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Information philanthropy

I learned an interesting term today, while reading the draft Government 3.0 report.

From the draft report:

11.5: Gifts of public good – Information Philanthropy

Innovation often occurs well in advance of the regulatory and cultural frameworks needed to support it. Many of the most innovative endeavours have been made by people with an idea, some time to volunteer and the wherewithal to make it happen.

For the many innovations that have social and democratic value but no apparent commercial return there are currently few options. Funding through government grants is unlikely, micro-donations and online advertising will rarely cover any substantial costs and the current philanthropic framework does not support substantial giving to such projects.

In the UK and the US examples such as mysociety.org and guidestar.com demonstrate the potential for social good. In Australia initiatives such as OpenAustralia and the Taskforce’s mashup competition and associated hack day events are clear examples of the potential and appetite to innovate with data and online engagement.

It may be possible for organisations whose purpose is to build online systems for public good to receive Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) and Tax Concession Charity (TCC) status for organisations but it is far from straightforward. There are no categories that specifically support the provision of public goods online in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regulatory definitions. DGR and TCC status provides both tax advantages for the organisation and the capacity to receive grants and donations from philanthropic foundations and other donors.

This is not surprising as Information Philanthropy is new and is not widely understood. Reducing the obstacles to the free flow of philanthropy to projects that use government data for public good, or improve the democratic process will no doubt boost innovation and expand the understanding of the value of such projects.[…]

The consultants to the Taskforce have proposed the establishment of such a Specially Listed Deductible Giving Recipient Foundation to support the initial development of info-philanthropy. For the purposes of establishing this, one might define the foundation’s mission as assisting in projects of properly registered not-for-profit organisations and which, in a way that is not party political or focused primarily on advocacy either:

[…]

Recommendation 12 – Encourage info-philanthropy

Because some of the most successful experiments in Government 2.0 have been fuelled by not-for-profits in leading countries such as the UK and the US, Australian policy-makers should minimise obstacles to info-philanthropy being treated as an eligible activity to qualify for deductible gift recipient and other forms of legal status which recognise charitable or philanthropic purposes.

(Emphasis mine.) In my opinion that’s a brilliant idea. I don’t really have a lot to add, I just wanted to point it out to everyone. I hope this recommendation is picked up by government. It would be an easy one to implement and make a start towards useful formal recognition of the good that such projects can do.

I’ve only quickly skimmed the report – it’s kinda huge – but I already found a few other nice nuggets. Like The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

Summarisable as Find, play, share. I like it!

There are also nice summaries on OpenAustralia, and the Social Benefits of PSI talks about the National Library of Australia newspaper digitisation program.

There’s lots to absorb here, but that’s what caught my eye in a first pass.

07 December, 2009 • , , ,

"Foundations of Open" Australia 2020 local summit

australia2020.gov.au

Well, it’s over a week since I attended the Foundations of Open: Technology and Digital Knowledge local summit. For those outside Australia, in November last year Australia elected a new government after eleven years. One of the new government’s first initiatives was to announce a plan for a Australia 2020 summit. The summit proper is being held next week, with 1,000 attendees taking part. The whole thing is very encouraging of participation, and part of that includes the “local summits” by MPs. Senator Kate Lundy held hers with a focus on open source, open access and related issues. In 12 years, where might progressive and friendly government policy lead us? This summit was about putting heads together and dreaming big, then filling in the steps in between to try and make the ideal a reality.

Appropriately enough, Senator Lundy runs her own website using Joomla, and the summit co-chair Tom Worthington put up all the notes from the day into a Moodle course. (And I noticed while slides and things were being set up that Senator Lundy runs Ubuntu. Mad :D)

Anyway, for some reason I find the video files time out or something and won’t play. You can download them directly instead. The recordings are excellent – close up and very good sound. (The small sized files are quite decent quality, don’t feel obligated to download the large files.)

I particularly recommend

The first four are very good speakers, each in different ways. Tridge was very impassioned and articulate. Jeff is has quite a showman style. Pia is straight-up and her talks are information-dense and clearly informed by her experience. The integrity and leadership of all three, from the free software movement, is inspiring. While they know the importance of being able to speak other audiences’ languages (business, government) and how “selling” free software can help it spread, they also know there are certain values that cannot be compromised — and they are up-front about this too.

Professor Cram’s talk is considered and nuanced; he’s clearly aware (in a way that perhaps people from the free software movement tend to underestimate) that there is a cost to freedom (from (7’20’‘):

I think the way that we’re [ANU] thinking about it [university open access policy] is interesting to reflect on. There’s a technology layer that we’ve already got control of: the repositories, and the interfaces that people can access our work through are now available, and in many respects turned on. We’ve got a policy layer that has to do with the management of copyright, the interactions that we have with publishers. […] And then finally there’s the user layers, and they’re really quite interesting.

Just to show the kinds of things that we have to worry about: suppose that we conduct medical research. And our medical researchers publish a paper that’s quite erudite about a treatment for diabetes. And suppose that that, then, is on the web. And it’s uninterpreted. People will access that. The writers of the article never intended it to be addressed by people who worry about diabetes, and it’s not, therefore, interpreted in a way that’s helpful to them. It would be wrong, I think, to withhold the information, but it also has elements of wrongness to not interpret it as well. And the interpretation is something that we don’t think of doing at present. If you publish a medical paper in a medical journal, you’ve got a pretty good idea about most of the audience, and you don’t need to interpret it. So we are thinking about what it would mean to interpret, the portal through which the community accesses our online information.

(Professor Cram’s talk of “interpretation” reminds me of Andrew Keen in The Truth According to Wikipedia, lamenting the loss of “gatekeepers”, editors and publishers who choose what to publish — except Professor Cram can see the potential benefits despite the guaranteed difficulties on the way. It strikes me that Andrew Keen can see no better society than the one we had 10-20 years ago.)

There is also Jessica Coates from Creative Commons Australia (video, 37min), just in case you’ve never heard a Creative Commons spiel :) and Ann Steward from the government Information Management Office (who knew such a thing existed!), (video, 29min) if you want to hear some more perspective from someone actually in the public service (eg. what barriers exist to adoption of FLOSS). (I also found out about this document: Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies.)

…FLOSS. I just wrote “free software” and changed it. The phrase reminded me of a “nomenclature problem” that came up from Ann’s talk. Tridge earlier had deliberately used the phrase “free software” (well, I kinda feel everyone who uses it must do so deliberately). Ann, during her talk, said something like “Open, but not necessarily free, software”, then talking about the cost of e.g. training. “Open, but not necessarily free” is a strange thing to people who hear the phrase “(as in freedom)” in between the words “free” and “software”. After her talk, Tridge tried to make clear the distinction, of free-as-in-freedom software, but it didn’t quite make it.

Stallman says, Every time you say “free software” rather than “open source,” you help our campaign. Sadly I think the campaign for keeping alive that distinction is one that does not survive outside the software development community.

Anyway, Foundations of Open is now done, and the presenters’ submissions are now available. Let’s see if this big picture thinking can translate into anything concrete!

12 April, 2008 • , , , , , ,

Comment [1]

Links for 2007-02-13

#1: The Queensland government is working on releasing a bunch, or maybe even all, public service data under Creative Commons license(s). From the chap in charge of their licensing project:

We are progressing broadly towards an open access outcome ultimately not only in relation to geospatial (ie mapping) information (much of which in Queensland resides in the Department of Natural Resources and Water) but all types of information and data created and held by government departments and agencies.

At the same time, governments clearly need to be careful about issues such as confidentiality, privacy and certain legislative restrictions.

We think at present that about 15% or so of public sector information (PSI) is affected by these limitations but this leaves the vast bulk available for potential use in combination with open content licences such as CC licences.

Pretty awesome! Can’t wait to see how it progresses.

#2: DBpedia has announced the release of their 3.0 downloads. DBpedia claims that it “is a community effort to extract structured information from Wikipedia and to make this information available on the Web. DBpedia allows you to ask sophisticated queries against Wikipedia and to link other datasets on the Web to Wikipedia data.”

#3: WMF has released its finance report for 2006-2007.

Was going to mention Women Who Tech but it’s not quite my topic. :) Although they are having a session on women in open source.

13 February, 2008 • ,

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