Earlier today I posted about our upcoming community feedback meeting in Kibera, where we gave NGOs as much information as we could about what their neighbors chose to talk about in 2011. This is the 2nd meeting we’ve held so far in 2012, as part of a big experiment to learn how we empower community organizations with information.
Knowledge is power if you believe it is.
That’s been today’s lesson. I met Zip, our country storytelling coordinator for lunch before the meeting to discuss. We were printing an infographics deck in the next room for our 25 invited organizations. I asked her how things were going and we discussed the automated dashboard I’ll be building to help her see how we are performing against our big 2012 goal to get 100 organizations working with the 40,000 stories we’ve already collected.
“Marc,” Zip began, “people keep asking me: Why are we doing this? Why are we going around collecting stories?”
“And what do you tell them?”
“If they tell stories then these will appear on the net, where people will read them and be aware of the community needs.”
“Perhaps, but there’s no evidence that’s really happening yet. We’ve posted 40,000 stories and connected them to projects but people aren’t coming to our site to read them. I think that’s a bait and switch, an overpromise, to say.”
“So what should I say?”
“These stories are information that they can use to guide their work. Everybody in the world wants more funding, but dollar-for-dollar, which do you think more effective in their work? USAID or TYSA [a community based sports organization in rural Kenya]?”
“Exactly. Only TYSA has the power to inspire the elders in the villages to go around and solve social problems. And they do it for free. They play a role because they believe. That is what being an effective organization is all about. Information is power, but only if you believe it can make you more effective. You need vision before it can happen.”
I continued. “And TYSA was doing their own storytelling project before we ever got started. Our goal is to help every organization be more effective by giving away useful information.”
“I see. That is very powerful, when you say it like that. But what about the other question they keep asking?”
“When we write stories on paper, you give us 15 shillings, but when we tell them by SMS, you give us nothing.”
Sigh. I explained it: “That’s because they tell a story by SMS in order to receive back another story like the one they told. The information should be the reward. But people don’t value information, so it sounds.”
“No they don’t want that.”
“Then ask them what information would they want. Tell them honestly – GlobalGiving doesn’t have any money to give of its own. We can only help people spend the money they get more wisely. Information can make them more effective (as an organization) or it could give them a better life (as a person). Like what if they wanted to know where the next free HIV testing was being held? We should be able to answer that by SMS. And if they want something else, let them send it in as a request by SMS.”
Later, at the meeting we walked through this deck of infographics about Kibera:
This is all still an experiment. We’ve got 7,012 stories that mention Kibera and I split them by village within the slum. I showed a breakdown of the story topics for each village in a variety of ways (wordles, gephi maps, topic phrases extracted by natural langauge processing, SenseMaker(r) plots, and a geo-map), but this one is the simpliest:
Measuring, not asking
When I got home I looked at the SMS responses. 4 people tried using the !report! instavaluation builder and 2 completed the process and got their report back. So quantitatively, 2 in 25 will see information as inherently powerful in this group. I suspect those that believe that “knowledge is power” is similarly small in other groups. but at least now we can put a quantitative measure on who is using what we’re giving away. To get to 100 orgs by the end of the year, we just need 50 more meetings like this one.
Let information self-select the curious innovators
Also by the time I’d gotten home, three organizations had written to me about organizing their own community meetings or joining the next one. One of these found my previous blog post on twitter, another is one I’d promised to inform but got distracted trying to post a blog and produce a report on a tight schedule. So I could have contributed to getting more of the right people in the room. If, at the end of 2012, we’ve invited 1000 NGOs to meetings and gotten 100 to try our free tools, I’ll be happy. Building a network of high impact organizations starts this way – offer something that a great organization will use and a struggling one will overlook, and then keep doing that until you’ve amassed all the curious innovators in one group.