[repost from August]
I wrote this in reaction to some conversation that has been happening regarding NTAP collaboration.
NTAP Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World
Collaboration among nonprofits is a well-studied subject with fairly well defined best practices. The modern technological, Internet-enabled “Web 2.0” world changes the logic of collaboration.
In community development, collaboration can best be described as a process in which personal relationships are built, trust is established, and collaboration begins. In a Web 2.0 world, collaboration and trust is the starting point rather than the ending point.
One of the key best practices in collaboration is to recognize that the relationship between two organizations goes through a natural evolution that is anchored in trust, communication and personal relationships.
The initial stage is a competitive relationship between organizations, competing for funding, publicity or other resources, generally perceiving the relationship as a zero-sum game.
As organizations start forming personal relationships, getting to know one another, they can begin to cooperate…neither organization changing their actions or plans, but getting together when their interests coincide.
Coordination begins the process changing organizational behavior to accommodate ones partner and begin achieving more together than could be achieved individually, even through cooperation. Enough trust has been established that a phone call about a coordination opportunity is warmly received and seriously considered.
Finally, once communication and trust are strong, organizations can plan together, coordinate their activities, and form the basis for long term collaboration.
Web 2.0 Collaboration
In a Web 2.0 world, collaboration is the default world view.
Technology is often critiqued for depersonalizing human activities. In Web 2.0 collaboration, the depersonalization of the process of collaboration generates unique opportunities and significant benefits.
Web 2.0 Collaboration begins with a single organization offering collaborative opportunities to anyone off the street. The default posture is trust of potential collaborative partners, rather than the expectation that trust is built over time through personal relationships.
The Google Maps API is a good example. Google offers any individual or organization the ability to collaborate by creating a mashup of their data and a Google map. People have displayed everything from Chicago crime data to Craigslist listings of apartments for rent via the Google maps interface.
Google offers the collaboration opportunity openly, trusting collaborative partners first, before creating personal relationships. If people misuse the API, the personal relationship kicks in that allows Google to pull out of the collaboration.
The characteristics of collaboration in a Web 2.0 world include:
- On-demand. Any organization can have on-demand collaboration with a partner.
- Highly scalable. Traditional collaboration is bounded by the limits of human-to-human relationships, machine-to-machine relationships are much more scalable.
- Independent of personal relationships. Since technology (APIs) rather than humans (phones) handle the collaboration, one-to-many and many-to-many collaborations can form and grow at a much higher rate.
The primary opportunity is for funders to support the “opening” of organizations’ proprietary outlook and systems.
Compumentor and VolunteerMatch have CRM systems with 50,000 and 30,000 nonprofits respectively. How can they open up their proprietary systems to provide a Web 2.0 collaboration opportunity?
Perhaps a partnership with Google or Yahoo enables adwords-like functionality on their websites. Compumentor and VolunteerMatch might derive revenue from such an arrangement, or require reciprocal arrangements with organizations, driving traffic into software sales or volunteer opportunities, respectively.
Technology producers like Compumentor, NTEN and Social Source Foundation can be supported in producing open technologies. Funders making key contributions… bringing a tool like Techfinder to a website run by an organization that neither NTEN nor Compumentor have relationships with… can jump start the sharing of technology.
CRM software built by the Social Source Foundation can be integrated with VolunteerMatch’s volunteer systems, providing seamless volunteer management or with Network for Good’s donation services, to provide seamless donation management.
All of these collaboration opportunities revolve around internal decisions at participating organizations to “open up” and put technology in place that facilitates and helps to manage openness.
Culture: The Only Significant Barrier
Most of the major technology nonprofits emerged during the dot com boom and are locked into proprietary “portal” business models that companies like Yahoo have long since abandoned.
Moving to a culture where the first question is “how can others leverage what I’m doing” rather than “how can I protect myself from other leveraging what I am doing” is a prerequisite for collaboration in a Web 2.0 world.