I’ve been chatting a bit with Austin Hill of late. I convinced him to join the advisory committee of the Atwater Digital Literacy Project, and we seem to be interested in many of the same things, mostly revolving around applying the power of online communities to idealistic goals. His Top Secret Project-Ojibwe (based on aboriginal gift-culture) is coming out sometime later this year, which if I understand is going to be one central project, with many little side projects, such as gifter.org.

Anyway, that project, plus the thinking I’ve been doing over the last few years, and my experience with librivox lead to this little epiphany the other day. Perhaps this is happening already somewhere (and I haven’t fully thought it through or fleshed it out, but there you go)… enough chatter, here’s the idea:

BACKGROUND
1. internet and distributed communities are very good at:
a) building software
b) sorting/managing/making info available (wikipedia/librivox)
c) massive peer-review, monitoring
d) democratic ranking (technorati by links, digg by diggs, wikipedia for info etc)
e) leveraging small-chunk work to make a big project cheap and easy

2. free softare, wikipedia, creative commons, librivox are all examples of PARALLEL structures, that do not concern themselves much with what is happening in the mainstream, instead focus on building something different, in PARALLEL.

3. government is increasingly (or always has been) removed from the actual desires of people - part of this is because the process is hidden from most people. it takes real dedication, time, effort to influence policy (hence pro lobbyists = money talks, not voices)

4. what does government do?
a) raises funds (tax)
b) plans policy
c) plans programs to implement policy
d) decides on budget allocation for different programs
e) (sometimes) implements programs
f) monitors progress of projects

5. this process is hidden, inefficient, and subject to influence peddling. But effectively it makes the rules, gets the money and spends the money.

6. while groups of individuals are not able to make the rules, they can raise money, and spend it.

7. charity generally is subject to some of the same problems … and often only 30% (check #?) of money actually donated to charity goes to programmes - the 70% balance goes to administration, fund-raising.

8. much of the reason for 7 (above) is that getting funding is difficult, time consuming, inefficient, and requires massive efforts, publicity, management. loads of paper.

8. re: #4 … without replacing government, is there a parallel system that could be set up, that could do some of these tasks… with a model like #2.

9. YES! again, looking at the government’s role, the internet & open projects can be very good at:
a) raising funds
b) deciding on budget allocation
c) monitoring progress of projects.

10. Probably not so good at:
b) planning policy
c) planning programs to implement policy
e) implementing programs

(these all take more energy, time, on the ground effort … which is possible, but is not the real power of a distributed system).

PROPOSAL

An open-style charity “foundation,” that works as follows:
-Members pay $20/yr each ($50? $100?)
-This money goes into a fund
-You can donate more money, but no one is given more power because of how much money they have donated (but maybe some sort of moderation karma points, as with slashdot)
-projects “apply” for funding (eg atwater digital media), by posting project description, budget, plan
-Members can:
-ask questions
-make suggestions
-rank projects

-On an ongoing basis (maybe every 3 months?) the foundation does an open budgeting process, where members decide on allocating: short-term, and long-term funding to projects that have ranked well.
-Projects will be required to update progress and info on an ongoing basis, solicit input, etc, and further funding can be decided based on that.
-(an aside: When projects run into trouble, the Members that supported the project should be aware, and can possibly offer more concrete help)

In this way a totally parallel system (to government & usual charity foundations) could be established to fund projects with a community of givers that:
a) funds itself, through membership
b) decides on where the money goes in an open process
c) monitors & provides feedback (and possibly more concrete support) on an ongoing basis
d) is transparent & efficient

NOTE: This principle should be applied also to an new open internet media production house too, to find a way to fund film-makers, musicians, etc, based on an open co-op system…film, music projects funded based on the interest of the Open Production House Co-Op members.

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