I would like to thank all the people that commented on my previous post, both on my blog as well as through the ecollaboration network. For me, the contributions confirmed the need for (and non-existence of) the open social platform for development cooperation organisations that I am proposing.
I will need two blog post to explain why and respond to all the comments and questions that I received:
In this post I will be focusing on the technical aspect of my ideas: How does it work? What does it look like? How is it different from some of the suggested alternatives?
In the next post I will focus on the process side of implementing the idea: How do we get organisations to join and use the social platform? What kind of technical support do they need?
How does it work? What does it look like?
From the comments and suggestions that I receive, I get the feeling that some people don’t see the scale of the idea that I’m talking about. What I feel is needed for a more transparent, networked and collaborating development cooperation sector is a worldwide open social platform, that aims to integrate all the actors in development cooperation, in all the countries of the world. I visualise the open social platform as a world wide web within the broader Internet, where all development organisations have their web address (their organisational profile) and that will function as a natural starting point for them to access the information that they want to share and access on the internet? In the same way that a lot of people use Facebook as the platform on which they read news, write blogs, share twitter post, buy books, listen to online music, send messages, and donate to good Causes. The social network platform has become their Internet platform, and this is only just starting with more and more applications being build for Facebook every day. To my opinion, we need something similar for the development cooperation sector. Something of that scale and with the flexibility to keep growing and developing.
For me this is something completely different than most of the examples of social networks that people have sent me, arguing that we don’t need another similar social network. The type of social network that I am referring to goes a few steps further than existing examples like WiserEarth or plans like Partner Up, not just in terms of scale and ambition, but also in terms of integrated web 2.0 applications and openness. I am envisioning an open (source and content) social platform that can be improved by the users and in which everyone can develop applications that fit the needs of the users. I am very interested if the plans of CIARIS (to develop an application, called Shirikisha, that can give clear picture of all the connections between the organisations) are anywhere along these lines.
Some examples of the features
My ideas for functional features within the social platform are endless. Below I will give you a few examples that may help to visualise the idea. In the future I would love to work with the people of the Common Craft Show to explain to whole idea in Plain English, or with the creative people from Free Range Studios, but for the moment you’ll just have to do it with my own descriptions.
Each organisation will have an organisational profile page. One of the challenges is doing justice to the various types of organisations there are. There are INGOs with HQ in London and offices in 30 developing countries. Or organisations like the Red Cross, with a Federation office in Geneve, National Societies, and hundreds of local branches. The connection and information needs of the HQ and Federation office are very different than those of the national offices of the INGO or the local branches of the Red Cross. Therefore I think that we need an option to create sub-profiles, that are aggregated at each level up. At the same time, we need to keep in mind (like Alberto Nardelli wrote in his comment) that “at the end of the day people, even if as representatives of an organisation, and not organisations, use social networks”. This brings up the question who’s is adding information to the organisational profiles. It could be one person, the communication department, or people from various departments of an organisation. But it must be possible to develop an application that various people in the organisation can use (upload documents, tag bookmarks, geotag project locations, update and describe connections, etc.) and that will generate the aggregated information on the organisational profile. So we are talking about social networks underlying the organisational profiles….are you still with me?
Another feature could be multilayered profile pages. One layer developed by the organisation itself, but anolther layer that presents the way beneficiaries and supporters see the organisation and the results of their work. On this layer beneficiaries could upload fotos, show long-term impact, share successes or lessons learnt from failures, validate the work of the organisation, link up with other people that are supported by the organisation and get to know their experiences. Supporters can subscribe to the cause, can start online discussions with the people who’s social needs are being addresses, leave critical remarks, and where the organisation can interact and engage with their audience. So again, a social network in itself that feeds into a layer of the organisational profile. This could even be linked to existing applications like the Causes application in Facebook).
On their organisational profiles, the organisations will be able to specify what kind of organisation they are (tags), what kind of work they do (tags), where they work (geotags, although not sure if you can also geotag regions), they can add their Connections (the organisations that they directly work with) and describe the nature of each connection (including tags). They can than add the applications to their profile that they feel they need, for example to share publications/ training materials / evaluations (tagged), to share videos (tagged), to present projects or campaigns together with other connections (tagged), to work on shared documents with their connections, to offer donation possibilities to their supporters, or to ask beneficiaries to provide their input for reports. The possibilities are endless and a lot of already existing applications can be used.
Based on all the tags (think del.icio.us) that are generated, but also based on the location and the themes the organisations work on, an application can dynamically connect organisations around different parametres of similarity. This is the Last.fm Neighbours function. Through this function the organisations can discover potential new Connections, or at least they can see who does similar work and make sure they coordinate their work with them. Based on the tags, the Neighbours function can not only show the organisations working on the same theme or in the same region, but also show organisations in other parts of the world working on similar project and using similar training materials.
And of course there will also be a Home page, with feeds from all the Connections and tags that the organisation wishes to follow. This is the page where employee of the organisations will have a look at every day.
Matthew Slater commented: “The complexity of organisations and relationships and projects in the non-profit world could be very hard to model”. I agree and this elaborated post probably confirms that. However, I think with the existing technology and with the developing semantic web, we finally have the possibility to do just that.