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4 posts categorized "Civic Tech"

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is the latest installment in a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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Helen Brunner, Founding Director, Media Democracy Fund

April 27, 2016

Helen Brunner, founding director of the Media Democracy Fund and an advisor to the Quixote Foundation, recently was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her efforts to protect the public's basic rights in the digital age and to secure universal access to a free and open Internet. Central to that work was funding and organizing the successful campaign to preserve net neutrality that culminated in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 decision to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or "throttling" — intentionally slowing — the flow of legal content or services and from offering "fast lanes" for a fee.

PND spoke with Brunner about the role of philanthropy in the ongoing debates over freedom of expression, data privacy, and the impact of social media on civic discourse.

Helen_brunnerPhilanthropy News Digest: The supporters of net neutrality seemed to have won a decisive victory last year, but the issue is being adjudicated again, with Internet service providers suing the FCC over the rules it issued in 2015 to protect the "open" Internet. Given that the court hearing the complaint is the same one that blocked the commission's earlier rules on net neutrality, how hopeful are you the new rules will be upheld?

Helen Brunner: I'm extremely hopeful they will be upheld, because I think this time we got it right. One of the things the commission didn't do in 2010 was to actually reclassify the Internet so that it could be regulated the way the commission regulates telephony. The Internet originally was regulated as a telecommunications service, but then the FCC decided, for a brief period, to regulate it more as an information service. But then they realized the Internet was far too important in terms of driving the economy — and innovation — to hamper it in that way, that the openness and innovation engendered by the Internet wasn't as well protected as when it was regulated as a common carrier. So they switched back, and that is, in fact, the current classification that enabled us to argue for "open" Internet, or net neutrality rules, under the rule of law properly.

So I'm hopeful the court will come back with a positive ruling. We had an extraordinarily good attorney arguing in court for the public interest petitioners, but the one thing that might come back for further review is mobile, which we care very much about because so many vulnerable populations rely on it for their Internet access. If the court feels that adequate notice wasn't given for that rule to be tasked, then the FCC will just go through the procedure again and get it right. That might be a concession the court would make in order to give more time for the big mobile companies to respond as to why they think it's a bad idea. And, of course, it would also give advocates of net neutrality another chance to respond as to why it's so important for the public interest and vulnerable populations for mobile to be neutral. There's a great deal of sympathy at the commission for that position.

PND: Social media played a major role in galvanizing public calls to preserve net neutrality and keep the Internet open. At the same time, social media seems to have had a pretty corrosive effect on civic discourse and the expectation of a right to privacy. Are those the kinds of inevitable trade-offs we all must accept as the price of the democratization of communication in the digital age? Or can something be done to slow or even reverse those trends?

HB: These are societal issues as well, whether we're talking about the coarsening of civic discourse or the aggressive tone of pundits in mainstream media. Social media is indeed amplifying all that, but I think we see polarized discourse everywhere, so it's something we need to address on a broader level. That said, there are some technical innovations that can cause social media to go off on a bad track, including something called "bots" on social media that can be used to drive discourse in a highly polarized direction, as well as techniques that enable companies to create false narratives. Now that isn't to say there aren't real dialogues and genuine arguments on social media, but there are things we can do to address the problem of bots, and there are several projects that different people are working on with the goal of at least eliminating the artificial hyping of phony debates.

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Climate Action: A Catalyst for Change

June 17, 2015

Take_action-580x386The coming months promise to be the most hopeful yet in our long fight against global climate change.

President Obama is moving forward with a plan to clean up dirty power plants. The Clean Power Plan will do more to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving climate chaos than any single step ever taken, and it will also spur tremendous innovation and create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs.

Elsewhere, Pope Francis is poised to issue a papal encyclical on our collective moral obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change. And more than a hundred and ninety world leaders will gather in Paris later this year with the goal of taking concerted action to confront the climate crisis. In doing so, they will also be creating a more equitable, just, and sustainable future for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And yet, powerful forces, most notably the fossil fuel industry and its political allies, are prepared to do everything they can to derail this progress. Theirs is a simple agenda: put fossil fuel profits first — even if it puts the rest of us at risk.

In the two-year run-up to the midterm elections last November, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million to support its agenda and its allies in Congress. They seem to be getting their money's worth. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been pushing legislation meant to block the Clean Power Plan, while offering no alternative of their own to address climate change.

We can't let them get away with it.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 30-31, 2015)

May 31, 2015

Seppblatter_lipssealedAfter a hiatus for college graduations on consecutive weekends, the weekend crew is back with its roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

In a guest post on Beth Kanter's blog, Anne Whatley, a consultant with Network Impact, shares key takeaways from a new guide that provides metrics and methods for measuring the success of your civic tech initiatives.

Climate Change

"The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It's real and it's relentless." writes Michael Grunwald in Politico. Driven by a team of nearly two hundred litigators and organizers, deep-pocketed donors like Michael Bloomberg, and "unlikely allies from the business world," the Beyond Coal campaign over the past five years "has killed a coal-fired power plant every ten days...[and] quietly transformed the U.S. electric grid and the global climate debate."

Community Improvement/Development

In remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce last week, Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson outlined six areas where Kresge is likely to make future investments in Detroit.

Diversity 

On the Markets for Good blog, Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition, argues that philanthropy can lean learn lessons from the business sector about the link between diversity and success.

Fundraising

Telling your nonprofit's story so it resonates with donors and other stakeholders is easier than you might think, Network for Good's Iris Sutcliffe writes, if you keep the five Cs in mind.

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  • " [P]rivileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance....[F]reedom comes only through persistent revolt...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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