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NGO collaboration movement
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For years, the small underfunded NGO (non-governmental organization) slogged away in the shadows doing good works on a wing and a prayer with little help. There weren't very many, and they were thin on the ground, scattered hither and yon, at the ends of the earth, far from the madding crowd and regular postal deliveries. So when they encountered a problem, they might say to themselves, "Gee, I bet Frank over in the back of beyond has already sorted this problem out." They might have. But even if they have, it wouldn't make that much difference for them. Frank's solution might be flawed; it might only apply in dry climates, or where a certain pest was not so prevalent, or where the culture allowed for a slight behavioral adaptation. Or, it might depend on a ready supply of high-quality sheet steel that they don't have. And even if they did take the time to attempt to research an existing solution, who might have published it? Who had time to write, edit, submit, revise, respond, all for a scholarly journal that no one can read? Academics? Well, occasionally those ideas can work, if adapted to the real world. So, whether starting from scratch, or starting from step three, there was still plenty of reinvention going on.
Today, though, the situation has changed. Sure, the NGOs are still underfunded, but they're not quite so scarce or disconnected, and the difficulties of publication are near zero. Internet publishing may not have the prestige of a scholarly journal, but there's no difficulty in getting feedback. If you're in it for glory, take the scholarly journal option. But if you're in it to have an impact, the grassroots commons approach can be the way to go.
There's good news:
- numerous NGOs are now taking a much more open approach;
- the cost of consolidating all relevant information is now modest;
- making the information freely available is easy and cheap;
- the feasibility of open collaboration has been demonstrated beyond doubt.
Unfortunately, the good news is limited:
- the philosophy is still not universally adopted;
- there is no central clearinghouse for the information;
- some information associated with solutions should legitimately be kept private, and practices and policies for what to publicize, and what to keep private have not yet been established;
- some groups may feel that they lose control or may not receive credit for their work if solutions are shared openly;
- the nature of the content in the sustainability space is a little tricky;
- the relatively small size of the sustainability / capacity building NGO community means that a larger percentage of community members need to sign up. While contributions from 0.1% of the user community is plenty for Wikipedia, the sustainability community may need 1% or more to sign up.
- At Wikipedia, established, easily referenced facts are welcome; new research is not. In sustainability-land, the reverse is largely true. Hosting and publishing original works has challenges. Legitimately, original authors worry that their work may be modified without their knowledge. And yet, the best established example of open collaboration allows anonymous edits--spam occurs but is mitigated by constant vigilance.
Nevertheless, the benefits are compelling, and momentum in this area is more a question of "when" than "if." Some obvious benefits are:
- implementing solutions is less costly;
- identifying "best practices" is simpler;
- regional adjustments can be readily appended to existing solutions from another area;
- funding of best-practice based approaches is quicker because of reduced uncertainty (scale);
- common pitfalls are more well-known and avoidable (efficacy);
- resources are invested where they can have the most impact-- not in reinventing the wheel (efficiency);
- NGOs can build upon solutions that they might otherwise have been completely unaware of (enablement);
- generally, increased success will attract more aid.
What needs to be done:
- establish one, or a small number of "clearinghouses" for consolidating information;
- develop policies to help NGOs determine what is appropriate for publication and what is not;
- provide education about copyright/copyleft tools that can support appropriate attribution of sources;
- develop techniques to support secure publishing of original works;
- establish a "brand" or "imprint" so that NGOs can advertise their support for the approach--
- a set of agreed values and philosophies with a logo and a name may be sufficient;
- encourage funders to preferentially support NGO's that endorse the open approach (like BMGF already do)--
- publicize the idea in powerful but inclusive way;
- identify as many supportive organizations as practical and get their inputs for defining the concepts that members will agree to.
Potential early target organizations
- Village Earth
- Practical Action / ITDG
- International Rivers Network
- OpenArchitectureNetwork / Architecture for Humanity
- Wikipedia? Wikia?
- Natural Capital
- Honeybee Network
- Catalytic Communities
- ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization)
Potential domain names
Most of the names below should be available. Ideally, the best name would be very "clean", and we could get both ".org" and ".com" domains (and possibly .net) to keep the cleanness of the name.
- solvingoutloud.org (solviNGOutloud.org)
- solvingopenly.org (SolviNGOpenly.org)
- workingopenly.org (WorkiNGOpenly.org)
- buildingopenly.org (BuildiNGOpenly.org)
The last few have the "clever" NGO opportunity. My bias is for the last, related to "building capacity". A name which is readily matched to a visual image is desirable. A building, under construction (a few bricks) with an open door seems straightforward.