Cool Tools for Change
I attended a one day conference last week entitled "Cool Tools for Change"(www.cooltoolsforchange.org). It covered some inexpensive (many are free) ways to help community organizations run more smoothly while strengthening social networks. There has been a proliferation of the information and networking, hardware and software, tools for social innovation. This has happened because of the convergence of two driving forces - Open Source and the driving force for participatory democracy. Open source is itself a "democratic" process for the development of very important software systems and modules. Cool Tools for Change is a project of students and faculty, the Community Informatics Team, at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
CommunityNetworking.org, also a project of the Community Informatics Team, is a resource and news site for organizations that need to use computers and the Internet, but which have to work with low budgets. New technologies and techniques are emerging that allow low-budget, community-based organizations to improve their use of information technologies and still stay within their financial means. Examples include Open Source software, new wireless networks and low-cost computers. This Web site is a way for people who work for low-budget organizations—such as nonprofits, schools, libraries, and small governmental units—to stay abreast of what's happening in the field of computer networking, and to learn more about what might be affordable.
The cool tools web sites mentioned above are under development, so if you don't see what you need now, come back in a few months and check again.
David Pearce Snyder, a consulting futurist, has been writing and saying for years that the Open Source methodology of developing software will become the way innovation is going to be developed in the future. He was right, as he often has been. These tools are innovations that are being developed with an Open Source model. For more information, read David's article, "Compexipacity", in the forthcoming edition (April 2004) of the Innovation Road Map Magazine.
deanspace was discussed several times as a prime example of how these tools can be used in grass root political developments. Even though the candidate has dropped out, the deanspace effort will live on in a new form. The development of this application using Open Source methology and tools, and the way it was used, is an innovation worth studying. It may give some clues into how organizations might operate in the future.
The biggest source of these Open Source software applications and software modules is SourceForge.net. There are many variations of the "Forge" concept as you can readily find out by searching on "open source forge". A brand new, early stage version of the "Forge" concept is OrgForge.org. It is a Wiki. A Wiki is a collaborative web site that can be edited by anyone. According to OrgForge.net, "Wikis are great for building up a wealth of information about a subject by pooling substantial resources in the community. A Wiki can be used to help generate new ideas or document existing ones." The OrgForge Wiki is being developed to create the nonprofit analogue of the Open Source web sites for software. Its goal is to pool community experience in nonprofit organizations and to build an Open Source of that information.
All of this is about self-organizing systems, a topic of great importance to innovation and our future.