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Note from the Curator: Ever Moving Forward

CURATOR’S NOTE: It was Tuesday, October 2, 2012 that I began this journey with Markets For Good to explore how we might better use information to improve outcomes and change lives. Today, we begin a move into a new phase and I sign off as Curator of the launch version of Markets for Good with a brief look at the ground we’ve covered and a look ahead to the next phase. It’s been a great ride!

When I received the call to be Curator for the first phase of the initiative, it struck every geek chord in me perfectly: technology, business, art, journalism. And even more appealing about exploring “the information infrastructure of the social sector” was the implicit charge to bring the topic alive to people and organizations who are out to make lives and livelihoods better.

But, let’s be real. Usually, there’s no excitement about infrastructure until it fails.

So, while I recognized the need to guide this discussion in human terms, I also recognized that being true to an infrastructure discussion would also mean diving straight into the weeds, without apology, just being sure to provide a way out.

Given the self-evidence of data as the language and currency of our time, I personally think that urgency and excitement are built in, whether we’re considering the surface or the infrastructure.  There’s a real threat of being left behind as every industry scrambles to understand, respond to and take advantage of the modern data context. Getting left behind means being left to the whims of markets in which we don’t participate as strong players. However, I believe the upside to be an immense leapfrog opportunity for industries once considered “slow.”

I was thus, excited, that Markets For Good took up the challenge of our information infrastructure and how to improve it in a situation where the “basic building blocks for exchanging data and knowledge are missing or not widely adopted.”

Gaining Perspective… For Inquiry and Action

Through the voices of many different people representing organizations of all sizes and disciplines, we gained a sharper perspective to inform our work.

Our most popular blog posts was from Laura Quinn of Idealware, who brought a balancing perspective supported by detailed examples:  Sure, everyone wants data (especially, impact data), but, “ We all need to understand that if we as a sector lean on nonprofits to provide data they simply don’t have the infrastructure to provide, what we’ll get is not better data – in fact, we may get data that’s worse.”

In a broader context, the data discussion made it even clearer that the issues we face have outrun isolated efforts and isolated funding. Of course, we knew this intellectually, since collaboration is not a new topic, but now the intensity of large-scale social problems and the flat inflows of capital into the social sector are making the new reality a felt reality.

And, there was another familiar problem that the data question only left in higher relief: inclusion of beneficiaries in the process.  We can do better. I’m glad, though, to have found solid examples of the success that we can have not only when we properly incorporate insight from the ground level, but also involve people in the design phase.  See The Children’s Museum of ManhattanKeystone Accountability, or World of Money.

Finally, the conversation on the website and in social media channels allowed us on numerous occasions to make new connections among the guest authors and to people who wrote in seeking to get in touch on a particular theme.  This is a feature we will  build upon dramatically with our new Markets For Good Community, launching next week.

In short, what we’ve intended is not static content, but a live platform for discussion that can inform action. As an ongoing reference, however, the sum of blog posts still make for a unique resource on the data landscape, if only for the diversity of insights. Try the ebook for a portable version: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector.

What’s Next?

Now that this foundation is laid, we’re moving to the next phase. The site will relaunch on June 2nd  and I will retire as Curator as we move to a new model that gives even more people more explicit roles in guiding the conversation.

It has been a joy and a lot of work, each week putting the questions to the sharpest minds in the sector. I enjoy the workouts in that kind of gym and leave it with a sincere thank you to our guest contributors and to all who left comments on the site. Markets For Good continues.

Take care,