When Platform Coops are Seen, What Goes Unseen?

If you’re involved with the “cooperative community” on social media, you’ve probably heard a lot about platform cooperatives in recent years. The vision is simple: what if Uber or AirBnb were owned by its users, who could share decision-making responsibility and profits among themselves? Instead of being exploited by platforms, users could and should be running them. Just like cooperative supermarkets, these “platform co-ops” could market themselves as democratic alternatives to the venture-backed “Death Star” platforms coming out of Silicon Valley.

While I certainly agree we need to see new organizational forms take on the dominant venture-backed startup model, platform cooperatives have yet to prove that they’re up to the task. In fact, there are so few financially sustainable platform cooperatives in existence that, when Shareable magazine tried to list them in their article “11 Platform Cooperatives Creating a Real Sharing Economy,”, it had to include businesses that don’t sell any products or services yet, businesses that aren’t cooperatives, and businesses that aren’t platforms. Some people complained about the exaggerated tone of the article in the comment section, so Sharable added a disclaimer at the bottom of the story.

The fact remains that, despite two years and two high profile conferences in support of the concept, you can count the amount of genuinely successful platform cooperatives on one hand. And it’s not like this is a radically new concept that people have to wrap their heads around. Cooperatives are a very popular and proven business structure.

Despite platform cooperativism’s modest gains, I do see the concept’s value. Its existence pressures successful online platforms to share some of their profits with their users, and invites entrepreneurs who want to create new platforms to try out a new organizational structure. I worry, however, that the cooperative community only has a limited amount of cognitive capacity it can use to process information technology innovation, and the fantasy of platform cooperativism is taking up space that could be better used by promoting and applying open source, open data, and peer-production principles to overcome some of the cooperative movement’s most pressing challenges. Instead of spilling lots of ink dreaming about how technology companies could be cooperatives, the “cooperative community” should be asking how cooperatives can benefit from technology development models that have a proven track record of success.

The two models I wish were being more widely discussed in the cooperative community are open source technology and open data practices.

Open source software and the peer-production process it has spawned have been wildly successful at challenging conventional software technology business models. In 2001, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft called Linux, which is the world’s most used open source software project, “a cancer.” A decade later, Microsoft was in the top top five corporations contributing to Linux. Google’s core operating systems, ChromeOS and Android, both run on Linux, and so do emerging competitors, many out of Asia, that are leveraging Android’s open source core to compete directly with the Google in the smartphone market. That is just one of a myriad of open source success stories that include WordPress, Firefox, Wikipedia, and so much more.

Corporations are adopting open source and other peer-production processes such as open data, open knowledge and open hardware like wildfire—not because they want to share, but because they want to make money. Meanwhile, cooperatives are expected to follow a set of principles, one of which is “cooperation among cooperatives,” and yet their adoption of open source and open data within the cooperative community is minimal. Evidence of the cooperative community not adopting open approaches and following principle six include:

  • Research reports from cooperative support organization often have restrictive copyrights them instead of open, permissible, Creative Commons ones.
  • Research data is locked away in PDFs instead of being made available in open data portals.
  • Information about cooperative networks and membership organizations is often organized in proprietary data models instead of open ones, and not made openly available in bulk using open data formats.
  • Cooperatives are often structured hierarchically like banks instead of horizontally like open source projects.
  • There still isn’t a searchable online directory of cooperatives in the United States, much less an open data compliant one.

All of the above problems could be resolved if the cooperative movement followed best practices emerging from the unfashionable but very useful open source, open data, free culture and open access, and peer-to-peer movements. These practices have proven track records for enabling highly productive, widespread collaborations among many different types of stakeholder groups. One thing they very rarely do is organize themselves as cooperatives. Instead, open source projects tend to use for-profit, nonprofit and unincorporated entities.

We tend to view platform cooperativism as a vision that has yet to be realized, but it could just as easily be viewed as a potential future that never came. Cooperative organizational structures are not new. They have impacted a myriad of giant industries including food and agriculture, electricity and real estate. So why haven’t cooperatives been successful at software development? The answer to this question could be a key to moving platform cooperativism forward.

Cities Can Prepare for Trump by Establishing Digital Service Organizations and Mobilizing Civic Tech Communities

Originally posted at municipalist.org

Within a few weeks of Trump’s victory, mayors of big “sanctuary cities” throughout America, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles declared that they wouldn’t collaborate with a Trump administration order to deport peaceful, law-abiding resident. Trump is now threatening that he will deny these cities federal funding unless they comply. The amount of money that cities could be denied by the Trump administration isn’t entirely clear, but Mother Jones estimates that Washington DC could potentially lose up to 25% of its budget, New York and San Francisco could lose 10% and Los Angeles could lose 2%.

If cities want to have a leg to stand on during their negotiations with the Trump administration, they must prepare to operate without federal funding. If there is one message US cities need to convey to Trump, it’s that they can turn Trump’s belligerence into the political will they need to make municipal government more  efficient, transparent and participatory than the Federal government; and in the process restructure the relationship between municipalities and nations. Trump and his supporters must realize that the more pressure the Federal government puts on cities, the more cities will unite together, and the faster an emergent, post-nation-state paradigm will emerge. If In short, if Trump doesn’t play his cards right, he could very well become the president that undermines the role of the nation-state in global affairs and kicks off a new version of the “devolution revolution“, but this time based in cities and inspired by progressive values.

Municipal governments will not be able to fend off the federal government if their bureaucracies are inefficient and unpopular with the public. Most municipal bureaucracies were designed in an era of switchboards and memos and need a significant upgrade. Is there really any doubt that new systems designed around smart phones and open source software couldn’t out perform the many-decades-old legacy systems most cities currently use by significant margins? The factor limiting the upgrading of municipal bureaucracies are political, not technological. Changing how government works involves shifting the balance of power within agencies, department and groups. These types of changes require tremendous amounts of buy-in from members of the bureaucracy and the public in general. This buy-in is hard to get, but with the nightmare of Trump using federal funds as leverage to coerce cities to adopt policies their residents abhor, it will become much easier to make the case that municipalities must engage in serious internal reform.

The choice for city residents should be clear: adopt 21st century technologies and organizational forms, or submitting to federal coercion. If current city leaders can’t or won’t execute the reforms needed to wean their cities off federal funds, then new leaders need to be brought in who will. Instead of talking about it — let’s build it. For our cities. And now. As if the lives of our neighbors depends on it. Because it might.

Existing models show us how we can systematically transforming government agencies through the adoption and use of inexpensive open source tools and techniques. One group that performs this type of activity is 18F, a unit within the Federal Government’s General Services Administration. 18F helps federal agencies figure out how to improve their operations using open source technology and iterative development processes. They’ve been extremely successful, to the point where government contractors lodged an official complaint that 18F was hurting their businesses because they were saving the Federal government too much money.  18F’s is small group in a massive federal government so their impact is limited, but their model is spreading. The Pentagon’s Defense Digital Services and the White Houses US Digital Service both model themselves off of 18F. City governments could and should create similar types of Digital Service Organizations (DSOs) as a means of increasing their ability to not only do more with less, but also as a means of challenging the Trump administration’s competence.

One of the innovative features of DSOs is their commitments to clear documentation of business processes and utilization of open source software. This allows them to share the innovations they develop for one agency with other agencies within that government (and ideally with other governments around the world.) This eliminates complex procurement processes, reduces costs and even creates an opportunity for highly skilled developers outside government to contribute to their effort. Since the solutions DSOs create are often open source, they can (and do) set up bounty systems that allow software developers to submit code that solve problems identified by the DSO. Allowing highly skilled urban residents to contribute code to a project that improves a city’s effectiveness if precisely the type of deep contribution city residents should be able to make to defend their cities from federal coercion.

There are existing “civic tech” volunteer groups in cities all around the country filled with people passionate about finding ways to help city governments run faster, better and cheaper. A great example is NYC’s BetaNYC group. These groups present fantastic venues for sourcing and organizing volunteers that can amplify and support the work of DSOs to help make cities more resilient to federal coercion. But technology is just one area. Cities will need to build many more mechanisms that can convert their resident’s anger at Federal policies into surges of local volunteer-ship that increase the capability of city governments and reduce their need for federal aid.

If cities can find more effective ways to mobilize their massive human resources, then the era of Trump will be a catalyst pushing cities to be more efficient, autonomous and globally networked than ever before. This might sound like overkill, or too much work, but we have to be prepared if we want to defend ourselves and our neighbors from destructive federal actions. And if it turns out we overreacted and mistakenly volunteered to improve our cities, so it goes.

FLO Disaster Relief Software – Recommendations for NVOAD

Three and a half months ago, I attended the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) Convening in Elizabeth, NJ. It was a fantastic event in which people from over 50 nonprofit, mostly religious, organizations came together to network, troubleshoot the ways they were providing Sandy disaster relief, and discuss how they might better tackle disaster relief challenges in the future. The need for better information-sharing tools and techniques was obvious in every event session.

I scribbled notes and promised myself that I’d write a blog post about how the VOAD community could adopt a comprehensive information management strategy using free/libre/open-source software. The post grew in length and complexity, quickly ballooning into multiple posts, and launching Sarapis into a new knowledge management project. Three and a half months later, we have a 100+ page (and growing) wiki at DisasterRelief.FLOsolutions.org that catalogs some of the best practices for community-led disaster relief that we’ve encountered. Please check out the wiki, send us feedback and let us know if there is some information you’d like to see covered or you want to contribute.

 

The National Convening

The NVOAD national convening was organized by National VOAD (NVOAD), which is led by volunteers and staff from its 108 member organizations. There is a VOAD in every state (ex. NYVOAD) and often in large cities as well (ex. NYCVOAD) — each of which is member-run and organized using a structure similar to that of the National VOAD.

The VOAD meetings that I’ve attended have consisted of representatives of member organizations engaging in a facilitated conversation about how to overcome disaster-related issues, and then breaking out into working groups or committees to tackle specific challenges. While it was clear that the larger, better-funded organizations within the VOADs such as the Red Cross have more influence than the other organizations, there was — at least to me — a sense of horizontality and a genuine desire among participants to coordinate and collaborate with each other. Indeed, the VOAD structures reminded me more of “spokes councils” than they did traditional nonprofit organizations — which is pretty cool.

VOADs help groups “active in disasters” coordinate better. From what I’ve seen, discussions center around a range of topics, from food distribution or rebuilding homes to performing case management or analyzing policy issues. Somehow, though, they all seem to end in the same place: with a discussion about how member organizations can better share information.

In general, VOAD conversations are open, inclusive and generative: people recognize the expertise that they and others have gained from on-the-ground relief work, and eagerly share knowledge and information derived from those experiences. However, when the topic turns to software and data, the tone changes. People seem to imagine software and data to be obscure, complicated topics best left to experts — and they don’t imagine those experts to be the people in their network or the room.

Many of the VOAD members I spoke with didn’t know what software they use, told me they don’t feel empowered to make changes to their websites or software systems, and don’t think they can have a software system that meets their needs without someone spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Go with the FLO!

The VOAD community takes pride in its DIY character. Rebuilding a house? No problem! Feeding ten thousand people a day? We’re on it!  But when it comes to websites, databases and information management systems, people become overwhelmed. Yes, databases were extremely difficult and expensive to set up 10 years ago — but things have changed. There has been rapid and sustained progress in software technology, making most common technical challenges easy to overcome with relatively simple FLO (free/libre/open-source) software.

For folks who don’t know what FLO is, a brief explanation is in order. FLO software is free (no-cost), libre (without restriction), and open (you can use, edit, modify and share its source code). Linux, Firefox, WordPress and Wikipedia are just a few of the tens of thousands of extremely popular FLO software packages being used by people everyday. FLO software, like VOADs, are developed by communities of people who work together to build systems that help people help each other. To learn more about FLO software, read this brief explanation and the “free and open source software” page on Wikipedia.

I’m confident that the more VOADs learn about FLO, the more they’ll realize how FLO solutions can help them overcome many of the information management, communication and coordination challenges they face during disasters.

Preliminary Recommendations

Through a three-pronged strategy of trainings, support group cultivation and technical strategy, VOADs can transform their approach to information management.

Software trainings: There is a tremendous need within the VOAD community for training in basic web-based software tools — especially WordPress, CiviCRM, LibreOffice and free (but not libre and open source) Gmail, Google Groups, Google Drive, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube web applications.

Data trainings: There is also a massive need for education in basic data management and sharing techniques. The VOAD community needs to create a set of standard templates for common tasks such as canvassing, volunteer intake, work order management and sharing different types of data among organizations.

Technology Support Group: The VOAD community should form a technology support working group where people can organize skill shares about various technologies useful to the community. If that goes well, such a group could also work with stakeholders to co-create a software development roadmap for local, state and national VOAD groups.

You can see a list of tools referenced throughout this blog post in the tools section of the FLO Solutions for Disaster Relief wiki.

 

Attractive, Easy-to-Use Website

Your organization should have an attractive website that is easy for anyone who knows how to use basic office applications to maintain. The technology that makes this possible is called a content management system (aka CMS).

Recommendation: WordPress
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WordPress

There are a number of FLO CMS systems. Our favorite is WordPress, which makes it extremely easy to create web pages, blog/news posts, photo galleries, videos, events calendars, custom forms you can use to collect email addresses, contact info, surveys, process donations, and more. Hosting a WordPress website costs between $5-$50/month depending on how much traffic the website receives.

Bottom Line

Even if your organization isn’t interested in upgrading its website, building a WordPress site is cheap and easy enough that it might be worth creating one for your own team or for a specific disaster.

 

Contact and Case Management

The one piece of technology the VOADs do “share” is the Coordinated Assistance Network system (aka CAN). CAN is a disaster case management system owned and operated by the Red Cross and developed by VisionLink, a for-profit corporation that has also built the National VOAD website and the database systems that powers many of the nation’s 211 “human service” directories. While many organizations in the VOAD community can access CAN, access is often difficult to obtain and limited in scope. Moreover, there are no readily-apparent opportunities for the community to contribute to the system’s development.

The general sentiment about CAN at the NVOAD event was that it’s a terrible piece of software, but it’s the best thing the community’s got. Even still, few organizations use it and it’s widely cited as one of the largest bottlenecks to effective disaster case management.

Some of the problems with CAN articulated during the event include:

  • It takes days, sometimes weeks, to be granted access to CAN; and many grassroots relief groups and some VOAD member groups simply don’t qualify for access. Many groups waste time and energy trying to access CAN when they could be using those resources to develop and deploy CRM systems that meet their own unique set of needs.
  • All data that goes into CAN becomes the property of the Red Cross under terms that are difficult to question or change.
  • Only CAN employees and CAN partners can perform import and export functions.
  • No one but VisionLink can modify the CAN software.

One of the first things that becomes evident to people providing disaster relief is that they need a system to manage contacts and document their interactions with at least four types of people:

  • volunteers who want to give their time
  • donors who want to give their money
  • survivors who need assistance
  • human service providers who can help people in need

CRM (customer/constituent relationship management) systems are designed to help a large and physically dispersed group of people collect information about individuals and groups, record interactions and document outcomes.

This type of tool is being used very successfully by a few VOAD member groups that I spoke with — but, by and large, the VOAD community isn’t using CRMs. Instead, most VOAD members I spoke with were either using spreadsheets or desktop-based database systems to track and manage their relationships. The few organizations that were using the CAN system for disaster case management and human services directory functionality lacked a solution for the CRM functions CAN doesn’t provide, such as volunteer and donor management.

Recommendation: CiviCRM
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CiviCRM

CiviCRM is a fantastic FLO case management solution, and also happens to be the world’s most popular FLO CRM system for nonprofits. A standard CiviCRM installation package can do donor, volunteer and case management, send out e-newsletters, process donations, generate event pages and maintain a directory of service providers to the public. Since CiviCRM is FLO, organizations can run it on their own servers or they can pay around $300/year for a CiviCRM specialist to install and host the software for them.

CiviCRM makes it extremely easy to build a content-based website around it since it is a component of the three most popular FLO content management systems (WordPress, Drupal and Joomla). Indeed, if your organization is already using one of these CMSs, adding CiviCRM can be extremely simple. CiviCRM can be useful for any nonprofit organization that needs to send out email newsletters, process online donations and collect contact information — so even if your organization is happy with CAN’s case management functionality, you might nevertheless want to consider CiviCRM for other common nonprofit functions.

CiviCRM could become a fantastic disaster contact and case management solution that any VOAD could use for itself and in partnership with others. And since the solution would be FLO, any organization wanting to become active in disaster relief would be able to “spin up” their own system and keep ownership over their own data. At the very least, the existence of a CiviCRM powered alternative to CAN will encourage VisionLink to be more responsive to the community of VOADs who use CAN. Of course, CiviCRM can play well with CAN by being configured to export and share data using CAN-compliant format and standards. Compliance with Federal requirements and standards is something that could also be built into a CiviCRM component, as could a basic reporting mechanism that would enable each disaster case management deployments to share basic identity information about clients to ensure that people aren’t enrolled in more than one case management system to get “double benefits”.

Bottom Line

If your organization or local VOAD group doesn’t currently have a CRM system for its basic operations such as sending our email newsletters, collecting online donations and tracking donors, then it should consider getting a CiviCRM.

National VOAD and larger VOAD groups should come together to ensure CiviCRM works well for disaster relief. I recommend pursuing the following course of activity:

  • Develop a case management template (in XML) that could be imported into any CiviCRM to turn it into a disaster case management system. Estimated cost: under $10,000.

  • Fund the development of a user interface for CiviCase configuration. There is a fundraising campaign currently underway to raise $30,000 to create a user interface that would make it much easier for people to customize CiviCase.

  • Develop capacity within the NVOAD network for managing CiviCRM hosting, either by hiring a CiviCRM expert or contracting with a provider like CiviHosting.com.

  • Run database management trainings so VOADs learn how databases can be used to solve a wide range of challenges they encounter.

 

Human Services and Referral Directories

During a disaster, relief providers need good information about where to refer victims for “human-services” assistance such as homeless shelters, mental health counselling and food pantries. Unlike local business information, which was made readily available via the internet over a decade ago, “human service” information sits locked up in proprietary database systems that not even most VOADs — let alone disaster survivors — can access.

This means disaster relief providers often have to direct people who need assistance to call their local 211 system operator and speak to a call center worker to access critical human services information. This can lead to confusion and wasted time for survivors. It also creates a problem for relief providers who want to ensure that survivors receive high-quality information and access to critical services.

VisionLink, the company that makes CAN software, is also the nation’s leading provider of proprietary 211 software — making the inaccessibility of human services information inexplicable.

Recommendations: Drupal, CiviCRM or Sahana EDEN
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Directory powered by Sahana

Directory software isn’t particularly complicated. Indeed, there are a number of FLO software packages that could be used to organize and display 211 information to the public, as well as provide additional functionality like granular “agency-by-agency” permissions, calendaring, volunteer management, document management and other solutions touted by VisionLink as “what makes CommunityOS different.” Drupal and CiviCRM could both power 211 directories, as could Sahana EDEN and the Knight Foundation-funded Open211 software development project.

Of course, software is just one part of the challenge. The other critical piece is a taxonomy for organizing 211 information. Fortunately, the Open Eligibility Project has produced a FLO taxonomy for 211 information that anyone can use to organize 211 data.

With FLO software and data taxonomies available, the time is right for a group of organizations to come together to set up open 211 systems around the country. Such an effort presents an amazing opportunity for the VOADs — not only to increase information accessible to disaster relief providers, but to make “human services” information easier for everyone to access.

Bottom Line

National VOAD should ensure that 211 information is accessible during a disaster. This means having an easy-to-deploy FLO 211 directory software solution ready for when disaster strikes. This solution could be offered to state and city based VOADs immediately. A FLO 211 directory software solution could be built with CiviCRM and Drupal or with Sahana..

 

Data and Knowledge Repository

Each stage of a disaster presents a tremendous information challenge. People might disagree about what, when, where and how to share disaster related information, but it’s hard to imagine anyone will argue against better tools for data and information sharing.

Recommendation: OwnCloud and/or CKAN
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CKAN Data Repository

At the most basic level, VOADs should have access to a dropbox-like file sharing system which can host both public and private files and folder systems. OwnCloud is an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-use system that could meet this need.

If a VOAD network wants to make it easy for its member organizations to benefit from the open data revolution, they can set up a CKAN “data repository”, which provides groups with the ability to upload, describe, preview, download, host and stream a wide variety of data formats. It can be used to host and organize PDFs, turn CSVs (spreadsheets) into interactive maps and serve dynamic data streams in real time to other software applications. For the more technically ambitious, it can also wrap data in an API that software developers can use to create applications, produce visualizations and build semantic information resources.

VOADs could use a data repository to share a wide variety of data and knowledge information, including:

  • information about affected areas, such as demographics, geography/geology, environmental reports, important places, and mapping layers
  • canvassing data related to individual and neighborhood needs for things like food, shelter, and health care
  • raw data about who is providing disaster relief and which populations they are serving
  • templates for managing inventory, work sites, damage assessment surveys, volunteer registration forms and other tools for disaster relief groups
  • how-to’s and trainings guides about everything from killing mold to anonymizing and responsibly sharing data

Data repositories allow users to upload both public data that can be shared with everyone, and private data that can be managed by particular users without anyone else seeing it. To prevent confidential information from being made public, the system can be configured such that all public data uploads are moderated, and only approved data sets are made public. In such a configuration, when users find incorrect data or data that shouldn’t be shared on the system, they can flag it as inappropriate so it can be taken offline. Of course, with more data tools available, it would be incumbent on the VOAD community to learn more about how to use data and data tools to improve their operations.

Bottom Line

The VOAD community needs a place to share files. The first step is to set up an OwnCloud system (which would cost well under $1,000/year) and start giving VOAD members accounts and providing trainings that show people how to use widely-accessible online tools to collect, use, analyze, permission and share data. As people become more comfortable using this file sharing system, it might make sense to set up a CKAN data repository for the VOAD community. This is the same software used by data.gov and enables much deeper data utilization functionality.

 

Inventory and Logistics Tools

Before, during and after a disaster, many VOAD member organizations turn into logistics groups with a specific set of needs that FLO software solutions can meet:

  • requesting and receiving inventory items
  • tracking inventory through multiple spaces
  • distributing inventory to people in need
  • generating reports about their activities
  • sharing up-to-date inventory information with stakeholders such as government agencies such as FEMA, nonprofit and community groups, donors and the general public
  • developing an awareness of the other relief providers in the area

Without a software tool set to help organizations meet these needs, groups are often left using spreadsheets and personal relationships to make sense of the disaster logistics environment. Many people suffer and many resources are wasted because a coordinated disaster logistics network doesn’t exist — and it very well could.

Recommendation: Sahana EDEN
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Sahana Foundation Logo

Sahana EDEN is a FLO “disaster management system” with robust logistics functionality that can be used by participating organizations to manage their own inventory, ship and receive inventory items, track assets (like vehicles and generators), build reports for various groups, and create maps. EDEN has robust directory functionality, for individuals, organizations, facilities, victims, volunteers, projects and more, making it a great tool for organizing information within a geographic area before disaster strikes. When disaster does strike, people can find the information they need in order to be effective in the aftermath.

Bottom Line

The National VOAD should work with Sahana EDEN developers to create a generic configuration that could be deployed by its chapter organizations, and/or in response to specific disasters. Sarapis has begun this work by helping to create an EDEN system for Long-Term Recovery Organizations in NYC. We will need assistance from the VOAD community, financial and otherwise, in order to see this project through.

 

Collaborative Work Order System

When disaster creates damage over a wide area, one of the biggest challenges is coordinating the (often volunteer) work crews to clean things up. This task requires a massive amount of information sharing: from the canvassing that results in comprehensive neighborhood damage assessments, to the assignment (or self-assignment) of work teams and the tracking of work statuses so the entire network knows what has been done and where.

Recommendation: CrisisCleanup
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CrisisCleanup

A new tool called CrisisCleanup distinguished itself during Superstorm Sandy relief work as an amazing solution to this challenge. It was developed by Aaron Titus, a volunteer within the Mormon disaster response community. As a part-time software developer, he saw a need for a tool that “implements a ‘Craigslist’ philosophy to recovery efforts—organizations that are aware of work orders enter them into the system, and organizations with capacity to help can claim and perform the work.” The tool’s success during Sandy was stunning: CWOS was used by over 100 organizations to coordinate nearly 30,000 volunteers fixing over 5,000 homes. What began as one person’s passion project has grown into an effort involving nearly a half dozen volunteer software developers and designers — and it is already changing the way disasters cleanup is managed.

CrisisCleanup wasn’t developed by a software group inspired by building intellectual property for themselves or a high end consulting firm: it was made by passionate people who want to help people help each other. By embracing FLO solutions, the VOAD community can encourage more of this type of innovation from a global community of do-gooders.

Bottom Line

The team behind CrisisCleanup is enthusiastic to work with VOAD. NVOAD should encourage its members to take CrisisCleanup trainings before a disaster strikes and, when it does, push member organizations to sign up for that disaster’s CrisisCleanup instance.

 

FLO Solutions for Disaster Relief

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“Tux” with a Toolbox

The FLO solutions I’ve described above have been and will be continue to be used during future disasters. Some were used extensively during Sandy relief efforts, including CiviCRM for volunteer management and case tracking; Sahana EDEN for request fulfillment, inventory management and assessment tracking; CrisisCleanUp for collaborative work order management; and WordPress for fast and easy-to-use content-based websites.

If the VOAD community were to bring these tools together to make them more accessible to member organization, the entire VOAD community would benefit greatly — and so too would all the future victims of disaster for whom they serve.

This could be done by pursuing the following activities:

  • creating configurations for disaster response use cases,
  • creating a more unified interface for these tools,
  • providing some training and support for their implementation, and
  • maintaining deployments of these solutions for when disaster strikes.

Over the last few months, we at Sarapis have built out a knowledge resource for the VOAD community cataloging FLO Solutions for Disaster Relief. We have also continued to help Long-Term Recovery Groups in the New York City area access FLO solutions using best practices in knowledge management. We’re now coordinating a technology development effort that will bring together numerous FLO software communities to integrate effective FLO solutions for disaster relief. This will create an even more comprehensive set of FLO Solutions for Disaster Relief.

We’re looking for support from the VOAD community — city, state and national — for our work. Please connect with us if this post is interesting to you.

If you want to receive updates about our progress with this initiative, please sign up for our newsletter on the top right corner of this page.

If you have any questions, feel free to write a comment on this post or contact us directly.

We’re currently accepting tax-free donations through our fiscal sponsor, On The Commons. Please support our work by donating today.

The post FLO Disaster Relief Software – Recommendations for NVOAD appeared first on Sarapis.

Welcome to the FLO Movement

The free, libre, and open source (FLO) movement has created many of the technologies local communities need to rebuild the world from the grassroots upward. These technologies include entire operating systems with complete suites of free software (ex. Ubuntu Linux, OpenOffice, GIMP), web applications for constructing enterprise grade inter/extranets and websites (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla), cloud computing server platforms (OpenStack), designs for local manufacturing of industrial equipment including tractors (Open Source Ecology), 3D printers (RepRap) and automobiles (WikiSpeed)—and much more.

As FLO technology development accelerates and access to information technologies increases, more people than ever could be using high-quality solutions to solve their local problems. But few people are aware the FLO phenomenon even exists, including the nonprofit organizations that could benefit most from its use.

Unlike for-profit enterprises which exist in a state of competition with each other, nonprofits have the opportunity to exist in a state of collaboration—one in which they help each other by spreading best practices, tools and techniques so they can all contribute more effectively to the work of building a better world. This collaboration is essential if the nonprofit sector wants to provide services efficiently in the 21st century and beyond.

By adopting FLO solutions, nonprofit organizations can get better tools for lower prices, increase their organizations’ capacity to collaborate with their stakeholders, and align themselves with an extremely active and productive social movement that wants to make sure people have the information they need to create the world they want to see.

FLO tools and techniques will be discussed in future blog posts, but for now, here’s a glimpse of the ways FLO can promote social justice goals:

Imagine if educators could download a complete technology system to operate a K-12 school and customize it to meet their needs with just a few mouse clicks.

Imagine if farmers could access designs and build procedures for all the tools they need to manage their land.

Imagine if medical researchers could freely share all their data and knowledge with each other.

Only FLO technologies can provide everyone with access to the tools and techniques they need to create wealth and wellness for themselves and their communities. We view universal access to basic technologies as a human right and the key to empowering people to escape poverty.

Participating in the FLO movement is easy. It begins with using FLO tools like Firefox for web browsing, WordPress for online publishing and Linux for your operating system. It continues when you use FLO techniques in your life and work, such as documenting solutions that will benefit others, gifting your time to projects that support the commons and helping people use FLO technologies. If you’re comfortable using software, help FLO projects identify bugs, field questions in forums, contribute to documentation, build extensions, and publish code to communities like Github.

As more people participate in the FLO movement, more people will be empowered by technology, enabling more people to participate in the movement, and more FLO production to take place. This cycle constructs an ecosystem of FLO technologies that we can all use to produce what we want, when we want, and how we want.

A bright future is possible if we all go with the FLO. :)

The post Welcome to the FLO Movement appeared first on Sarapis.

As If We Couldn’t

If you listen to media’s murmuring, you’d think that the American people were ready to give up.  The bankers are too crafty, the corporations too powerful and the politicians too pliant.  We don’t know which way is up, where to turn or on whom to depend.  We’re lost, sad, unhappy, and maybe a little overweight.  For a few brief moments we had HOPE that that America’s most powerful institutions could still solve our problems during commercial breaks.  Yes we can, they whispered in our ears.  Yes we can…

As if we couldn’t. As if the American people couldn’t recognize a lie when it’s told to our face.  As if the American entrepreneur couldn’t maneuver around the obstacles created by international bankers and their confused economists.  As if the men and women in our Armed Forces who committed to defending our Constitution couldn’t stand up to anyone who demanded that they oppress their fellow citizens.  As if our farmers couldn’t team up to develop their own technologies, save their own seeds and reap their own harvests.  As if honest people couldn’t win elections.

“You can fool some people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”  I think Bob Dylan said that.  Americans are getting smarter – not the coastal elites who think reading the New York Times qualifies as civic participation – but the “dumb” Americans who’ve enough common sense to recognize that Big Government and Big Business have teamed up to steal our wealth while misdirecting us with the help of the corporate media.  But they don’t control everything on the internet, and as the veil is lifted, both the problems and solutions become much more clear.  I’m particularly interested in the solutions.

While Silicon Valley gets all the press for their trendy products, thousands of programmers, engineers and developers across the world continue to build the free, libre and open source technologies upon which local economies depend.  While multinational chemical companies receive prestigious awards for monopolizing agriculture, American farmers continue to share best practices, organizing seed banks and reach customers directly through farmer’s markets.  While central bankers act like economic gods with their reactionary monetary policies,  local entrepreneurs continue to discover new opportunities to create real value for their communities.

If you’re looking for problems, you’re going to find prestigious people in glossy magazines whining about the difficulties that lie ahead.  If you’re looking for solutions, you’re going to find unrecognized folks working  quietly and feverishly, as if the fate of the world depended on it.  The time for criticism is over.  The time for action is here.

If you’re interested in the emergence of the new, participatory, local-networked economy, what Buckminster Fuller would describe as “a new model that makes the existing models obsolete,” start reading about free/libre/open source technology and ask yourself this simple question: what if everyone had the tools they need to create what they want.

The best has yet to come.