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Working Wikily | Social Media | Digital & Social Media

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WORKING WIKILY How Networks Are Changing Social Change We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action…. Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done…. These changes will transform the world everywhere groups of people come together to accomplish something, which is to say everywhere. – Clay
   ________________________________________________  ByGabriel Kasper and Diana ScearceMonitor Institute and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. WORKING WIKILY How Networks AreChanging Social Change We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, tocooperate with one another, and to take collective action…. Most of the barriersto group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explorenew ways of gathering together and getting things done…. These changes willtransform the world everywhere groups of people come together to accomplishsomething, which is to say everywhere.– Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: ThePower of Organizing Without Organizations Networks—collections of people connected to each other through relationships—aren’t new.They’re as old as human society. We are all part of networks: our families, our schools, ourworkplaces, our social circles.But new tools and technologies—from free conference calls and emails to blogs, wikis, tags, texts,and twitters—are changing the way we communicate and connect. And tools for social network analysis and mapping now allow us to see and understand networks of relationships that werepreviously invisible to us.The changes can be seen in the way people are working together to create and disseminateknowledge through platforms like Wikipedia; in how people solve complex mathematicalproblems or write very stable software, as with Linux; and even in purely social activities, likesharing photos on Flickr and meeting new friends on MySpace.But the shift is not just in the new “Web 2.0” technologies. It’s in the way that increasinglywidespread access to these tools is driving a fundamental change in how groups are formed andwork gets done. Wikis and other social media are engendering new, networked ways of behaving—ways of  working wikily —that are characterized by principles of openness,transparency, decentralized decision-making, and distributed action. These new approaches toconnecting people and organizing work are now allowing us to do old things in new ways, and totry completely new things that weren’t possible before.It’s happening all over the globe, in places like Burma and Serbia, where bloggers are letting theworld know their personal perspectives on what is happening in public protests in their countries,and it’s happening in projects like NASA Clickworkers, which is mobilizing tens of thousands of public volunteers, each working just for a few minutes here and there, to replicate the sustainedeffort of expert scientists to create accurate maps of Mars and other planets.  WORKING WIKILY: HOW NETWORKS ARE CHANGING SOCIAL CHANGE 2 People are beginning to use these same tools and approaches for creating social change too—organizing new forms of political expression, social action, and community building. Whether it’susing blogs to organize flash mobs to protest the government in Belarus, 1 cell phones to send textand email messages to influence legislators in Kuwait to promote women’s suffrage, 2 or socialnetwork maps to help Boston-area public health and environmental advocates realize that theycould be more coordinated in lobbying city officials for changes in building standards, 3 the newtools and principles present an important opportunity for increasing social impact. It’s a momentof great experimentation and creativity, as people and organizations try to figure out what is nowpossible. 4 Our colleague Katherine Fulton calls it a “steam engine” moment: we now have theengine, but we’re only just starting to invent the trains and steamships in which we would use it.Given the complexity and promise of this steam engine moment, it is hard to know what all of this might mean for philanthropy and social change. This is why the David and Lucile PackardFoundation and the Monitor Institute began the Philanthropy and Networks Exploration (PNE) in2007: to help the foundation make sense of what’s happening with networks, to experiment withsome of the new tools, and to consider the implications of all of these changes for philanthropy,social activism, and public problem solving.This paper shares some of the findings of our investigation thus far, in an effort to help peoplebegin to understand the changes taking place now occurring around us, to see how our peers areexperimenting with the new tools and ways of working, to identify what questions we should beasking, and to consider what all of the changes might mean for our work and our ability to createsocial impact. It draws heavily from the proceedings of the “Future of Network Impact”workshop held in Palo Alto in late January 2008 that highlighted ideas from technologist ClayShirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody , and brought together funders, activists, writers,academics, and consultants for two days to discuss how networks are changing social change. What is different today? The invention of tools that facilitate group formation is less like ordinarytechnological change, and more like an event, something that has alreadyhappened. As a result, the important questions aren’t about whether these toolswill spread, or re-shape society, but rather how they will do so.– Clay ShirkyThe new tools and technologies that are now emerging go by many different names: Web 2.0,social software, social technology, social media. Regardless of what you call them, the tools arecharacterized by several key features: they are “social,” in the sense that they facilitate interactionbetween people; they allow “many-to-many” connections, between and among virtually anynumber of people, however small or large; and they allow both simultaneous and asynchronousinteraction—people can communicate in real time, or over long periods.These features now allow more people to easily engage and connect, irrespective of geographicdistance; they provide us with the opportunity to access a greater diversity of perspectives andexpertise; and they can facilitate accelerated learning and on-demand access to information—allwhile reducing the costs of participation and coordination.The tools are allowing us to re-imagine many of the social acts we already do—activities such aslearning, organizing people, generating ideas, sharing knowledge, and allocating resources—butwith the potential to do them bigger, better, faster, and cheaper than ever before.  WORKING WIKILY: HOW NETWORKS ARE CHANGING SOCIAL CHANGE 3 As the technologies continue to spread and advance, nonprofits and foundations will increasinglybenefit from an improved understanding of the social media tools and how they can be used.The changes in technology are also adding up to create a transformative moment that has thepotential to fundamentally alter the way we connect with others and do our work, both online andoffline. It is not just the things that the tools allow us to do, but the new possibilities that emergewhen we change our behaviors and ways of thinking to incorporate the new approaches enabledby the tools.It is a challenge we’ve faced with “revolutionary” innovations throughout human history. Theprinting press, for example, was invented in the mid-15th century, but its full potential forcreating changes in productivity wasn’t reached for many decades. Bibles were being printedusing the new press, but monks were still producing all of the pictures by hand, so they could stillonly produce as many bibles as monks could create pictures. At a certain point, thinking shifted,and they came up with the idea of using plates to reproduce illustrations more quickly. But it wasonly after the “printed” facts of life were internalized that someone was able to develop this newway of quickly creating illustrations using a press, at which point there was a radical change inproduction.There is often a long period during which new technologies are used, but their full potential isn’tyet realized, because people are still thinking about things in the old ways. As Clay Shirkyexplains, “only once the new tools become commonplace and boring do they have the potential tobecome socially transformative.”So as we begin to take for granted the new “networked” facts of life, how is the world beginningto look? We believe that there are a few givens—conditions that are unquestionably true—aboutthe new, networked way of operating:  Efforts can be decentralized. In a net-centric model, the new technologies allow peopleto self-organize quickly and easily, without burdensome centralized infrastructure. Thetools allow many people to connect with one another, with little increase in the marginalcosts of bringing in even very large numbers of additional participants. Perhaps the mostvivid examples of this new reality are the emergence of “smart mobs”—large groups of people linked by cell phones, text messages, emails, or other technologies who assemblesuddenly in a public place to perform some collective action. Since text messages broughtpeople together in a smart mob in the Philippines in 2001 to protest governmentcorruption and help oust then-President Joseph Estrada, these types of impromptugatherings have empowered people to come together to achieve social goals ranging fromwar protests to group purchasing discounts.  Connecting people and ideas is fast and getting faster. The emerging social mediatools allow ideas to spread and groups to form faster than ever before. The grassrootsreligious network Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), for example, formed in response to aseries of articles in the Boston Globe about sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.In the past, a person would have needed to make photocopies of the articles and handthem out or mail them to people. Instead, organizers were able to send online links to thearticles, which could then easily be passed on virally to even more people. Blogs andwebsites for aggregating information allowed people to spread the word and to accuratelytrack incidences of abuse. Using these types of advances, VOTF was able to growexponentially from an initial meeting of just 25 people in a church in Massachusetts to a  WORKING WIKILY: HOW NETWORKS ARE CHANGING SOCIAL CHANGE 4 powerful, global online network of more than 25,000 members in less than a year. Thenew tools allowed people to organize across parish lines in a way never before possible—and at a pace never before possible—to share information about the issue and to make acoordinated call for institutional changes in the Church. 5  Coordination and collaboration are easier. The speed and low cost of forming groupstoday is dramatically reducing traditional barriers to coordination and collaboration. Thecosts of coordinating groups have dropped, and the costs of participation have plummetedas well. On many online platforms like Flickr or del.icio.us, public sharing is now thedefault, and people are able to participate in groups with little or no effort. This relativeease of use now allows people to form groups, large and small, that would never haveexisted before. People can now collaboratively do “big things for love” 6 (like the KatrinaPeople Finder Project, where volunteer programmers developed a single site that allowedpeople to search dozens of separate databases and message forums to find lost relativesafter Hurricane Katrina) or find like-minded people who share narrow passions (fromlocal Pug-lovers groups at Meetup.com to the “I Yell at Inanimate Objects” group onFacebook).  Networks are open and transparent. The new social tools are making the sharing of information routine and making more resources and knowledge available to more people,which allows users to freely build on the ideas and work of others. Blogs, for example,are rooted in the practice of openly sharing perspectives, ideas, and experiences, and theyoften borrow from, link to, and build on one another. Online “mash-ups” combine datafrom more than one source into a single integrated tool (for example, people havecombined satellite topographic data with maps from Google to show how coastlineswould look if sea levels change). The openness of these tools is similar to the model thathas driven the development of the open source programming movement since the late1990s. With open source, the core program code is made accessible to programmersaround the world, who refine and add to the product, improving the overall result.  Our ability to tap expertise and share knowledge is expanded. Social technologieslike blogs and video-sharing allow people of all backgrounds to contribute informationand ideas. While most people are familiar just with Wikipedia, wiki platforms can now beused to develop and share knowledge of almost any sort. As part of the Philanthropy andNetworks Exploration, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation experimented with awiki to solicit the “wisdom of the crowd” for input on its new strategy for addressingnitrogen pollution. The wiki provided a public forum for scientists, activists, academics,and the general public to share their ideas about the best way to develop effectivestrategies for addressing pressing problems.  Effectiveness is equated with mobilization. In an organizational context, permanenceand longevity are often equated with effectiveness. The best organizations are proven bytheir ability to last. But with the barriers to forming groups dropping away, networks canbe formed and disassembled as needed to mobilize people and stimulate action. Groupsdon’t need to last for a long time to have a lasting impact. MoveOn.org, for example,creates short-term campaigns that organize people to come together for a limited time toachieve specific goals. In August of 2005, MoveOn was able to organize more than100,000 people to attend 1,300 candlelight vigils across the country in honor of soldierskilled in the war in Iraq. And the MediaVolunteer project has mobilized more than20,000 volunteers to contribute a few minutes each making a call and confirming,
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