Jim Fruchterman of Benetech writes about four barriers that prevent web-based technology from producing social change. We think that the CiviCRM/ Social Source Foundation approach, based on the lessons of open source communities, is the best strategy for surmounting all four barriers.
What’s the great barrier to producing social change in general? Funding availability, especially to the most capable and dynamic groups. The web-based modifier doesn’t change that fact.In a social source ecosystem, the vast majority of the money is generated in a commercial market. Firms and individuals selling services related to CiviCRM can generate sufficient resources to fix bugs, innovate, market the platform and generally "keep the lights on" in the community. Sure there are issues... free riders, commercial interests at odds with social change, but we believe they are surmountable.
A second issue is the difficulty in designing effective software for the social sector. The sector is reasonably balkanized, and market incentives don’t provide enough push to make better software, with a few exceptions (i.e., fund raising software). Plus, the users are not developers, and so it’s hard to understand what mission-critical tasks the software can effectively assist with.In a social source ecosystem, users, intermediaries and developers are part of a community. They communicate through mailing lists, forums, events, and consultants. By increasing the number and frequency of communication channels, users can have access to ideas of "what is possible" in a language they understand, developers are specialized and focused on meeting nonprofit needs (and have a slightly better chance at understanding mission critical tasks), but the intermediaries are the key. That is why we spend a lot of time recruiting intermediaries into our ecosystem.
Distribution in the broadest sense is the third big barrier. Building it doesn’t make them come, generally. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most social change groups.Again, bring in the folks with the incentive to market. Small progressive organizations, for example, are often served by small consultants. Make ir easy for them to do their job and let them so the marketing for the ecosystem. Larger consulting firms spread the word to larger players. Here again, intermediaries are critical.
IP rights are the fourth significant barrier. When the money is not there, owners of intellectual property believe they cannot afford to go after socially oriented applications.Which begs the question, why would anyone license software for social change under ANYTHING but an open source license (an aguement I've made before), preferably a viral one that actively ensures that innovations are shared with the community. It has yet to be demonstrated that innovation is stifled by open source licenses. In fact, as long as people can sell services, open source is a way to grow markets at the same time one reduces the cost of the item. Software becomes a commodity. Its cheap and there is an aweful lot of it... keep in mind there is big business in sand, lumber, coal, and other comodities. But buying some coal to heat your home is not particularly expensive.