For some time now I’ve been talking about the need for large foundations to share their knowledge base with the general public. While some people have made this argument from the standpoint of obligations that foundations have to the public, I’ve thought that foundations will find that they are able to more effectively further their own mission by sharing their knowledge base. Since individuals give seven time more money each year than all the foundations in the country combined, it stands to reason that foundations who share their knowledge with the public might influence some of these vast flows of funding to support the mission of the foundations.
Recently the Meyer Memorial Trust, a $700 million+ foundation that has proven innovative in a number of ways, launched an attempt to share their knowledge base with anyone who is interested. The project is called connect+ipedia. Rather than explain the project myself, I asked Amy Sample Ward – Communications and Learning Associate at MMT and author of the foundation’s New Media Blog – to share her thoughts with Tactical Philanthropy.
By Amy Sample Ward
If you are looking for some introductory information about after school programs, for example, and you do a Google search for that term, you would get 40,200,000 results. But, if you use connec+ipedia, you get 111, all of which are cards on the topic or organizations involved in such work. So, what is connec+ipedia?
Let’s start at the beginning: A few years ago, Meyer Memorial Trust (a private, regional foundation based in Portland, OR) recognized the need to explore the world of knowledge management. A full program staff turn over in a short amount of time (with program officers retiring after decades of service) meant an irrevocable loss of institutional knowledge, and the adoption of a knowledge management tool could ensure that such loss did not happen again. Marie Deatherage, Director of Communications & Learning, was tasked with the investigation and discovered that foundations around the country were investing a lot of dollars (millions, even) to develop tools that only the organization could use and that often faced little-to-no staff buy-in.
MMT had shown a commitment to both supporting open source software and to supporting the broader philanthropic and nonprofit sector through grantmaking and other projects, so, when Marie met the two great minds behind Grass Commons who were working on an open source wiki tool that incorporated database functionality, the choice seemed clear. What was also clear to the Trust, was that this wouldn’t be a tool for internal use only, but would be completely open. Other foundations, nonprofit organizations and state agencies were often all working on the same kinds of programatic work, so it would make sense that they should be able to collaborate online, in a way that allowed for sharing of best practices, data, standards, and other information—that these parties should all have access to the same information when working to make informed decisions about work that effected the field.
Wagn is the free, open source software that connec+ipedia runs on, combining the editable functionality of a wiki (like Wikipedia) with ‘tagging’ or referencing functionality of a database. Anyone (with Intern access) can view, search, and read the site. Users (request an invitation!) can edit, create and contribute content, all organized through people, places and things, as well as the intersections between them. Back to the initial example: If you wanted to find out about after school programs, searching Google may be too much information. Searching on connec+ipedia, instead, could mean a more easily digestible avenue to tailored information. Users from across MMT’s service area and beyond, in foundations, nonprofits, state agencies, as well as corporations and public citizens are already making connec+ipedia a resource. The Oregonian has even gotten behind it!