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Weekend Wrap-up: “Info”lanthropy- What information matters to you?

February 26, 2010

It’s the end of another long and snowy week but I had to fire off a few thoughts after reading two blog posts:

  1. Does information want to be free in philanthropy? (Tactical Philanthropy Advisors Blog, Sean Stannard-Stockton)
  2. What’s ours is yours, really! (The Communications Network Blog, Bruce Trachtenberg)

I’m also curious about how others value information and what they hope to do with the information once it’s been read, discussed, synthesized, and so on and so forth. I made a few comments to Sean Stannard-Stockton’s post here, but I also wanted to include Bruce Trachtenberg’s post on the Communications Network blog from May 2009.

The first blog mentioned above on free information and philanthropy discusses the value of information sharing in the social sector. Stockton argues that the sector can benefit exponentially from the wealth of information that is available by sharing and exchanging  through various channels such as social media (twitter, for example) but the sector can suffer if the individuals involved don’t take advantage of these same knowledge banks. (See related blog reaction to Seth Godin’s, The problem with non). Sean also does not completely agree with the assumption that “information wants to be free,” in terms of cost. He contrasts the negative effect that free content and information has on for-profit news organizations with the positive effects it has for the philanthropy and nonprofit world. This leads into Trachtenberg’s post (mentioned above) on how the social sector is moving away from traditional methods of communicating by using multimedia and internet tools and providing these resources free of charge. He notes that nonprofits are in a special position to share information freely as the hope is that the information will be used to bring positive changes to targeted populations. The values and issues related to copyright infringement and intellectual property are not the only collateral that a foundation or nonprofit holds—they also have value in the community with the work they do and the change they create.

These topics are of interest to me because of what we do here at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy: we translate and provide information using evidence-based research. Our information is also available for free and we encourage sharing but also feedback so we can find out if and how our work is impacting or changing thoughts and behaviors. But it also makes me wonder, what information do others value? Free information is valuable to us in the social sector because many are already working with tight budgets. But what about our audiences? And there are multiple audiences to consider here. (See Jeff Trexler’s comment on audience perspectives.) What kind of questions do they want answered? How do they want them answered? Where do they want to go to access the information? Do they want a text update, RSS feed subscription, twitter hashtag, facebook discussion, YouTube or HowCast, SlideShare or Prezi presentation, conference, giving circle, fundraiser, phone call? All of the above? What costs should be involved for accessing this information, if any?

On our facebook page, in response to a question by Peter Burgess of Community Analytics, that reads, “What are the five best relief organizations in Haiti?,” I asked him, “If you had a chance to pose 5 questions to a top-rated relief organization in Haiti, what would they be?” I’ll bet Peter’s 5 questions and their answers would be valuable to one specific type of audience. That target audience may then translate Peter’s questions and answers for their audience to be used in another way through a different communication vehicle. If I asked that same question of you, readers, what would you say? (Peter, I welcome your comments here or on facebook, or both.) 🙂 Stay tuned for a revisit to this topic as it is sure to stay relevant during this the age of information.

Happy Friday!

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 28, 2010 1:30 am

    Dear Colleagues

    I was asked what would be the questions I would ask an NGO working in Haiti. These were my questions … (see Facebook)
    Q1 … Key information to identify the organization and its primary expertise?
    Q2 … Where are you working and what are you doing … have done … in each location?
    Q3 … How much resources (cash and kind) have been mobilized for your use … How much used? How much on hand?
    Q4 … I would want to calculate the value arising in each location … and the aggregated value arising for the organization as a whole (using CA standard values)
    Q5 … How does this value total compare to the resources used?

    After a little bit more reflection … and in the context of the current issues that are a reality right now in Haiti … the questions that need answering in addition to these are rather different!

    1 … how to relate the money raised with the money and value delivered in Haiti. This is a huge mess with very large amounts of money and material resources that have gone missing. None of the major organizations wants to spend any physical time or intellectual energy on getting an answer to this problem. My guess is that about $500 million has already either stolen resources or phony commitments … a huge number and a disgrace.

    2 … there needs to be data now for each community in Haiti. There is a lot of information about sectors and organizations and various resource flows … but there is little information about how these come together and produce progress in communities. Accordingly, my big goal now is to get a complete data profile of everything that is going on in each community in Haiti … and then to start to do community plans … and then to get organizations and resources to help make progress.

    As you know the CA dataflows are based on the text message technology and FrontlineSMS similar to the Ushahidi-Haiti initiative.

    Peter Burgess
    Community Analytics (CA)

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