Impact of the Pease Amendment Phaseout of Itemized Deductions
Scaling Social Impact: Cain and Abel

Big Data as a Social Justice Issue

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone.

Yeats, A Prayer fo Old Age

Two ways to know whether an apple is ripe enough to eat. Visit the orchard, see the apple, hold it in your hand, take a bite. Or, read a report generated by a database. In giving, per the emerging social economy, we will increasingly rely on trusted intermediaries, and data taxonomies allowing experts to rank and rate that of which they have no personal understanding, or lived experience. We will know the apple is ripe enough to eat when the algorithm tell us it is. What happens at a distance, via experts, are solutions. In the shadow of a final solution, Buber wrote I/Thou. We have family, and civic spaces, to create a buffer from solutions, and the dehumanization of those who solve them by reducing all to I/It. When Bill Schambra grinds the noses of foundation in their long ago support of euthanasia, he is being "unfair," no doubt. But the lived and living insight, is that managed solutions, mediated by experts, and Toqueville's democracy are now increasingly in collision.

"Psychoanalysis is the disease it seeks to cure," said Karl Kraus, referring to his Vienesse contemporary, Freud. If philanthropy, whose root is love, comes to mean primarily cold blooded method, mechanics and results, then philanthropy has become the disease it was meant to cure. 

By contrast, is the work of Mario Marino. His answer to the apple question, is ask the one closest to the tree, the farmer, but ask also what that farmer needs to do the job better, and what systems would best support it, and what metrics, including qualities, as well as quanties the farmer would find most meaningful. The result would be a better run farm, with metrics as unique as the contours of the land, and the personality of the farmer.  When today's Market for Good or Social Economy thinkers are asked about metrics they mean comparables. Taxonomy inputs and outputs that are uniform to be managed at a distance by experts who have no grounded knowledge, no first hand knowlege, no tacit knowledge, no scent, and no taste, of the field they manage by the numbers. They dream of a uniform metric for apples, oranges, pears, poems, games of pushpin, bodies healed, and souls saved that would allow the expert and funders to calculate not only how much good is done, but how much more good is done within categories and among categories, for a given dollar, discounted to a present value to reflect cost of caqpital. This was the dream of Bentham. The man who also dreamed of the Panopticon of total surveillance.

To this the builders of the Panopticon, the database of inputs and outputs, will respond: "Expect to be asked." Expect funders to demand. Expect to comply. Do those who make such bossy statements, such peremptory demands, themselves sense the will to power, the bared teeth? Are they sufficiently self aware to feel in themselves the very sin that philanthropy or charity at its best chastens? The sin of pride. I don't think so. Knowledge is power, or Power/Knowledge, as Focault knew. Data is power and is used to exert power.

What I have come to love about Mario Marino on metrics is the passion with which he drives power down the line to the nonprofit leaders, and their subordinates, and to the communities served. He does not want to gather to himself power by running the Database, and driving money to whatever his Database measures, rather he wants to get the front line people to use their own metrics, to improve their own work, so they better achieve their mission. He wants nonprofits to grow up and to become less dependent, more autonomous, by internalizing businesslike internal controls. I read Tom Tierney, in his GiveSmart, as making the same mature point - the point made by a businessperson with real first hand experience in building successful firms through servant leadership. This question of where metrics and databases reside, who controls them and for what purpose is as important as any other question of social justice. I am distressed to see how eager some in our field are, how manic, how exultant they are, to arrogate that power to themselves in the name of philanthropy. From the power of wealth to the power of data, to the power to frame the issues and to coerce compliance - why is this not a moral and political issue?

When I join Occupy to protest economic injustice, and my name, and photo, go into a database, shared with banks, foundations, and the FBI - may I ask - am I input into the database as solution or as problem, and who inputs, who reviews, and who decides? This is more than about privacy it is about mastery and control of civic spaces on behalf of what stakeholders? Who have their voice heard and heeded how?

Facebook is social. Is it the image of a well manged, well governed civic space in a democracy? Will uniltateral agreements, shrink wrap licenses, and walled gardens on owned platforms, or platforms managed by a few, funded by large foundations, be how we manage "Data and Democracy?" 

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