Holden Karnofsky at Give Well has been asking why funders do not share publicly their insights into which nonprofits do the best work. Along the same lines, we might as why the nonprofits, funders, analysts, activists, academics, public policy experts, and allied forprofits around a particular issue area don't form a learning community and share their insights and best practices. According to Randy Ottinger in his Beyond Success, Michael Milken in his work on prostate cancer created such a learning community. In the end Milken has gotten measurable results. To make the learning community come together, he did not just jawbone people or critique the field. He made clear he would only fund those who agreed to share. The sharing was not just digital. The stakeholders were convened regularly. Other funders, I believe, jumped in to capitalize on the Milken learning community's findings. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that somewhere in all this were some big money-making social venture opportunities as well. Finding a cure for cancer is a noble thing to do, but each gain towards that end could spin off hyper-profitable enterprises. (To invest in those startups might be a fine mission aligned investment for a foundation.)
So, Milken's work may be one model to promulgate. Another is the tipping point network approach pioneered by Susan Davis. In her approach, funders, activists, and other influential network mavens are convened around a specific measurable (and world-changing) goal. They form working groups and gradually draw their larger networks into concerted action.
Note that Davis, Milken, Karnofsky, and Ottinger are all steeped in finance. You could say they are trying, in Lucy Bernholz's term, to create a social capital market, but I can't help but feel that it is better to think in terms of public goods and a learning/doing community. Perhaps that is a "marketplace" in an extended sense. That is, a market may be a special case of public good and learning community, one built around money, contracts, certified public accounting, pricing mechanisms, and private property. The tipping point kind of community, though, is built around a shared, often informal and voluntaristic, commitment to achieve a particular public benefit, one we can only achieve in concert with others, and sometimes through a personal sacrifice on our part. Money comes into it, of course, but is not the essence of it, or "final cause." We need learning and doing communities to create benefits that cannot be bought in stores, or in any currently existing marketplace. We participate in markets for mostly self-interested reasons. We would join a learning and doing community oriented to a specific and measurable public good for many reasons including public-spiritedness.
In the past we've exchanged ideas on creating learning communities that include donors, non profits, community and other stakeholdes. Let's hope that in 2008 we can build off some of these ideas and move toward making more of these types of communities a reality.
Posted by: Dan Bassill | December 28, 2007 at 06:31 PM
Posted by: Phil | December 28, 2007 at 09:47 PM