Global system for national citizens to write to their elected representatives

FROM: Duane Raymond

What NEED does this meet?
Those of us in the US, UK or Canada may not realise it - but in countries around the world there is a scarcity of systems which enable people to email/fax their elected representatives (i.e. Member of Parliament, congress person, senator, MEP). Enabling people to raise global issues locally would help a wide range of concerns influence national and local politicians. For global issues like climate change and unfair trade, this local influence globally is critical.

This meets the needs of people around the world to have the same online access to their elected representatives as we have in the US, UK or Canada.

What is the APPROACH?
In each country, these systems are currently developed nationally - meaning there is no one place to which anyone can turn to engage their elected representatives. This makes coordinating a global campaign more difficult.

This proposal is for a global web site / system where local campaigners anywhere can look up their elected representatives and fax/email them. It could be used by individual citizens, small dispersed groups or medium/large campaigning groups coordinating a global campaign.

For example an individual in Malaysia could look up their MP, a small campaigning group with contacts in Argentina, Mexico and Ghana could point their supporters to the site to email their MPs or a large NGO with supporters in 100 countries could direct their supporters to the same site so all have the ability to write to their representative locally.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
People anywhere in the world would have equal access to their elected representatives. This would deepen their engagement with democracy and make their representatives more accountable. It would make people's lives easier because they wouldn't have to hunt down and assemble the information for communicating with their elected representatives themselves - they would just be able to get on with communicating with them.

What is the COMPETITION?
Most parliaments around the world have a web site with representative names & contact details. However these are not always easy to find except by experienced web surfers/activists. In the few most developed countries, third party services exist - but these too are not always easy to find.

Having a global service means activists can tell each other where to act regardless of what country they are each in.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
A basic service could probably be established for £50,000. How much extra it takes depends on the chosen solution. If the system needs to get the data from authorities around the world - this will likely cost more. If the system extracts the information from parliamentary web sites - it will cost less but need updating whenever these parliamentary changes are made. Maintaining fax gateways around the world may also incur some ongoing costs.

As the eActivism manager for a large UK NGO I may be able to get some money allocated as it would help them as well.

November 9, 2003 in Connecting People, International, NGO Tools, Political | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Development Resource Tool

FROM: Stu Smith

What NEED does this meet?
I serve on a variety of boards and organizations in the not for profit community that produce special events to raise funds and awareness of the mission and achievements of these agencies, and each event requires building all the resources from scratch. I've always dreamed of having a database tool that could be a sliding scale subscription type resource available to all not for profits and the providers of goods and services they connect with to produce these events.

What is the APPROACH?
To build an online interactive subscription database resource that small not for profits could access for goods and services necessary to produce their special events.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Almost every not for profit has some form of a development officer or team that devotes most of their time to creating and managing special events to raise funds and awareness, to attract media attention, recruit volunteers and board members and to build ongoing relationships that keep their work known to the community they serve and are part of.

What is the COMPETITION?
I've seen a faltering endeavor called SFGoodworks.com but the founder says he ran out of money. I'd love to find something already in use so I could forget my idea and use theirs.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
I imagine the initial costs would be building an effective interactive database and beta testing it. I don't know the costs, but I know that programmers need to be paid and there are costs for creating a legal entity, building a model and launching it. My hope is that some company might be interested in a grant for development.

November 7, 2003 in NGO Tools, Web-In-A-Box Systems | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ACT - Activist Communications Tool

FROM: Teresa Crawford

What NEED does this meet?
Activists around the world have an overwhelming need to process, package and disseminate information to engage, insprire and motivate supporters, allies and other activists. Existing tools are not easily adapted to integrate SMS, blog, e-mail and fax to support information campaigns. ACT would build an adaptable, scalable platform that integrates these tools and make them useful for activists.

What is the APPROACH?
The tool integrates two currently widely used tools – e-mail and fax - and two under utilized but potentially powerful tools – SMS and blog – into one low resource, easily used software tool that will help organizations streamline and maximize the impact of their information campaigns. ACT would be a completely client managed solution that depends on existing external blog, SMS, fax servers and services with the costs paid by the activist.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Using ACT activists will be able to better manage their campaigns and improve the quality of the relationship they have with their constituents, supporters and other activists. It also lessens the information overload and decreases activists reliance on outside consultants and technical support to harness ICTs for their campaigns. The anticipated outcome is the increased likelihood that individuals, organizations, networks and movements campaign goals are achieved more quickly and on a larger scale.

What is the COMPETITION?
There are no exisiting Open Source services such as this and only a handful of expensive proprietary systems.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
A team already exists of developers and designers in New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Sofia, Bulgaria who are prepared to develop the tool. Non profit technology assistance providers in Central and Eastern Europe, Sub Saharan Africa and the Balkans are ready to roll out the tool. Total cost is 150,000 USD.

November 4, 2003 in NGO Tools, Web-In-A-Box Systems | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Web Calendar auto-generated from mailing lists

FROM: Peter Groves

What NEED does this meet?
Web calendars (specifically activist calendars) have a significant problem in that every event must be manually added to all web sites the poster wishes to advertise on. As a result it's rare that they are actually up-to-date and contain much useful info. In contrast, mailing lists for various groups have lots of up to date info for people who have specifically asked to receive updates on the activist group, sports club, band, etc, that the list is about. The information is there for people who know to ask for it. There is a chicken and the egg problem, though: how do people know to request info on your events if they don't know what your events are? On a college campus, for instance, hundreds of groups are having events all the time, from weekly meetings to speakers to protests, but often the only ones who know about them are people who are already in the group.

What is the APPROACH?
Information extraction (related to information retrieval - the broader category web search engines fall under) is the process of filling in a database with information found in text. There's quite a bit of research in this area in Universtities, but little commercial applications (one company makes software to pull out name, skills, yrs. experience, etc from resumes submitted electronically). If you could get a few volunteers to search the web for every mailing list that might announce events, you could sign up some central email address to receive the mails. Then as the emails came in, an information extraction engine could automatically populate a calendar by pulling out the date, time, location, and event title (more likely it would be a summary because the exact title is difficult to identify, but that's a technical issue to be worked out later). This could be combined with some sort of geographic information backend (some such projects have been submitted, such as "collaborative cartography system") so that people could even do geograpic based queries. If we wanted to be ambitious, we could even create personalized feeds based on where people live and what they're interested in that could be handled by some open source calendar software, and people's calendars could be updated automatically.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Currently, people announcing events must manually submit the info to each calendar site they want to be seen on. If the sites were using this technology, the mailing-list operators could simply add them to the mailing list and the information they sent to their members would automatically get displayed. If many groups started doing this, the quality of community web calendars would increase significantly and people would be more likely to visit them, or even request an rss feed for events in their area.

What is the COMPETITION?
The competition is every web-based community calendar that requires you to fill out a form to submit an event, or requires the calendar-maintainer to do it themselves from information in an email they receive.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
There is a decent amount of open source code that could be exploited (the data-base backend, mail management, html calendar display, etc). There is some information extraction code (like GATE from the University of Sheffield), but that's usually written in java, and this may be computation-intensive enough to warrant rewriting in a different language (like ocaml, I have no interest in dealing with C/C++ code).

If we wished to simply write/maintain the application, the only cost would be developer time. Existing calendar sites could simply use our application. Running a server wouldn't be hard, however, it would just take a machine to do the processing and another machine to be the actual web server. It would probably require someone to fix incorrect postings, which may be a full time job if thousands of emails are being handled.

November 3, 2003 in Matching System, NGO Tools, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (108)

The Tipping Point or The Hundredth Monkey .com

FROM: Jim O'Connor

What NEED does this meet?
Many people would like to help their world or community in some way, such as by using public transport instead of driving, or contributing to a charity, or helping in a local scheme, or voting for a certain political party, or protesting against something, BUT, they know that doing so on their own without massive numbers of other people also following the same course of action would be a waste of time and/or effort and/or money.

In this way, even though large numbers of people would like to do something, enough to make a difference, they never do it due to the absence of some mechanism by which they can co-ordinate their activities.


What is the APPROACH?
This site would help by allowing people to pledge to carry out one of the actions above (or something else) IF a certain number of other people do the same. They will enter the pledge, or pick an existing one and specify the threshold number of other people that they would require to also make the same pledge before they would be prepared to actually carry it out.

The system would hold all the pledges, email addresses and thresholds in a standard database and when the threshold was reached for a particular pledge/group of people, it would email all the people to let them know so that they can begin carrying out the action.

The system would need a database, a bit of math and an intelligent way of categorising pledges so that people can find the one they are looking for. Some pledges would be global, some local.

The site could also contain sections with expert analyses outlining how many people would be required to carry out some course of action to make it beneficial. This would allow people to make an intelligent choice of threshold for any particular pledge.


To answer the question, I think the approach is distinctive not only because it could co-ordinate any conceivable beneficial activity but because it will allow everyone to set their own personal threshold level. You could, for example, say I will begin to "recycle household waste in the London area" but only if 2 million other Londoners also do it. You don't then have to begin recycling until 2 million other people also agree to do it - and of course if that many people did agree to do it then the government would be forced to make recycling in London much easier than it is now. So by setting the threhold figure you are basically stipulating a level of inconvenience that you are willing to experience.


What are the BENEFITS to people?
More participation in beneficial activities as people know they are not doing it alone and therefore wasting their time and/or money.

I remember once reading something by Noam Chomsky in which he said that if one person were to make the decision to use public transport instead of driving to work they would put themselves at great inconvenience and therefore lose out, but if everyone were to do it together then the extra investment would allow such an improvement in services that we would all get to work in half the time and in greater comfort. BUT, it needs everyone to do it together for the benefit to arise. This is the type of thing that the site will facilitate. Co-ordinated action. He said it had something to do with Game Theory.

What is the COMPETITION?
I don't know.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The system would need a database, a bit of math and an intelligent way of categorising pledges so that people can find the one they are looking for.

System would be pretty cheap I think. Some bright student could probably knock up a prototype in a couple of days.

Would need an administrator.

November 2, 2003 in Connecting People, Helping Your Community, Matching System, NGO Tools, Pledge Banks, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (3)

Pro Bono Referral System

FROM: Jason Gorman

What NEED does this meet?
Every year more than $2.4 trillion is spent on IT, mostly by large corporations and government agencies who can afford to invest huge sums in new technology that gives them a significant competitive advantage over no-for-profit NGOs. This creates a massive imbalance in the power of these - often quite amoral - organisations over organisations that are trying to do some good in the world. As an IT consultant and trainer I would really like to give some of my time - maybe a couple of weeks every year - to help and advise these organisations and offer them some of the kind of "big IT" advantage that my usual clients are getting from people like myself. Unfortunately, I am just one person and my efforts alone don't go very far to redressing the balance if "Information Power". To make a real difference, a large percentage of people working in IT consulting - and doing very well, thank you very much - must also give some of their time.

What is the APPROACH?
I propose a system for putting the best IT consultants in touch with the worthiest causes that would allow organisations like Greenpeace, Oxfam, Amnesty International and many, many other worthy causes to find top quality systems advice, training and even development (like this web site, for example). Not only would the systemn hold details of thousands of senior IT consultants in the UK and abroad, but it would also keep details of when these people are available and what causes are closest to their hearts - helping people to find a good match and then schedule small consulting projects or training courses more effectively.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
With better advice and training, NGOs could be better placed in the "information food chain" to effectively compete against global corporations and be heard above the noise of information overload that IT generates. Just as it has in industry and commerce, better use of IT could help NGOs make their money - and their message - go further and maybe do just that little bit of extra good. C'mon, guys! We've earned our money and now its time to give something back.

What is the COMPETITION?
For lawyers, maybe. For IT professionals - not that I know of (we're a pretty selfish bunch...)

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Effort and cost would depend on how sophisticated the system was. A simple consultant's database, with the ability to browse and search for consultants by technology/skills/experience, location and availability would probably not cost more than a few thousand pounds to build. But this could be a bootstrap proposition. Maybe the first consultants to offer their services for free wouyld be the ones who designed and implemented the system. Maybe it should be funded by donations from IT consultants (?) Even if the software development was undertaken by well-meaning folk in the industry, there would still be the cost of hosting etc. Also, the idea only works if enough GOOD consultants and enough WORTHY causes take it up, so their will need to be some kind of campaign to make the right people aware that the system exists.

November 1, 2003 in Connecting People, Giving stuff away, Matching System, NGO Tools | Permalink | Comments (3)

AdoptAGeek.org - helping geeks serve the local community

FROM: Patrick Lewin

What NEED does this meet?
This idea came about as I am a programmer/web designer and have quite a few friends working in the charity sector.

I noticed that although there are places where charities can get computer equipment 2nd hand (normally for free), there aren\'t any obvious ways to get cheap / free technical help on how to use the things to do stuff!

So the website would link computer experts (many of whom tend to be genorous with giving their time and expertise if only they knew how) with charity and other nonprofit enterprises in their local area.

The website itself would be envisaged as a non-profit \"date matching\" type service and would include such spurious but fun features such as \"Geek of the Week\", focussing in on one person and what they\'ve managed to achieve. It would also have a forums area to allow geeks to share experiences and provide tech.

What is the APPROACH?
I\'m not aware of such a website resource, or at least not one that has been successfully \"marketed\". So, if done right it would be a unique resource.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
As stated in the NEED: section above, I have worked with numerous charities and have seen the need for a accessible, computer knowledgable people in the cash-strapped charity sector. Needless to say, schools and community centres could benefit too.

What is the COMPETITION?
As mentioned above, I\'m not aware of a similar service or at least one that has caught on.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
It could be handled by one website designer as a full-time project for about three-six months, ideally with input from a graphic designer to help with look\'n\'feel. After that, the ongoing maintenance cost would only be subject to bandwidth charges (i.e. how many people are using the site).

The website could be released in embryonic form much earlier than the release date of course.

November 1, 2003 in Connecting People, Giving stuff away, Helping Your Community, Matching System, NGO Tools | Permalink | Comments (5)

Event Registration System

FROM: Tim Aumann

What NEED does this meet?
Charitable groups run events all the time that require to sign up - anything from a class or seminar to summer camp programs and trips. Each charity currently buys or develops software for managing these events (or worse, different sowftare for each type of event!). The idea would be develop a flexible, open-source system that a charity could use for event registration.

What is the APPROACH?
This approach is distintive in two ways. First, by offering the service for free, you free up charitable resources. Second, by offering a flexible yet standard method for event management, you make the entire event management process easier for the charity.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
People will be able to sign up for events that interest them easily and quickly online. Charities will not have to expend resources developing event management systems.

What is the COMPETITION?
Not that I know of. There are event management packages that can be purchased from for-profit organizations.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
It depends on how flexible you want to make it. With flexibility comes expense. A simple "sign me up for this one-off class of seminar" application would be cheaper than system that could also handle signing you up for multiple classes at different times at the same event. Same with if you add in a mehtod for online payment. But overall, it should not be too expensive. Probably a couple of man-months or so to develop and code. Using open-source toosl such as Java and MySQL would cut the operational expenses.

October 31, 2003 in NGO Tools, Web-In-A-Box Systems | Permalink | Comments (7)

Consolidated Hardware Clearing House

FROM: Dirk P

What NEED does this meet?
In the US we have a huge surplus of reasonably current machines (Pentium 233+) that can still be used as small-scale servers, special purpose workstations, thin clients and what have you. My organization alone regularly has to sell at surplus, in a flea-market or boot sale fashion, literally hundreds of still serviceable workstations and servers because of upgrades.

My idea is to create a centralized site where any charitable organization can register and state their needs, and organizations with surplus hardware can list what they potentially have available to donate to legitimate charities. Obviously a thorough background check will be necessary on both sides to insure the system is not abused. It would include a directory of available volunteers, with their skillsets, who are willing to help package, transport, ship, install, plan, configure, etc... the donated hardware and applicable software.

If anyone in the country could get their own PC and the training to use it, what could the future hold as far as a tchnolgically prepared and proficient population?

What is the APPROACH?
I am not really sure how to approach this project. The hardware/software and programming is a minor concern compared to the massive task of getting organizations to buy into it. I have just been mulling this idea over for a few years now and thought it you could use it then feel free.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
There are so many school systems, churches, neighbourhood centres and other good causes that can't get hold of decent technology to help their members. School systems in particular could benefit from having an infrastructure built through this approach. I strongly feel the more people we have conversant with technology the better off the plant as a whole will be. I think with the ability to coordinate the donations and expertise of many organizations it would be possible to build an infrastructure of assistance, where access to a PC and the training to use it are available at almost no cost.

What is the COMPETITION?
I don't know of any other consolidated approaches to this task. While there are organizations that do perform this service I believe they would be more than pleased to broaden their reach with a country wide system. They might even be willing to pitch in with assistance in resources and manpower.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The hardware and software portion is probably the easiest to impement. Ideally it will run on Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (LAMP), which lowers the software costs to nil. The project can be implemented on surplus hardware donated from the same organizations we would be assisting.

The dificult part is getting the charitable organizations, businesses, and government entities to buy into the approach. Schools are an example of the difficulty faced. They are extremely reluctant to take donations due to district budget constraints, local politics, tax issues, and internal political issues. Changes in their procedures would have to be made in order for them to truly benefit from a program like this.

October 31, 2003 in Giving stuff away, Matching System, NGO Tools | Permalink | Comments (5)

good cause database

FROM: iain hughes

What NEED does this meet?
Various charities /organisations/ local community schemes that help people out (including this one) often need the odd job doing by people such as training, painting, building, labouring designing etc...

propose a good cause website database that allows organisations to ask for people to either volunteer (or a token amount)

What is the APPROACH?
a web site! that once an organisation has registered - allows them to manually update work needed, perhaps another database of helpers or companies that participate, could be possible


What are the BENEFITS to people?
allows people to do charity/ volunteer work easier

What is the COMPETITION?
there is plenty of directories of charities, but none for actual work - this idea may be extended beyond charities to local community schemes

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
just the usual web database/ graphics and a bit of marketing

October 31, 2003 in Connecting People, Giving stuff away, Matching System, NGO Tools | Permalink | Comments (4)