Redesigning civil society organizations

Digital data are everywhere. They are replicable, generative, storable, scalable, nonrival and nonexcludable. Digital data are different enough from time and money - the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed - that it's time to redesign those institutions.

It's time for institutional innovation. 

Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are familiar corporate forms that manage private monies (and time) for public benefit. Their corporate structure, reporting, and governance requirements direct resources to the public mission and provide bulwarks against misuse of financial resources. There is nothing in their corporate code or governance structure that equips them to do the same with digital data.

We need a new type of organization to manage and protect digital data for public benefit, especially digital data that is voluntarily contributed by individuals or other organizations. 

There are a lot of building blocks for something like this. We know a lot about governance, digital data, and organizations. We have lots of models from participatory development to community based data collection to trust forms. We have ethical scaffolding in biomedical research and digital data collection that we can draw from. There are legal experts, design thinkers, experienced digital data users, digital rights activists, research reports and people from vulnerable communities who can inform the design of new structures.

There are many driving forces and vested interests. A map like this one - for this issue - would be helpful.

It's time that we:
  1. Assume digital resources are here to stay
  2. Get past pilot projects and stop acting like using digital data is a one-off action
  3. Develop systems and standards for using digital resources well and safely
  4. Use what we know from adjacent sectors, and
  5. Reinvent organizational governance - possibly reinvent organizations - to manage digital data for mission.
The Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford is hosting a workshop on the role of Community Focused Ethical Review Processes as one step. We'll look at how a variety of nonprofits and corporations are developing new mechanisms to inform how they collect and use digital data from their communities. We'll report out on it and use what we learn to inform an ongoing effort to imagine - and reinvent - the institutional forms we need.

Resources - Tech for Social Good

I just finished teaching a continuing studies class at Stanford on Tech for Social Good. My colleague and co-teacher, Rob Reich and I assembled this list of free online sites to follow/ newsletters to read for the class. I thought I'd share it here as well. Enjoy! (and let me know what I'm missing)

Civic Hall and Personal Democracy Forum (and First Post newsletter)

Data & Society Institute

Equal Future – Social Justice and Technology

Knight Foundation Tech for Civic Engagement

NYU Gov Lab  - Friday newsletter

Social Good

Stanford Cyber Initiative Blog ( great weekly newsletter)

Stanford PACS

Stanford PACS Digital Civil Society Lab

Stanford Social Innovation Review – Technology


UW Tech Policy Lab

Newsletters I read/Medium sites I follow(ish)

Jack Smith - Circuit Breaker

Deb Chacra’s MetaFoundry

Melody Kramer’s Mel’s Sandbox

David Pell’s NextDraft

Brian Walsh All Things Impact

Greenpeace's MobLab Dispatch

Cathy O’Neil Mathbabe

Death and digital civil society

Last week's episode of the Raw Data podcast is mostly about death.

That said, the last 7 minutes or so include some thoughts from me about our relationships to our digital data, why we need new rules for this resource, and why it matters during life as well as after it.

Take a listen:

I show up around minute 20:00.

In addition to being fun to record, the interview process prompted me to think hard about perpetuity, immortality, the law and digital data. This is exciting. It also ties in nicely with an event on Giving in Time that Stanford PACS is co-hosting with Boston College School of Law - public event on campus on April 4, 2016. Stay tuned for more details. 

Thanks to the folks at Worldview Stanford and the Stanford Cyber Initiative

Civil society's (and philanthropy's) digital roots

Today's assigned readings on digital civil society:

Cathy O'Neill on "ethical data science." She looks at the way that society's values, our assumptions and software code influence each other. They are mutualistic. And increasingly inseparable. Those who write the algorithms, those who use them, and those whose lives are affected by them - in other words, all of us - need to understand this, question it, and use data and tools to lend new insights, not reinforce existing power imbalances.
Neil Richards on the need to be able to regulate code - software code and those who create it - in many uses and forms in the digital age and his admonition that Apple's arguments about privacy are sound, while their arguments about free speech are problematic. Applying a free speech framework to software code will make it very difficult to monitor and regulate uses of code that discriminate or cause other harms. And, increasingly, we are going to recognize that our civil rights battles are being fought on digital turf.

All three articles focus on our need to assume software code is fundamental now - to how decisions get made in society, business, and policy making. Indeed, they argue that software code under girds how we act as private citizens, associate with one another, and express ourselves. These rights, in turn, support civil society as we know it. Those of us focused on improving nonprofit or foundation action, on using digital tools for social outcomes, on building globally influential digital tools for social good need to take these lessons to heart.

Philanthropy and civil society now rests on software code - it is digital civil society.