava!


Fantastic Offer for Social Citizens

The Case Foundation wants to give a makeover to five lucky Social Citizens!  Are you a Social Citizen?  Well, take the quiz and find out.  Then apply for the Makeover and five lucky Social Citizens will win:

What are you waiting for, take the quiz!!


Inexpensive Fundraising Tips for Tough Times

Holly Lillis of Changing Our World provides excellent advice of inexpensive ways to enhance your fundraising efforts now.  They are summarized by the Chronicle as:

  • Engage in simple Web-site maintenance, to ensure the organization shows up high on search engine searches
  • Host volunteer drives to offer ways for supporters to give at time when they might not have much extra cash.
  • Craft simple, brief, e-mail messages to take the place of more expensive traditional mailings
  • Have a “friend raising” event to recruit new donors. Ask board members or other supporters to invite their friends and colleagues to a party to learn about the charity, for example.

From Spoof to Social Change

There was much aflutter in New York City yesterday when a group of volunteer activists released and distributed a fake copy of the New York Times with a banner headline announcing the end of the Iraq War.  Upon further examination readers saw that the paper was postdated July 4, 2009.

I spoke this morning to two organizers of the effort, Beka Economopoulos and Andy Bichlbaum, about how this massive effort (it took over a year to organize and hundreds of volunteers to pull off) was organized and successfully managed.  It wasn’t free,

The effort was organized similarly to other networked activism efforts in that it had the following key components:

  • A flat structure with no one person in charge.  This doesn’t mean that these efforts are headless.  Instead, it means that leaders emerge because of their passion, or great facilitation skills or prominence because of their role as a conceiver of the effort, but they have to use that power very carefully to bring disaparate people and opinions along in a collaborative way.  The existence or not of these skills, I think, are the often the determing factor on whether a networked activist effort like this one will succeed.
  • Lots and lots of volunteer time dedicated to the project outside of the participants’ paid work and formal organizations;
  • Participant generated ideas. For instance, Andy told me that the effort was originally concieved as a hard copy paper only and then one of the volunteers thought it should have a website that looks like the Times site — and he went off and did it;
  • Some chaos. It is simply the nature of the beast that an all-volunteer networked effort, particularly one like this that takes a long time to plan and execute, will have moments of chaos and even disarray — and the leaders had better feel comfortable with this in order to be successful.  For this effort there was disagreement on the best ways to distribute the paper that had to, finally, be settled by Andy and his co-leader, Steve Lambert, as time simply ran out for further discussion.
  • Resources.  Too often institutional philanthropy and nonprofits think of resources only in a financial sense.  This effort showcases the importance of leveraging social capital and activating social networks of people with particular technical skills in editing, web design and organization. They begged and borrowed for most everything else related to the project, but did have to raise about $70,000 in small amounts from friends to pay for the printing of 100,000 copies.
  • Multiple channels.  This effort was organized by telephone, wiki, in-person meetings when possible, and text messaging.  Form always follows function for all efforts and the group picked up and used the tools that were most appropriate for what they needed at a particular moment in time.  For the Times spoof speed and stealth were required so Twitter and blogs were out.

Of course, people with their institutional hats on can participate in networked activist efforts like these, and all the better when they do and can bring institutional resources to bear as well.  It is a challenge for many institutions that need to take credit or “brand” something to participate.  In a time of scarce financial resources, however, it will behoove advocates to look at a model like this Times spoof and see what can be accomplished when a lot of people agree on a goal and can bring their own talents and those of their social networks to bear on a project.


Copyright © 2019 Allison Fine