Idea for Social Innovation Camp

I submitted an idea for the Social Innovation Camp that will be organised the 4th-6th April 2008 in London.
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My idea is to develop an open social networking platform (COOpen.net) for all players in the development sector that can bring transparency with regard to WHO is doing WHAT, WHERE, and together with WHOM. Think Facebook for development organisations with the endless possibilities to integrate useful applications for sharing of information. The transparency will benefit development organisations as they can develop their networks for learning, coordination and collaboration, but (as the content will be open to everybody) will also empower the critical general public, funding agencies, and the very people who’s needs are being addressed by development cooperation. They can make more informed choices with regard to their donations and funding, validate quality and successes of the organisations, and push development cooperation organisations to “show themselves” on the social networking platform.
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COOpen.net can be the first global concentration of “open development cooperation data” and the first global collection of social graphs of development cooperation organisations. By using web 2.0 technologies, the development cooperation SYSTEM can be innovated and opened-up, resulting in better ‘networked’ development organisations (including lots of new players in the field), and improved exhange of information within the networks. An important step towards “development 2.0“!
Please have a look at the idea that I submitted to Social Innovation Camp: http://www.sicamp.org/?page_id=96
I would be very interested to receive your comments, questions and feedback at the bottom of my contribution on the Social Innovation Camp website.

Worldbank’s Development 2.0 Wishlist

On the Worldbank’s Private Sector Development Blog, I found “an imaginary wish list of start-ups in a Development 2.0 world” (a post by Giulio Quaggiotto). One of the ideas on the wishlist is:  

  • D-projects.org: a web site that aggregates information on all development projects run by international and local NGOs, international agencies and financial institutions, and volunteer organizations. Potential donor interested in Ghana, for example, could compare projects and select the ones to give their money to. Development agencies could use the site to check out who else is working on a specific country or issue before embarking on a new project. Recommendations (Amazon style) by users could help donors make more informed choices and, thanks to word-of-mouth, smaller, but worthy, projects may get increased visibility.

Although there’s reference to a “website” instead of the more obvious choice for and online social network of development organizations, it’s actually the first post I read that’s closely related to some of the key ideas and questions that I launched in Orgbook:

– It confirms the need for aggregated information on the work of development organizations (working on various levels).

– It highlights the potential benefit for donors: they can make more informed choices and assess the networked capacity and institutional analysis of organizations that applied for funding

– It points at the potential for development organisations: they can assess their added value in a certain area and theme, and build networks with the relevant players.

– It stresses the potential that users of the services provided by development organizations can be added to the social network and can hold the development organizations in their area accountable.

I will follow the Worldbank closely to see if they are following up on their Wishlist!

   

Launching Orgbook!

One of the interesting things about social networks is that you get an insight in how people are connected with others and organized into subgroups of the total social network.

Social networks make it very transparent how users are (or could be) linked to other users. These links can be made directly by the users (e.g. friends or contacts) or they can be established by the internet application based on the user generated data (e.g. people that share the same interest, location, organization, etc.).

When these links and subgroups are established, the social networking application is then used to share and discuss information.

If we talk about the use of web 2.0 (including these social networks) for development organizations, we often focus on how these tools can benefit people in the South directly, mobilize the supporters in the North, facilitate sharing of learning between people in the South, development practitioners, and development organizations around a certain theme, or how these tools can help to improve internal organizational processes.

However in all the discussions (blogs, conferences, presentations, wikis) I haven’t seen a lot of thoughts about how web 2.0 has the potential to bring transparency and coordination in the development cooperation system.

Like social networks are now giving us insight in how individuals are connected and organized into subgroups, they could also connect and organize organizations. At the moment this transparency is non-existent on an overarching level. Some development organizations have links on their websites to websites of their partner organizations in the South. Some use intranet, e-groups or social networks that link them to their partners and other organizations. But there is no Facebook for development organizations that for example has profile pages of all organizations working in development, shows links between them, can help to organize them into thematic or geographical subgroups, and where applications can be added for institutional e-collaboration.

There are thousands of development organizations, big international NGOs and one man organizations, left-wing and religious organizations, with one or multiple objectives, and focusing on micro, meso, or macro level. There is no overview, no global data of who works where and with whom; it’s not transparent. Almost all of the development organizations (and especially their donors) talk about the importance of coordination and cooperation, but based on my own experience of working in development I would say that this continues to be one of the biggest challenges within the development cooperation system.

At the same time, the general public in the North doesn’t always understand how the development cooperation system works, how problems and solutions at various levels are connected, and what the added value of each organization is.

One way to respond to these needs could be to develop a social utility like Facebook, that connects organizations with organizations around them and provides transparency about who’s doing what together with whom: an “Orgbook”, tailor-made to respond to the specific needs in the coordination of development cooperation.

Some first questions come up:

  • Would development organizations be willing to link up to such a social network, provide insight into their networks, and use this for online and offline cooperation and sharing of learning?
  • What would this mean in terms of changes in their web strategies (the way they present themselves) and the internal organization behind these web strategies?
  • What would be the technical challenges of developing a social network for development organizations?
  • Would donors (like UN, EU, national governments and Worldbank) be interested to demand this type of transparency, coordination and cooperation as part of their donor requirements? And would they be willing to support the development of the required social network?
  • Could the general public have a role in demanding this transparency and more clarity in the proliferation of development organizations? And could they have a role in building parts of the organizational profiles?
  • Will people and organizations in the South ultimately benefit from these changes?

Through this blog and various linked wiki pages, I hope to work together with other people interested in some of these ideas. Collectively, I hope we can develop clearer ideas on what the “Orgbook” should look like, answer some of the questions I formulated above (and others that will come up in the process), and eventually see if it is possible to launch such a social network for development organizations.

Looking forward to receive your feedback, ideas and questions!