Tag Archives: transparency

Social Platform for Development Cooperation: How does it work? What does it look like?

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

The vision 

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.

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.

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!