Friday, November 6, 2009

Can "Open Source" Teach Us How to Change The Game?

This posting about PresenTense paints an interesting picture of how we might reimagine the work of synagogues, centers and agencies in the Jewish Community. They are changing the rules of engagement to fit the needs of a new age. I got it from eJewishPhilanthropy.com, but they got it from author Debra Askenase's blog, Community Organizer 2.0. She tweets as @askdebra.

Where is The Open Source Organization?
Posted by Debra Askanase November 5, 2009

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “The Non-Profit Quarterly Report.” In this post, I argued that nonprofit organizations should offer online quarterly reports, and mimic the transparency exemplified by Jonathan Schwartz’ online quarterly reports. (Jonathan is the CEO of Sun Microsystems.) John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design and social media advocate, argues that “in many cases complete clarity should be a leader’s goal rather than complete transparency.”

If you combine the concepts of organizational clarity with transparency and inclusionary decision making, then you create a new type of organization:


The Open Source Organization

One organization has stepped up to the plate to show us how it’s done: PresenTense Group.

The PresenTense Group calls itself an “open source organization.” Co-founder Ariel Beery defines an Open Source Organization as one that “enables all members to add to it, change it, modify it and improve it. Everyone benefits from the intellectual property of the organization’s members. The whole point is to make it as collaborative and idea-generated as possible.”
In mid-September, I received this email asking me to participate in a discussion of what PresenTense should be concerned about in the coming year:
There were three ways to participate in the discussion: I could have walked down the street to the Tagging Party, viewed the Party live via webcam, or clicked on the link and “tagged” the key ideas that I care about. This is an example one of the most inclusionary processes I can imagine, as well as superior utilization of technology for stakeholder inclusion and engagement.
This is just one example of how PresenTense adheres to its open source philosophy. Here are others:

All projects begin with an open call for a steering committee. For example, an idea for a magazine section about “philanthropy and the Jewish world” grew into a new steering committee. Steering committees solicit information and input from others.

Every aspect of programming is open sourced: each issue of PresenTense magazine, the PresenTense Institute, and the speakers.

The yearly workplan itself is open sourced via PresenTense networks. PresenTense uses the input to create a general plan, asks for comments, and incorporates comments into the final workplan.

PresenTense plans to offer further transparency by posting quarterly staff reports online, and asking for feedback and comments.

Technology is critical to being as inclusionary as possible when sharing and soliciting information. Whenever possible, PresenTense utilizes technology to include stakeholders. All educational seminars are “live tweeted,” and most are filmed and streamed live. According to Beery, “the main challenge is figuring out the the information technology issues related to open collaboration.”

And what arose from the Tagging Party and discussion? These ideas were fed into its blueprint for the year to come, which is available for viewing online here. You can also read an article about their commitment to being an Open Source Organization here.


Transparency + Clarity + Inclusionary Decision-Making =
The Open Source Organization

When will nonprofits become open-sourced? What is the critical technology needed for open participation? What is preventing nonprofits from moving towards and open source organization? In the spirit of this post, I’m looking forward to your comments and a discussion of this concept – and incorporating your ideas back into the blog post!


Further food for thought:
Asking Questions about Transparency
Leaders Should Strive for Clarity, Not Just Transparency

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at communityorganizer20.com. Debra is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.


image courtesy of ExtraFunky

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