Innovation at the Speed of Change: Exploring Knight’s Tech Innovation Portfolio

SAVE THE DATE: April 13, 1:30-3:00 p.m. EST.  Like this blog series?  Attend our Inside Innovation Funding event in person in San Francisco, or virtually via livestream in San Francisco.

It’s become a truism to say that the world is changing, and that the pace and scale of change is ever accelerating. “It’s not just technology that’s moving at an exponential pace, but change itself;” write Joi Ito and Jeff Howe in Whiplash.

Even the world of grantmaking, often criticized for its slow pace, is adapting to these rhythms. For example, last month, we at Knight Foundation helped launch a fund on ethics and artificial intelligence. The fund itself came together quickly over the course of a few weeks, and we plan to announce our first grants in the coming weeks, but more on that later. As I talk to people involved with the creation of the tools, a single note keeps coming up: the technology is developing faster than we had anticipated even a year ago.

The recent news of Libratus, an artificial intelligence created at Carnegie Mellon that defeated four champion humans in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, demonstrated that “the best AI’s ability to do strategic reasoning with imperfect information has now surpassed that of the best humans,” said Libratus’s co-creator Tuomas Sandholm. This feat of reasoning, coming on the heels of Google Deep Mind’s victory over the world’s preeminent Go player last year, came much earlier than most in the field had anticipated.

These developments are happening at a rate that outpaces our ability to process them, and yet it’s becoming the new normal. Millions of us are now living with smart personal assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home in our living rooms and Internet-connected televisions and thermostats. As a society, we’re still not sure just how to handle these devices, as the debate over how to use audio evidence collected by Amazon Echo during a 2015 murder and the hacking of unsecure home appliances to take down much of the Internet last fall demonstrated.

Our inability to appreciate the depth of the change even as we experience it reminds me of how the French military struggled to adjust to modern warfare at the outset of World War I. As described by Barbara W. Tuchman in her classic The Guns of August, French generals prepared for German tanks and aerial bombings by sharpening their swords and donning their traditional brightly colored uniforms adorned with plumage. Even after the battle was joined, and a decade after the emergence of modern warfare in the Russo-Japanese War, the French leaders stuck to their old tactics. Tuchman wrote, “The impetus of existing plans is always stronger than the impulse to change.”

Part of our mission at Knight Foundation is to ensure that the civic institutions upon which our democracy depends—libraries, museums, news organizations, cities—do not follow in the footsteps of those 1914 French commanders. How do new and old civic enterprises sustain themselves as traditional fundraising approaches like mass mailings hold less appeal for new donors? How do organizations adjust their cultures to attract and retain talent and audiences who bring with them different expectations and needs from their predecessors?

Given this new world of accelerating technological advancement, and the expectation that all of our work at Knight will be impacted by future advancements, our grantmaking will focus on the ways in which digital technologies could impact our fields. Knight has always been interested in technology’s potential for strengthening the ways in which Americans learn about and participate in community. In the ’80s, the Knight brothers’ company, Knight Ridder, invested in and experimented with early interactive tools such as Viewtron and Dialog Information Services. A decade ago, we built on this interest by creating the Knight News Challenge in an attempt to better understand the potential of the Internet for transforming journalism. This year, we’re focused on two topics:

  • We are co-founders of a fund on the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence. AI has shifted from a future prospect to a present reality, and has the potential to impact every aspect of society. That’s why we’ve helped to craft the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund to take an applied, multidisciplinary approach to AI, exploring its potential benefits and ill effects.
  • As part of the NetGain Partnership, a collaboration between five foundations to explore public interest issues around new technologies, we are exploring how connected devices (the Internet of Things) might impact cities. In the coming months, we’ll be making some grants designed to strengthen cities through technology.

The change we have been living through is only going to increase—adjusting our work incrementally isn’t going to cut it. To thrive, we as individuals and institutions need to develop our comfort with insecurity, with failing, with risk, and be ready to pursue routes we may not anticipate.

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. To view more posts in this series click here

About the author(s)

VP for Technology Innovation
Knight Foundation

Soulful Innovation: Increasing Diverse Tech Entrepreneurship

SAVE THE DATE: April 13th, 1:30-3:00 ET. Like this blog series? Attend our Look Inside Innovation Funding event in-person or via livestream in SF. More details and registration coming in March.

Frankly, I get tired of talking about innovation. Sometimes discussions about innovation come across as Sisyphean pursuits, where style is greater than substance, and preening is greater than practice. I’m looking for conversations about innovation with soul. With gravitas. With a conscience. Ones that advance uplifting solutions that make this Earth more habitable or help more people meet their hierarchy of needs (or as of late, that strengthen the fast-unraveling social contract necessary for humankind to co-exist).

Three years ago at the behest of our benefactors, the then-Kapor Foundation began to explore how to move away from our traditional responsive grantmaking. The benefactors had begun to invest in seed-staged tech startups that aim to address and mitigate equality gaps. They witnessed the power of designing solutions for markets—"communities"—that operate at scale. They saw how different and disruptive ways of approaching problem solving can create a culture shift. They came to us, the foundation staff, and requested that we start thinking about this intersection of tech-for-good and our grantmaking work.

In the ensuing years, we experimented with different approaches, borrowing from our new knowledge of Lean Startup principles. Through a clunky, iterative learning process—which in hindsight I would like to label as our R&D—we decided to lead the way by doing our part to expand access to the tech sector and innovation economy.

Van Jones has shared that his dear friend Prince said we need to create a "Black Zuckerberg." While I take issue with that particular mold (pattern recognition and Ivy league degree-as-entry-barrier are part of tech's diversity problem), I get The Purple One's point, echoed by Mitch Kapor: "Genius is evenly distributed across zip codes, but opportunity is not." Working with a variety of partners in this ecosystem, we seek to plug leaks in the tech talent pipeline while sharpening the skills and talents that reside in all of our diverse communities.

To this point, I’ve judged a number of youth hackathons and design sessions, mostly attended by low-income, “low opportunity,” or similarly-labeled young people. These youth are participating in these activities as an initial exposure to tech skill-building and careers, and I am consistently impressed by how these young teams create apps that address information and resource gaps: student loan payment platforms; mentoring matching; anonymous bully identification; and safe passage routing among them.  

Our premise is that as the high-tech industry becomes more inclusive, companies and teams will become better at problem solving, will create better products and solutions that serve a wider market, and will utilize tech-driven platforms to solve pressing problems that are informed by their lived experiences. Our backup? Heavy hitters like McKinsey, Catalyst, Kellogg and Stanford have found this to be true.

How are we benefiting from the terrific brainpower, scrappiness, and necessity—as the mother of invention—that resides in nonprofit leaders, in low-income communities, with people who are "making a way out of no way" as my church folks used to say?  Are we overlooking the resourcefulness that resides in the 'hood, favela, sticks, bush?

You've heard these questions before, I'm sure. So what are we doing about it?

We're catalyzing and strengthening tech innovation, in line with the theme of this blog, by introducing and preparing more people to lead its creation. Tech shouldn't be an insular economy; now more than ever, we need thinkers, tinkerers, designers, and dreamers who are motivated by the pursuit of a significantly positive impact rather than a sinfully profitable buyout.

In 2017, the Kapor Center—including our sibling organizations, Kapor Capital and Level Playing Field Institute—are committed to increasing diverse tech entrepreneurship, access to capital, access to tech and STEM education, and building strong community institutions to promote a more diverse tech ecosystem in the Bay Area, with a special focus on Oakland, our home.

We’re employing a range of old tools for new outcomes—convening key partners to coordinate around systems-level goals (kind of collective impact-ish), providing financial support to select roundtables to support this coordination work, and utilizing the visibility of our benefactors and brand to raise awareness about the issues at hand and to channel resources to efforts aligned with our work, helping to create a larger, stronger network of collaborators. And we’re using our brand-spankin’ new building on Oakland’s Broadway corridor to host events that welcome, validate, leverage, and enrich diverse talent—namely people of color and women—as they pursue their entrepreneurship, technical, and impact goals. We see this work as a powerful overlay between the ubiquity of tech, the possibility of entrepreneurship, the integrity of fairness, and the necessity of economic mobility and empowerment for a just society.

But back to the issue at hand—innovation. I think that soulful, meaningful, conscientious innovation is rooted in a nagging question: “What can we do to be more effective?” It’s organic; a quest to find the bull’s eye of effectiveness en route to real impact. It requires experimentation, evolution, and even a bit of envy—as a competitive motivator to be top of class, of course. And while so many of these variables are present in innovation economy practitioners, I’d like to see them more firmly rooted in addressing real world issues informed by and for real people.

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. To view more posts in this series click here

About the author(s)

Chief of Community Engagement
Kapor Center for Social Impact

Tips from the Tech Sector on How Philanthropy Can Scale Impact

Three years ago, my co-founder Kevin Barenblat asked me why there weren’t more Khan Academies and Wikipedias. He wanted to know why more nonprofits weren’t building software to create social change at scale. At the time, my answer was that the nonprofit startup universe didn’t look anything like the tech startup landscape. Tech startups have founder meetups, online training portals, and investors hankering to go all in on the next big tech solution. Meanwhile, tech nonprofits (organizations with software or hardware at the core of their impact model) were weirdos, stuck at the juncture of the tech and nonprofit worlds. Only a few existed and they operated with little support from either sector.

Kevin and I thought this was a missed opportunity. In the last ten years, the cost of launching a tech startup dropped from millions to thousands of dollars. With cloud-computing, digital networks, and the ubiquity of mobile, the marginal cost for return on impact decreased drastically, making the business case for tech nonprofits very compelling.

Determined to empower more nonprofits to leverage tech for social impact, Kevin and I took some cues from the tech playbook and launched Fast Forward. Our accelerator program equips tech nonprofits with seed stage funding, training, mentorship, and connections to the entrepreneur and investor community. While we take a sector agnostic approach to our portfolio, we look for organizations building tech solutions for social issues like education, healthcare, human rights, and the environment. We are able to invest in these early stage tech nonprofits thanks to philanthropic funding from philanthropists familiar with tech models like Google.org, BlackRock, Omidyar Network, and AT&T. Our approach and funding model have been strongly influenced by the tech sector in four key ways:

1. Accelerator Programs

Philanthropists have used leadership programs to train emergent social entrepreneurs for decades. Technologists apply a similar model in a program called an accelerator or incubator. We combined the best of both into the Fast Forward program. We call the Fast Forward program an accelerator because it occurs over an accelerated period of time – 13 weeks. Equal parts leadership development and startup boot camp, our curriculum is built around defining and measuring impact, board development, product design, and hiring technical talent. Our cadre of over 100 mentors for our cohort come from both worlds – nonprofit leaders and philanthropists as well as engineers and leading startup founders.

2. General Support Funding

Each tech nonprofit in our cohort is granted $25,000 in unrestricted funding. We’ve found that one of the biggest hindrances to innovation in the nonprofit sector is restricted funding. Could you ever imagine a VC telling a startup they will fund a new version of the app, but not the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and tech team required to build it? No. Sadly, that’s often the case in philanthropy. Too often, the technology for a nonprofit is thought of in terms of software licenses rather than as a staffed role integral to achieving impact. For a nonprofit to build programs and products that can impact millions, they need the same general support money considered the norm in the for-profit sector. This type of funding enables a nonprofit to hire the required tech team. As tech development becomes an essential component of impact, nonprofits need CTOs to drive this work. Foundations need to double down on general support if we want to see innovation at scale.

3. Growth Funding

Early stage funding is not a short-term partnership in venture capital. VCs typically invest a small amount in the beginning and then increase their investment when a product hits a growth inflection point. Philanthropists, however, tend to fund in terms of projects or annual timeline versus a long-term trajectory. As a result, nonprofits struggle between launch and the point at which they are ripe for mezzanine capital, larger gifts granted by foundations once a nonprofit hits an impact inflection point. The design phase is ongoing, and product launch is just the start of that journey. Donors should recognize philanthropy as the ultimate risk capital and make bets on people and teams building products with the potential to scale.

4. Timing

Philanthropy is slow paced. Tech development and product iterations progress quickly. If it takes six or more months to process a grant, the technology will have advanced beyond the proposal. At Fast Forward, follow-on funding is released as soon as the books are closed on a donation. We don’t wait, because tech doesn’t wait.

So has implementing tech methodologies helped Fast Forward and our cohorts achieve impact? Absolutely. Take our alumnus CareerVillage, a platform that crowdsources career advice from professionals for students in low-income areas. Since the Fast Forward accelerator in 2015, CareerVillage has scaled from reaching 500,000 students to over 1.5 million.

In three years, Fast Forward has accelerated 23 tech nonprofits. These organizations have impacted over 18.4 million lives and raised over $26 million in follow-on funding.

Technology has the power to achieve unprecedented impact in the social sector. Philanthropists have a lot to learn from the tech world.

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. To view more posts in this series click here

About the author(s)

Co-Founder and Executive Director
Fast Forward

Fueling Innovation Through Competition

Innovation is a word used so frequently that perhaps it has become almost trivial. Globally, we use innovation to describe many things, from new technologies, to new processes, to disruptive ideas, but the action of innovation itself becomes harder to define, and harder still to execute. Countless ideas are abandoned because entrepreneurs could not find the proper funding or mentorship to build their idea from a mere thought to a reality.

Many entrepreneurs and startups will turn to venture capitalists (VCs) to try to gain funding and support, but it is a challenge in and of itself to get a meeting with a VC, much less secure VC money. This is where foundations and philanthropies, which might be more poised to take risks, can help fill the gap by providing grants to new social impact ideas and start-ups. At the Vodafone Americas Foundation – whether through grants or competition – our goal is to support organizations that use wireless technology to impact change, spark innovation, improve lives, transform the global development sector, or empower women and girls.

One avenue we take to support organizations – whether a nonprofit, university project, or start-up – is to provide traditional grants earmarked to help develop their product or service to drive social good. However, traditional grants are not the only model for supporting innovation; companies and foundations big and small are developing competition programs to help good ideas develop and move forward. A competition with specific criteria and parameters becomes a refined filter to find driven and passionate individuals - not an arbitrary search. Both commercial and philanthropic organizations host competitions to find the perfect match for unique, effective, innovative, and sustainable solutions to rise to the surface.

Specifically, for us, since Vodafone is a telecommunications service provider, we focus on the ability of mobile technologies to drive innovation for those in need. Because mobile technology is ubiquitous, with over 7 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, it is one of the most effective tools for social change. Innovative mobile solutions have already started to change economies through mobile money, mobile micro-loans, delivery of healthcare through mHealth, education through mobile platforms, and so much more.

Each year we look for new ideas that leverage mobile for a better world through our Wireless Innovation Project, (WIP) a competition.  The competition is designed to promote innovation and increase the implementation of wireless-related technology. The competition recently opened its ninth annual call for submissions. In March 2017, we will select the winners, with first place receiving $300,000; second place $200,000; and third place $100,000. The winners can receive both the funding and potential mentoring they need while we can invest in the causes and services that are important and meaningful to our mission.

We are excited each year for the WIP competition because it provides unique opportunities for entrepreneurs and the Foundation alike. For example:

  • We get to see their passion firsthand. Each year, we ask the finalists to pitch their project in person at our California offices. This provides us the opportunity to meet new entrepreneurs (and for them to meet one another) to witness their drive and passion for the project. Although there are costs for the Foundation to hold in-person competitions and get everyone under one roof, we feel strongly about getting to know the person behind the innovation; we need to know that they are as committed as we are to ensure a good partnership.
  • Competition brings out the best. In a competition format, naturally there are winners. Driven by a prize and inspired by their peer competitors, all participants are compelled to perform at their very best. A competition sometimes forces people to think outside of the box and go beyond their original concept to differentiate themselves throughout the competition. Within just the competition period itself, entrepreneurs and their ideas may undergo multiple evolutions to arrive at a distilled, quality product or service. The competition format also allows participants to become inspired by one another’s work in a way that is not often possible in traditional grantmaking in which grantees blindly compete against one another.
  • Focus more on potential than current status. What happens when you have a great idea and not much to show for it yet because it’s simply a little early? While it may not be true for all competition models, our Wireless Innovation Project makes it easier for entrepreneurs to highlight the potential of a product or idea and win the competition based on the future impact it can drive versus actual business results seen to date. This allows a greater range of companies, especially start-ups, to gain funding where they may not have been able to otherwise. Our prize money might be just what they need and just at the right time to propel them to where they need to go, like completing a prototype or testing a market.
  • Gather multiple ideas at once. Our annual competition seeks innovations in more than one issue area so it allows us to tap into a diverse source of information and ideas, all at the same time, as well as support these ideas in a bigger way. While we work with different organizations throughout the year for traditional grants, the WIP competition opens up the possibility for us to witness an individual solution or organization to grow and evolve. In one year, we may have a winner that has a solution for the environment and another for financial inclusion. It is truly an engaging experience to learn about, guide, and finally support so many novel and potentially valuable ideas.  The WIP competition allows us to generate new connections that we previously may not have made through the traditional grant-giving route. We can break out of our own network to create larger, more integrated networks with entrepreneurs and startups across multiple industries as we make connections with almost all the applicants – not just the winners. We hope that with these partnerships that we create and foster, we continue to make sustainable and dynamic discoveries for solutions that impact great change.

There are many competition models across the industry, but our model has already identified outstanding innovations that have gone on to win more accolades and additional funding, which has allowed them to reach market and even expand their solutions to create greater impacts. Two of the many notable examples are Mobile ODT, which uses a phone camera for colposcopies, and Nexleaf, which makes a vaccine monitoring platform. Each has been able to turn their ideas into scalable solutions that are revolutionizing healthcare capabilities in emerging markets.

Finding what was never imagined possible is why so many foundations, companies, and even governments take advantage of the competition model. The model allows brilliant ideas to come forward and help solve specific, important issues in our world today.

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. To view more posts in this series click here

About the author(s)

Director
Vodafone Americas Foundation

A Leap of Faith for Serious Change

Five years ago the term ‘stranded assets’ was unknown; now it is central to financial markets thinking about the value of fossil fuel holdings. This is due to the work of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, funded in its early stages by grants from a handful of American and British foundations, including a £38,000 grant (later extended) from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT). JRCT is proud to have played a role in bringing a radical and visionary idea to mainstream global economic thinking in just five years.

We received a request for support for a new project, the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) in 2010. The initiative’s aim was ‘to make the financial markets accountable for the carbon reserves that are listed on them, and hold investors accountable for the carbon intensity of their investment portfolios’. Climate scientists calculated that global warming is likely to exceed 2°C by 2050 if 1,000 Gt of carbon dioxide is released globally between 2000 and 2050. By 2010, we had already used up a third of this allowance, and the fossil fuel reserves easily exceeded the balance. In order to prevent continuing climate damage, CTI said that between 60% and 80% of these reserves would need to stay in the ground. Fossil fuel companies were in effect greatly overvalued if you took account of these ‘stranded assets’. CTI wanted the value of fossil fuel companies to fall to reflect their true value, which would lead investors toward more sustainable forms of energy. CTI planned to identify the cumulative fossil fuel reserves held by companies listed on stock exchanges to increase public knowledge about the stranded assets in companies and the danger of extracting more fuel.

Now, it is as clear as day, but at the time I struggled to understand how this project could fit with JRCT’s interest in promoting social justice. Most people wouldn’t think of financial markets as a typical social justice issue. However, JRCT has been increasingly drawn to look at the imbalances within financial and corporate systems that add to global inequality and hit the poorest people hardest. Financial markets can be detrimental to poor communities, whether in relation to income distribution or the impact of climate change. For too long the philanthropic community has ignored the power of the corporate and financial sectors. Could this be because foundations are too close to these sectors and rely on them for generating their own income? In my role as trust secretary at JRCT, I felt it was important for foundations working through a social justice lens to recognize the need for social change at multiple levels, especially with those who control the economy.

Despite our struggles to understand the technical complexities of the CTI project proposal, JRCT Trustees were all intrigued by the CTI team’s innovative thinking. We also valued the expertise of their small yet competent team, which included an expert on financial markets, a sustainability aficionado, and a climate change expert. In my experience, taking calculated risks is part of the DNA of JRCT. The Trust acknowledges that it doesn’t have the answers to all the pressing issues of the day and tries to avoid the arrogance that can easily creep into organizations that have resources and thus power. In the case of CTI, the Trust knew the track record of the people involved, was convinced by the vision of CTI, and found its analysis compelling, if hard to grasp. The Trust saw its role as that of undertaking due diligence, making an assessment, and then empowering those involved to get on with the task without unnecessary interference.

Within a year, CTI had come up with its first ground-breaking report, “Unburnable Carbon: Are the financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?” This report immediately prompted a new global debate on the future of energy and investment and was picked up for stories by Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the Guardian, and other major media sources. Introducing a completely new idea and seeing it transform the thinking of the financial markets in five years is a remarkable achievement. This success was an important reminder to us as funders that taking risks, backing visionary ideas, and relinquishing control to the experts can be a great way to invest in projects that aren’t normally viewed as part of the philanthropy or social justice agenda. Social justice issues are often associated with bottom-up change, but philanthropy with a social justice lens can also play a transformational role with major global issues like climate change and financial systems.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace and GrantCraft, a service of Foundation Center, are releasing a series of 11 blog posts authored by grantmakers around the world. The posts are derived from the recently published Effective Philanthropy: Another Take, a collection of stories describing a philanthropic intervention against some form of injustice (socioeconomic and/or political) at a local, national or global scale. Each story addresses key questions grantmakers wrestle with in order to effect systemic social change, and the blog posts in this series highlight certain details that feed into the bigger story. Through this series, the partners hope to raise awareness of some of the most effective examples from philanthropy in tackling injustice and achieving lasting structural change. By sharing knowledge in philanthropy and being willing to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, we can improve our practice together.

This is the second to last post in this series, which has rolled out over the past three months; it focuses on the impact of supporting grassroots organizations, which have the connections, skills, and knowledge necessary to make real change.

 

About the author(s)

Former trust secretary
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Blueprint 2017 Worksheet 3: Digital Data and Strategic Planning

Digital Data and Strategic Planning—Help your organization consider whether you have the digital data you need to achieve your mission and integrate your digital resources into your overall strategic planning.

Worksheets: Data, Governance, and Your Organization

Many of the ideas in this Blueprint have been tested and refined in conversations and workshops around the world over the last few years. To help you carry the ideas into your organization, this next section includes three worksheets that you can use with your colleagues, boards of directors, or other groups. 

Each worksheet is intended to stand alone, but they also build on each other. They focus on the use and governance of digital data in your organization. You can find additional tools to address these issues at digitalIMPACT.io. Anyone can use these worksheets, from new staff to senior board members. You will be the best judge of how to use them at your organization. We’ve offered up directions on each sheet, but you should decide whether to use them independently or together, as part of a self-directed process or integrated into other planning efforts, led by you or with consultant help. Please use, modify, and improve these worksheets as you see fit. We welcome you to pay it forward by sharing your process and the worksheets you modify at digitalIMPACT.io

General Worksheet Instructions:

● Communicate with your colleagues what you’re doing and why. 

● Make it as easy as possible for your colleagues to participate. 

Try short and simple asks. Spread out the tasks from the worksheets to fit the schedule of your organization. 
Printed sheets may work best in some cases. For others an online spreadsheet that people can collaborate on might work better. Experiment!

● If you are engaged in strategic planning with a consultant or advisory group, fold the questions from these worksheets into that process. 

● Share what you learn and how you did it on digitalIMPACT.io.

About the author(s)

Blueprint 2017 Worksheet 1: Digital Data Inventory

Digital data inventory—Identify, track, and manage the digital data your organization has and needs.

Worksheets: Data, Governance, and Your Organization

Many of the ideas in this Blueprint have been tested and refined in conversations and workshops around the world over the last few years. To help you carry the ideas into your organization, this next section includes three worksheets that you can use with your colleagues, boards of directors, or other groups. 

Each worksheet is intended to stand alone, but they also build on each other. They focus on the use and governance of digital data in your organization. You can find additional tools to address these issues at digitalIMPACT.io. Anyone can use these worksheets, from new staff to senior board members. You will be the best judge of how to use them at your organization. We’ve offered up directions on each sheet, but you should decide whether to use them independently or together, as part of a self-directed process or integrated into other planning efforts, led by you or with consultant help. Please use, modify, and improve these worksheets as you see fit. We welcome you to pay it forward by sharing your process and the worksheets you modify at digitalIMPACT.io

General Worksheet Instructions

● Communicate with your colleagues what you’re doing and why.

● Make it as easy as possible for your colleagues to participate.

  1.  Try short and simple asks. Spread out the tasks from the worksheets to fit the schedule of your organization.
  2. Printed sheets may work best in some cases. For others an online spreadsheet that people can collaborate on might work better. Experiment!

● If you are engaged in strategic planning with a consultant or advisory group, fold the questions from these worksheets into that process.

● Share what you learn and how you did it on digitalIMPACT.io.

Categories

About the author(s)

Blueprint 2017 Worksheet 2: Institutional Data Capacity

Institutional Data Capacity—Identify the skills and expertise you have/need to use and govern digital data safely, ethically, and effectively.

Worksheets: Data, Governance, and Your Organization

Many of the ideas in this Blueprint have been tested and refined in conversations and workshops around the world over the last few years. To help you carry the ideas into your organization, this next section includes three worksheets that you can use with your colleagues, boards of directors, or other groups. 

Each worksheet is intended to stand alone, but they also build on each other. They focus on the use and governance of digital data in your organization. You can find additional tools to address these issues at digitalIMPACT.io. Anyone can use these worksheets, from new staff to senior board members. You will be the best judge of how to use them at your organization. We’ve offered up directions on each sheet, but you should decide whether to use them independently or together, as part of a self-directed process or integrated into other planning efforts, led by you or with consultant help. Please use, modify, and improve these worksheets as you see fit. We welcome you to pay it forward by sharing your process and the worksheets you modify at digitalIMPACT.io. 

General Worksheet Instructions

● Communicate with your colleagues what you’re doing and why.

● Make it as easy as possible for your colleagues to participate.

  1. Try short and simple asks. Spread out the tasks from the worksheets to fit the schedule of your organization.
  2. Printed sheets may work best in some cases.

● For others an online spreadsheet that people can collaborate on might work better. Experiment!

● If you are engaged in strategic planning with a consultant or advisory group, fold the questions from these worksheets into that process.

● Share what you learn and how you did it on digitalIMPACT.io.

Categories

About the author(s)

Buzzword Watch 2017

Ah, the buzzword watch. What phrases and ideas will seep into our work lives in the coming year, corrupting our vocabulary and making jargon-haters cringe? All my usual caveats apply. Being a buzzword doesn’t make something good or bad or denote a fleeting or a lasting idea; they are just buzzwords (or are they)?

ECOSYSTEM

Foundations and nonprofits used to talk about issue areas, sectors, domains, or fields of interest. Now they talk about ecosystems. The intent is to capture the interdependent network of enterprises, laws, infrastructure, people, and tools that influence and shape each other. Think of the “mobile ecosystem” as the complete set of apps, devices, telecommunications infrastructure companies, software code, and legal requirements that determine how our cellular phones work.

RANSOMWARE

Software that encrypts all the files on a computer system, allowing the “data kidnapper” to hold it hostage until a ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks became almost common in 2016, and many of the victims were not-for-profit hospital systems and community clinics.

REFUGEE TECH

The number of refugees worldwide is at an all-time high. People fleeing war, repression, and the effects of global warming number in the tens of millions. Many of them are digitally dependent, with their mobile phones serving as metaphorical and literal lifelines. Refugee tech includes two broad categories of innovation: digital tools that won’t make people any more vulnerable to racism, xenophobia, or government oppression; and digital tools for wayfinding, job creation, skill building, and other key necessities for building a new life in a new place.

OVERTIME

The United States government changed its rules on overtime work in 2016. Nonprofit organizations— operating on lean budgets and often at the mercy of government contracting rules—once again found themselves squeezed between values (a decent living) and reality (no funds). Labor markets, shaped by demographic shifts, regulatory changes, on-demand work, and automated contracting, are changing rapidly. Civil society continues to be buffeted from all sides by fundamental changes in the ways we work.

X-IN-THE-LOOP

The rhetorical battle between autonomous machines and autonomous people meets at the point where system designers discuss putting “humans (or society)-in-the-loop.” It’s technical slang for requiring that at some point in a computational process—such as in self-driving cars, predictive algorithms, or even mobile phone–based mapping programs—a person (or society) takes charge. Some systems have many such points. And as computational processes and humans interact ever more frequently in ever more “real world” ways, the need to build societal norms into the loop—group values and group defaults— becomes ever greater. Think of it this way: We’ve put plenty of computational processes (“the loop”) into our daily lives, and this buzzword reminds us it’s well-nigh time to start designing our daily lives back into those processes.

HYBRID DONORS

Giving to charity isn’t the only way to use your private financial resources to influence public change. Increasingly individuals are “giving to politics,” especially in the U.S. As far as I can tell, David Callanan at Inside Philanthropy coined the term “hybrid donors” to name those who deliberately, and with some strategy in mind, give to both. Sometimes this hybridization is institutionalized, such as with the creation of large-scale LLCs that can make political contributions, charitable gifts, and impact investments. Sometimes it describes individual donors, who use the rules of both political giving and charitable giving to achieve their visions of public good.

DATA TRUSTS

How do you give away digital data? Data trusts are one solution, a new form of organization that focuses on governing the agreements between data providers and data users. There are examples built around aggregated public data being managed for use by program evaluators (Justice Data Lab at New Philanthropy Capital). ArtStor or JSTOR are examples of the digital management of copyrighted works. LearnSphere, a repository of student data and research methods at Carnegie Mellon, is an example focused on serving researchers. Look for both more examples and more refining of the rules in the year(s) to come.

PAY FOR PRIVACY

More and more software in more and more aspects of our lives means ever more ways to collect data on our individual behavior, store it somewhere, and seek ways to monetize it. As long as business models depend on the monetization of large quantities of individual data, there will be incentive for software to default to privacy invading. One option, for those with money, is to pay for a software version that spies less. This is already common: just think of every app that offers a free version with advertisements or a paid version without. The more pervasive this kind of software is, the more our “privacy inequality” will come to mirror income inequality.

DIRECT DONATIONS

In 2015, the online crowdfunding platform GoFundMe moved more than one billion U.S. dollars. Most of the money moves directly from donors to recipients, with little involvement in between by nonprofits. One large-scale example of this came after the mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida nightclub in June of 2016. Within weeks of the horrible event, more than $7 million had been raised and routed directly to families and individuals.44 Nonprofit organizations that have typically managed such campaigns or provided intermediary relief services need to better understand this phenomenon, its motivations, and its implications. The rest of us need to think about what types of transparency and fraud abatement measures we should expect of these crowdfunding platforms.

ALGORITHMIC BIAS

As they “train” software to learn patterns of behavior, scientists and designers often turn to existing data sets as raw material. If the existing data set is biased, the computer will learn— and likely reinforce at ever greater speed and scale—the original biases. Examples have been found in social media facial recognition software that don’t register black skin, hiring sites that discriminate against female-sounding names, and criminal justice algorithms trained on racially biased historical data about incarcerated populations. We don’t need software to help us discriminate faster and more broadly, yet that seems to be a lot of what we’re getting. Countering this trend requires a diversity of data and system designers and a refusal to accept “black box” decision making.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017.

Civil Society’s Responsibility to Democracy’s Digital Infrastracture

Today, both our systems of public governance and the processes of civil society are digitally dependent. We use text messages to mobilize, social media to share the news, phone cameras to document abuse, and email, websites, online forums, and internet portals for our daily business of citizenship. Our dependence on them means that these digital systems are now part of the infrastructure of democracy, both directly when government agencies use them for governing and indirectly when we use them in civil society. Just as voting is a critical part of democracy, so are the digital systems that now undergird our campaigns, our election information exchange, the machines we use to collect and count our votes, and the systems by which we announce the results. These constitute the digital infrastructure for democracy.

Similarly, the websites, apps, internet tools, databases, algorithms, and communications tools used by nongovernmental organizations, civic associations, political protestors, community organizations, and, yes, philanthropy, form the core digital infrastructure for today’s civil society. In more ways than we can probably count, our daily practices of democracy are now dependent on digital data, infrastructure, and tools. 

Since our democracy depends on them, these technological systems should be subject to some degree of scrutiny when they are being used as part of the decision-making apparatus of democratic institutions.

Institutional practices, such as open meetings, sunshine laws, media coverage, and reporting requirements, are the familiar ways that we “see into” the decision-making processes of our governments. But policymakers are increasingly dependent on data sets and algorithmic analysis—systems that are much more difficult to peer into than a meeting room. For one thing, scrutinizing computational systems requires the ability to read and write software code. Second, much of the code that’s driving these systems is proprietary, and only the companies that sell the tools can see the component pieces of the analytics process. Third, and perhaps of greatest concern, it’s increasingly the case that even those who program the systems, write the code, and monitor the machines as they learn can’t actually explain what’s going on.

In the E.U., the growing use of algorithms for decision making has led to the passage of laws protecting people’s “rights to explainability.” Citizens have a right to an explanation of decisions that affect them. If the policies are informed by digital data and algorithms, then the data used and the computational processes need to be explainable. Other countries and regions lack similar mechanisms for citizens to interrogate the systems that make decisions on or about them—either by governments or by corporations.

The volume of data and calculations and the number of dependent variables in many algorithmic systems are too great and too complex to be succinctly explained. The question we face as democracies is whether such systems—even if they promise greater accuracy—should be tolerated if they can’t be scrutinized.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017.