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Online Debate or Isolation?

Here is an interesting pointer Karen sent me.  The debate online is real and includes visitors to the echochamber. 

SSRN-Getting Political on Social Network Sites: Exploring Online Political Discourse on Facebook by Matthew Kushin, Kelin Kitchener.
This study explores use of the social network site Facebook for online political discussion. A computer-mediated discourse analysis is applied to examine discussion occurring within a Facebook group concentrated on the contentious issue of state-sanctioned torture. Online political discussion has been criticized for isolating disagreeing persons from engaging in discussion and for having an atmosphere of uncivil discussion behavior. The researchers examine the presence of discussion between disagreeing parties and the civil nature of political discussion within the Facebook group under study. Analysis reveals the participation of disagreeing parties within the discussion with the large majority of posters (73%) expressing support for the stated position of the Facebook group, and a minority of posters (17%) expressing opposition to the position of the group. These results demonstrate the presence of discussion among disagreeing parties within the group, indicating that Facebook functioned to some extent to enable interaction among those who disagree. Despite the presence of uncivil discussion posting within the Facebook group, the large majority of discussion participation (75%) is devoid of flaming. This represents a willingness on the part of participants to engage in a discussion even though uncivil or aggressive communication styles are present. Reference within the discussion to a participant's Facebook profile was present although uncommon. Results of this study provide important groundwork and raise new questions for study of online political discussion as it occurs in the emergent internet technologies of social network sites. The authors advocate that further exploration is needed into the potentials of social media in the civic process.

The New Assumptions : Plans for the Economic Crisis

At this stage, it is clear that nonprofit and advocacy groups are also headed for extraordinarily difficult financial times. The cash crunch for the advocacy movement will be as bad as we can imagine and far worse than we can easily manage. We need a plan for how to remain effective.

We should all begin to operate with new assumptions:

1. We are going to be poorer nation. We are going to have less money to work with and we are going to be paying off debts and expenses for years to come. We must squeeze value out of every asset we have built or purchased.The decline in the national economy is going to reduce the cash flow into the advocacy movement by between 20 and 50 percent. Almost every organization will lose staff. The progressive advocacy movement at the end of 2010 will look very different from the movement at the end of 2008. all the best "recovery plans do not really mean "go back to 2007" they mean avoid 1929.

2. Unlike large, centrally managed corporations, the movement is going to dissolve in unpredictable and erratic ways. The sector’s many externalities, as well as its unregulated and dysfunctional reward and punishment systems, will bring about a rapid, non-linear unraveling of capacity. This means that the most effective groups might not survive, and the least effective groups will not automatically disappear. Nor is there a model to predict which group, partner, campaign staff, or policy wonk is going to be around next month. No one knows what regional offices national groups will close. The groups are not coordinating reductions. The talent and assets that remain are going to be scattered across the landscape. The movement will be left with a bunch of loose threads. The economic crash is going to require a sustained effort to repair and reconnect these threads--the elements of our movement--in order to continue to mount successful campaigns.

3. The deepening recession, environmental changes, political shifts, technological evolution and the ongoing wars will combine to create movement toward rapid change and cultural instability. There will be a quickening of political, cultural and individual behavioral change. For at least two years, the federal government is going to be dominated by Democrats. They are going to be able to move legislation and government action quickly on issues like health care, energy and public works. Opportunities to influence significant events and policies are going to come in tighter and more intense waves.

These assumptions will drive the way leaders in the nonprofit sector plan their organizational budgets. In the advocacy and social change movement, however, we rely on networks in addition to organizations to lead and drive change. Just as managers are creating plans for their organizations, the networks need plans to rationally deal with the reductions in overall capacity while also capitalizing on the opportunities that these disruptions will produce. We need something that is not “more of the same,” only smaller.

If we can ask the energy industry to remake itself, if we can ask health care industry to transform, if we can assume the auto industry will be totally different ...where is the vision for our own sector?

The network plan should take advantage of the technology and organizing tools developed in the last several years to manage a constructive reorganization and establish a new model for organizing that is smarter and more effective than the current model primarily dominated by large silos of competing institutions.

Join the planning discussion over on a wiki I set up to kick start the conversations

Time to change the 5% rule for foundations! 10% or bust!

I was in a meeting yesterday with a foundation officer who shall remain nameless (unless he comments on the blog). And he talked about the idea that the biggest asset base which has not been tapped in this economic crisis is the foundation asset base. It is a brilliant idea that should be explored.

As part of the stimulus plan, the administration should shift the IRS rule that minimum payout must exceed 10% for the next 3 to 5 years. The money in foundations is money that our society has set aside without taxation to improve our common good. The pool of funding is enormous. The payout from the pool of funding (is) can be regulated by the IRS. The IRS has a 5% rule that forces money out the door of these foundations.

Our society and the nonprofit sector need the influx of that cash now. Government is going to up taxes on everyone to pay for the stimulus eventually.

Today..without raising taxes, or impacting our deficits, the new administration could stimulate massive amount of activity by forcing the hands of these foundations.

Many progressive and good foundations are already spending down. They are stepping up to help in this economic crisis well above the minimum IRS allocation. However, for those that wish to sit out (and sit on assets) at such a time when our society and the nonprofit sector need them so much seems unacceptable. A small change in a regulatory rule effecting so few and benefiting so many scenes in order.

For progressives, who have a very favorable rate with regulatory and legislative climate, this forced move would inject real horsepower into nonprofit organizations at a time when they could create the most change.

It is an interesting idea. I would love to see the pros and cons fully debated.

Council on Foundations | Legal Essentials.

What is the 5 percent payout requirement? The purpose behind the minimum payout requirement[27] is to prevent foundations from simply receiving gifts, investing the assets and never spending any funds on charitable purposes. The basic rule can be stated simply, but its calculation is complex: Each year every private foundation must make eligible charitable expenditures that equal or exceed approximately 5 percent of the value of its endowment. The word "payout" while convenient is somewhat misleading and is not used in the Tax Code section that creates the rule. The word "payout" suggests grants or contributions paid out to other charities. Although these grants normally make up more than 93 percent of the expenditures of most foundations, many other expenses can also qualify in meeting the minimum payout requirement. In short, the 5 percent payout rule need not be satisfied solely with grants.

Notes inspired by Harold Katzmir (FAS)

I was recently in an amazing session/discussion with Harold Katzmir of FAS research. Harold a started talking about his experience and some of the network theory around "energy" that he has been developing. At one point, he summarized work in one slide where he said to "save a network" you can:

  1. increase the flow
  2. decrease the complexity
  3. increase the networks ability to do aggregation.


It is great to look at these three things that need to be done. We can think about ways to increase the flows in the advocacy networks. We can spell out a series of ways to decrease the complexity in our networks. And, we can find ways to increase the aggregation power of our advocacy networks.


We have to think about what are the things that flow in an advocacy network. Flows could be money, trust, data, information, reputation, intellectual property, media and multimedia assets, opportunity or vision, energy, time and skills. Those are the good things that flow in the network I would assume that the opposite of those would also flow across the network including hatred, debt, lies, confusion, etc.


If we are working to "save the network" and we can not put more money into the network, we can put other flows in like information, trust, reputation, intellectual property, the vision, energy, time, and skills. It is these flows that will sustain our networks through the economic crisis.


The second part of his challenge is to look at the things that would decrease complexity. In the network-centric advocacy model, we generally talk about elements of feedback, leadership, shared vision, shared language, better communications channels and resource sharing. The building of each of the elements make a network function. Each serves to decrease the complexity because the rules, the language, the throughput and outcomes, the words and the pathways through the network, become clearer to everyone.


Decreasing complexity and increasing aggregation, are directly related to the ability to streamline and organize. If we want to increase aggregation, then we have to have feedback mechanisms to allow the participants in the network to see each other's transactions and activities, we have to have a capacity to harvest resources across the network. We have to have the ability to synchronize intellectual property, synchronize time contributions, synchronize money, and synchronize vision.


Much of the work in the coaching and the training and network design that we view as around finding new flows, streamlining network complexity, and aggregating network power.


I really enjoy anytime I get to spend with Harold and his team. The theory behind his work is brilliant. (Check out an FAS presentation)

The Network Changes Everything..

The centrality of group effort to human life means that anything that changes the way groups function will have profound ramifications for everything from commerce and government to media and religion. Page 16 Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirky


This is just one of the many lines that I have made notes on in my copy of Clay's book. I struggled for a while, feeling like the guy with a hammer who sees everything as a nail. I could understand that once I had started playing around with the network organizing principles why it just seems so pervasive. Clay's book does a good job at nailing my perspective. So much of what we do as people spins out from our social nature. We built networks because we must. Networks are our survival mechanisms. We are in some ways like ants evolving over 10,000 years to become highly colonized hives of people colonized living in an ecosystem with other networks of people. These changes in creating and managing networks, the reduction in barriers to participation in the network, and the new scales of networks are changing everything.


It is uncomfortable to say that the networks change everything but they do. They are in the process of rebooting our global commerce system, our religions, the way we fight, the way we produce food, the way we manage our security, the ways we do our accounting of our friends, and the way we stay in touch with the people that matter most to us.


We are add a transition point in the rebooting process, we still have many parts of the network that have not "migrated" and the role of some of us ants is to get busy connecting and wiring the new system.