I received some interesting reactions on the launch of my idea to start developing a social networking platform for all player in the development sector.
Commenting on the launch of this blog, Brit Bravo suggested to have a look at WiserEarth. This is a directory and networking forum that maps out and connects organisations that are working on social justice, poverty, and environmental issues.
Josien Kapma pointed towards an interesting blog post by David Wilcox where he discusses a number of web initiatives that claim they are the Facebook of the non-profit sector (the most interesting ones perhaps being My Charity Page and UnLtdWorld).
In the comment section of the Social Innovation Camp page where I presented my COOpen.net ideas, Brechtje Walburgh Schmidt suggested to have a look at Kanaal Sociaal Nederland. This is a platform where Dutch non-profits can share information about projects, publications and links with regard to various social needs they are addressing.
By email, I received comments from Dorine Rüter and Johannes Schunter. They both advised me to look at CIARIS, a Learning and Resources Centre on Social Inclusion that aims to strengthen development cooperation practicioners’ capacity to design, plan, manage and evaluate projects and policies to fight social exclusion. To do this, CIARIS collects information and knowledge and connects people.
Dorine Rüter also wrote that although she supports the idea of cooperation and keeping eachother informed in the development sector, her first reaction was: “not another portal!”. She stressed that I had to keep in mind that ICT-illiterate or resistant staff of development organisations may not be willing to invest time in yet another social platform.
After reviewing all the suggested sites, it’s clear to me that none of them comes close that what I have in mind and what I think is needed for the development cooperation sector. CIARIS is an interesting resource centre and network of people, not a social platform where organisational profiles are linked to one another. Kanaal Sociaal is a knowledge data base and a directory of organisations working on social issues in The Netherlands, but it’s not a social platform using web 2.0 technologies. UnLtdWorld does use web 2.0 technologies and integrates a lot of the applications that I envision for COOpen.net. However, they again focus on individuals.
What I am looking for is a social platform that gives a clear picture of all the connections between the organisations, using the basic applications of a open social network. In Last.fm , everyone can see who are my Friends (the people that I indicated as my connections) and who are my Neighbours (the people that have a connection with my based on the content of our dynamic musical profiles). I think we need the same type of social application in development cooperation. Every organisation could have a dynamic profile (a much more productive version of our individual Facebook profiles) and could show with which other organisations it has linkages. For example an INGO with an office in Honduras has a profile that shows what it’s doing in agriculture. It shows linkages to 20 partner organisations (i.e. farmer associations and community based organisations) in the Northern part of the country, a link to a Fair Trade organisation in Germany, a link to the FAO, a link to consultancy agency that they hired for capacity building, and all their data (together with data from other offices of the INGO in Africa) feeds also into the master profile of INGO. Each of the partner organisations they work with have a profile as well. That profile should confirm the connection with the mentioned INGO, but may also show lots of other connections they have. All connections have a discription specifying the nature of the collaboration (like in Facebook, where you can edit details about how you know your contact) and this could have linkages to for example shared project pages. All profiles are developing based on (geo)tags that the organisations linked to the training materials, evaluations and publications they uploaded, the themes they work on, geographical areas they work in, the organisations they link to, the articles they’ve bookmarked, etc. The resulting organisational profile pages can function as web 2.0 additions to the websites of organisations, or even replace them.
Such a global, open and dynamic social platform for organisations, generating very valuable “development cooperation data” does not exist at the moment. In my opinion therefore, this is not a proposal for yet another development portal or social network. It’s something completely new, with a totally different functionality than the examples suggested by the people that commented on my blog posts.
The WiserEarth example suggested by Britt Bravo comes closest to what I have in mind, but still is a long way from what I am proposing. It has an impressive database of 108,000 user-generated organisational profiles and was developed to address a similar need as the one I have advocated in this blog. Most importantly, as part of the WiserEarth application each organisation can add other organisations to its network. Sadly enough, that network feature is not really working. There are only few examples on the WiserEarth site of organisations that have added the organisations they are linked to. Why? Is it because of the reluctance of employees of these organisations to be updating yet another social network. Or does it have to do with a broader reluctance of the development cooperation sector to provide openness.
Development Cooperation needs a redesign in its architecture and a shift towards networked collaboration. However, it’s clear that it will be a challenge to roll out a global social network where all organisations are providing openness about their work and how they are embedded in local and national networks. That’s why this should not just be driven by the organisations themselves but also be pushed by funding agencies, the general public, and the people who’s needs these organisations are addressing.