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Note from the Curator: Variations on a Theme

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been examining the theme of Beneficiary Feedback. We’ve chosen “beneficiary” for convenience, but even finding an appropriate word (consumer? constituent? recipient?) is more than semantics, giving insight into how an organization perceives the people it proposes to help. A brief tour of the sector shows encouraging efforts, but also reveals that we have a way to go with respect to how we collect feedback, extract knowledge from it, and deploy it for impact.

Marny Sumrall showed that beneficiary feedback is, in the first place, not a technical concern as much as an organizational/cultural one: Are you and your organization ready to hear from the people you serve? John Hecklinger, of Global Giving, highlighted one of the technical difficulties that we can address right now: the interoperability of data platforms. Mauricio Lim Miller makes a a strong case for changing our mindsets: “Low-income people and communities receive a lot of attention when it comes to charitable giving and “helping those in need.” But these communities are an untapped market place for smart investments…” The comments of other contributors revealed interesting meta-themes, such as using beneficiary feedback to influence policy as demonstrated by Denise Raquel Dunning‘s use of digital media for advocacy in Liberia and Deborah Visser‘s discussion of Success Measures, a project of the congressionally-chartered intermediary NeighborWorks America.

Up next: Open Data. In the broad sense, Open Data is “the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.” To kick off this discussion, we are featuring the Aspen Institute launch of the Form 990 report, Information For Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data.

Over the next few weeks, we will take sharp aim at defining the current state of Open Data in the social sector, identifying tech trends in liberating data, and tracing the route to impact on the ground through the commentary and case studies of our guest contributors. We will hear from such voices as Tim Berners-Lee of the Worldwide Web Foundation, and former US Ambassador Curtis Chin on openness and transparency in the ngo sector.As well, we’ll highlight some new resources on the scene, dealing with our current theme, Open Data, and our general theme of upgrading the information infrastructure in the social sector, such as: Getting Started With Data-Driven Decision Making: A Workbook by NTEN (The Nonprofit Technology Network)

Future Themes

As we move forward, we’ll continue to orient content around a different theme or topic each month. Our themes for the first half of 2013 will include:

  • 01/31- 02/22 – Open Data
  • 02/25-03/15 – Technology infrastructure
  • 03/18-04/05 – Using data to evaluate nonprofit performance
  • 04/08-04/26 – Big Data
  • 04/29-05/17 – Data for Fundraising: Data and other tools to drive giving.
  • 05/20- 06/07 – Data in decision-making

Call for submissions: If you are working in any of these areas, we’d welcome your blog posts for review. Submit them or send questions our way.