Open as a Strategy for Philanthropy and Social Change

by SF Team, 3 March 2014

Philanthropic and charitable institutions seek to alleviate and solve social problems. It is private practice for public good. If we can magnify our spend by allowing others to replicate, we increase the public good we are able to achieve.

The more we expose the thinking, working and practices of our organisation, our ideas and our projects, the better. Exposing this information allows other organisations, project implementers, funders, policy makers, change agents, advocates and academics to learn from what we have done.

We have found that being intentional about making knowledge resources, funded and/or produced by us, freely and openly available creates a number of strategic opportunities:

You can buy one copy, give 1000′s free. If you’ve already paid for the creation of a knowledge resource then the more people use it, the more effective your spend. When knowledge resources are available in digital form via the Internet the cost of making and distributing a copy, while not quite zero is close to zero.

You can pay for one experiment, try many. Openness can make development efforts more robust, by allowing multiple experiments to take place with the resources you’ve funded. As change-makers we know that knowledge must be contextualised to be effective but we can’t afford to contextualise resources for every (imaginable and unimaginable) context. We can afford to give upfront permission to others to do so.

‘Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow’. That is how open source coders express an important lesson they’ve learned about making knowledge resources open. The larger the pool of contributors the more likely it is that someone will propose a best fit solution. Imitate the humility displayed by open source coders who believe that someone you’ve never met could use your work to make something wonderful which you never imagined.

Let others help you to put your best foot forward. When you make things open you give them your best efforts. We’ve found it to be a good way of showing exactly what our organisation is all about; anyone can see (and use) what we’ve created and funded.

You can create building blocks for more effective change. Network effects result from many people making use of the same knowledge resource. It becomes more robust, more effective and has many more uses. Further more, once something has been done, a standard set, people can focus on new challenges and build on top the principles already in place.

Open can be a short-cut to trust. Potential allies find it easier to trust you when you’ve committed to keeping knowledge resources open.

It helps to empower people. Change makers hope to enable people to help themselves. Opening knowledge resources gives permission to people to self organise, build on, customise and modify, and contribute back what they’ve learned. If that is not empowering then what is?

It has the potential to extend the life of creativity. Opening resources allows others to use and remix them, long after we and our partners have focused on new issues.

You can build knowledge pathways. An ‘all rights reserved’ attitude gives us more control, but it also adds more overhead. If we had stuck “All Rights Reserved” on our resources then others would have to get permission from us. Why would they bother? We would never know about potential partners because they would give up.

You might just strike it big. While many open knowledge resources are useful to particular communities some become global phenomena.

Posted in open