Tag Archives: web2fordev

Another social platform for development cooperation?

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.

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!