Notizie, curiosità, risorse e best practices sull’uso dei social media da parte delle organizzazioni non governative.
Nel 2012 questo blog ha ospitato gli aggiornamenti di un lavoro di ricerca a cura di Donata Columbro sulla comunicazione della cooperazione internazionale attraverso i nuovi media cofinanziata dalla Fondazione CRT e della Fondazione Giovanni Goria nell’ambito del Master dei Talenti della Società Civile.

Lessons learned in four years of working in NGO and social media

by Donata Columbro

The most dangerous thing to do is to remain motionless.

William Seward Burroughs

It was my last week of work for an NGO 2.0., Volunteers for development and CISV. The latter was the leader NGO for this editorial project, first, and then also the leader in terms of innovation applied to cooperation for development.

In 2010, after my graduation in international relations followed by a period of study in Burkina Faso, I made it to VpS. I literally could not wait to write for one of my favorite newspapers, which had, incidentally, helped me define – and refine – my academic career.

In these four years, I have learned a lot. I was lucky enough to both study and live through the evolution of a newspaper  able to turn itself into a speaker and an advocate for change among Italian non-governmental organizations. Although I cannot remember who said the phrase “If you want to learn, teach,” all I can say is this is so true for me. ONG 2.0 Webinars and online classes were a precious window of lifelong learning. At that time,  NGOs and nonprofit associations were slowly starting to allow new working and design paradigms to shape them, with no fear of comparing experiences and holding conversation through the many web and social media applications.

Three things lesson I learned that I would like to share with you in this entry.

  1. The change happening by virtue of the digital media and economic  crisis is scary to most NGOs. As a matter of fact, much is yet to be done, so  whoever “knows” and “can do” something needs to be willing to be an agent of change. Requests for help to understand “new” media (we accept the fact that for many are still new) do exist and should be listened to.
  2. Participation to community life is 60% of our job. It is akin to reading the newspaper to know what happened in the world. If you want to know the people, who chose and are still choosing you, you need to get acquainted with them. Long live Facebook groups! In our specific case, long live to Cooperanti si diventa (Becoming aid workers).
  3. Research and experimentation make up for the remaining 40% of the job. Getting your hands dirty (see picture) by trying out new tools and strategies is essential, in order to both be credible to who we want to educate about digital media and start the change ourselves.

Sometimes, change also means stopping and deciding to pass the baton.

The web doesn’t change the world, but allows the meeting of people who wish to do.

Claudia Vago (@tigella) said so during the last edition of Internet festival of Pisa. It is a beautiful phrase indeed, and the foundation of much of our work. Even more so today, given that my baton passes to her. The whole ONG 2.0 team is left in good hands.


Break down the fortress: 4 reasons to use open data in non-profits

by Donata Columbro

According to the latest Aid Transparency Index, an increasing number of international agencies and governments have begun to publish their data on development funds. Some of this data are released in an open format, in full compliance with international standards such as those set forward by the IATI Convention.

Why should the third sector be interested (and educated) to use open data? In this entry, I outlined four reasons for which is make sense. In the light of my speech at the Varese News festival those reasons are:

  1. The demand for transparency keeps getting higher and higher. This is true for both governments and organizations managing public funds. Generally speaking, however, any player in the field requires a certain amount of trust from their reference community (citizens, stakeholders, volunteers, donors) to carry out his or her activities. Therefore, the public opinion has an increased need for trustworthy data, which also accessible and allow for change to be predicated upon them. The option of mandating non-profits and social enterprises alike to measure their social impact “ROI”, (meaning the “return of investment”) has already been discussed at European level. In this context, data are priceless in looking at the link between allocated resources and project outcomes, identifying excluded areas and subjects and making better decisions for the future. In other words, open data means improving accountability.
  2. It is a matter of communication. If you think about it, solutions for the world problems might already be there, but could be nested “in pdf files that nobody reads.” A recent World Bank report revealed how nearly one-third of the published reports has never been downloaded once. 40% of those was downloaded less than 100 times. Only 13% of the reports got downloaded 250 during their “shelf life”. And it is no coincidence that in 2010, the WB was one of the first international organizations to publish their database in an open format. A nice “side effect” of open data is the greater ease in producing infographics of one’s work, which is very useful in organizing contents and defining effective communication campaigns. Incidentally, the Guardian reminds us that one of the first data visualization in history was done in 1857 for the non-profit sector. During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale drew an infographic of the mortality in soldiers so she could convince Queen Victoria to improve the conditions of military shelters.
  3. UN wants it. On November 8th, the draft report on Data revolution invoked by Ban ki moon was published. It calls for a greater commitment to the impact assessment of the funded projects and the monitoring of the living conditions of the population through those data. UN agencies such as UN Global Pulse were founded on this need. They want to help NGOs and non-profit organizations to get to a greater integration with governments and businesses so to be able to use their data in the design and evaluation of nonprofit projects.
  4. Let us stir up one thing or two. We need nonprofit to champion open data. Enthusiasm during a public debate is not missing, however let us keep in mind that more data is not equivalent to better data. The provision of data that are not accurate, old and/or difficult to have access to does not lead to greater transparency, but to data overload instead. NGOs and nonprofits should champion the revolution, by implementing good practice on how open data can help change and sharing difficulties and failures as well. Data users should be involved in this process.

If you’re still confused about what open data are, check out this video from the Trentino Open Data Challenge. It is a tale about open data.



Beth Kanter, how NGOs survive in a connected world

Beth Kanter is a non-profit consultant insofar as communication strategies and social networking go. Her work is also her mission. She travels around the world to help NGOs shape their structure around web 2.0 features, i.e., participation, transparency, and horizontal relationships. During the Internet Festival in Pisa, Kanter will deliver a keynote on networked nonprofits. In the meanwhile, we are sharing with you a summary of the interview featured in our e-book.

by Donata Columbro

If non-profits had a ‘ guru ‘ to represent them, it would be Beth Kanter. She has over four hundred thousand followers on Twitter, and was named “one of the most influential women in technology” (Fast Company Magazine, 2009) and “voice of innovation for social media” (Business Week). She is the muse invoked by communicators and social media managers when trying to implement innovations in communication strategies within NGOs. In addition to being the author of a very popular blog about “how nonprofits can use social media”, she is a researcher for the David Lucile Packard Foundation from 2009. She also was the 2010 Society of New Communications Research Fellow. Training is her passion. “I like to teach how to use online social media to bring about off-line change” she muses during an overseas skype call whose purpose was to understand how to become gurus in this industry.

A passion for change

“I started working with nonprofits more than 30 years ago,” says Beth, “I have done consulting since 1985. In the 90s, I realized the internet could be a crucial tool for my mission. I started my blog ten years ago and now am co-author of various books on the topic.” The best known among her books might very well be the one released in 2010 along with Allison H. Fine, another very well known consultant and nonprofit blogger. The title, “The Networked nonprofit. Connecting with social media to drive change“, is, in and of itself, a masterpiece of synthesis. Whoever wonders every day what to do of his Facebook page and Twitter account now knows how the answer is about getting your nonprofit connected via social media so to be able to drive change. Easy, right? “Nope! It is definitely not easy. Also, there are strengths and limitations to this approach” Kanter concedes “If at first nonprofits don’t see results they become skeptical, and unwilling to do some long-term investment. However, change does take a long time, and is a laborious process. ” Kanter calls it ‘ resistance to change ‘ and is very common, especially in organizations that have been a “fortress” for quite time. Organizations-fortress contrast the idea of “networked” nonprofit. They are hierarchical, and display information control and fear of interference from outside. It is easy to understand why the internet revolution put them in crisis. Nobody can survive the web if having an attitude of closure and “sooner or later they need to adapt if they want to be competitive ‘ Kanter warns. Because “funding is increasingly scarce” (nonprofits know!) “organizations will need to become good at finding individual support. The way to get this done is to be present where other people are, therefore not having a definite online presence on social networks today is a liability”.bethkanter

From fortress to networked

At the polar opposite of fortresses we have the networked non-profits.  They are collaborative and transparent organizations used at bottom-up decision-making, which gives a lot of leverage to their supporters. As a general rule, the fortresses were founded many years ago, their leadership has not been renewed, whereas networked nonprofits are young, innovative and open. The latter were started few years ago and have the striking advantage of a very lean structure, just like the web. An example of an NGO able to turn from fortress to networked is the American Red Cross. Severely criticized in the aftermath of Katrina, its leaders responded by hiring a social media expert to handle bad opinions of bloggers and increase transparency. By pulling an extra effort in listening to and monitoring twitter and blogs, the Red Cross has managed to reverse the situation and win $ 50K from the Western Union Foundation thanks to the likes of fans on facebook.

To read the whole interview download the ONG 2.0 Ebook for free

Donate data for a good cause

Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies know a lot about us. The reason that accounts for that is, we leave our data in exchange for free services. Therefore, they know what we buy, what movies we watch, what we like, how we manage our relationships, where we live, and the like. All of this is valuable information that entrepreneurs exploit to earn money with our consent. Why not using this “wealth” for a good cause, then?

Read more

Open data for the cooperation, Italy does not even know what we’re talking about

Data can make a difference, in international cooperation as well. They can you tell us if the project has failed or has been run successfully. They can help us understand the overall strategy of a non-governmental organization and show in what direction to develop aid policies of governments. How active is Italy in these practices of transparency?

by Donata Columbro

From a governance perspective, Italy is not very active. At the time of my writing, the website of the Italian cooperation does not even have a section for available statistics. Every link to regulations, reports and country sheets lead to pdf documents, a format that could be further away from the official definition of open data and the meaning of releasing data in open formats.

As early as 2012, the Vice President of the World Bank Sanjay Pradhan stressed the importance of open data to change how to plan cooperation actions. “Nowadays, developing countries will not accept secondhand solutions from the United States, Europe or the World Bank. On the other hand, they gain inspiration, hope and practical skills from successful emerging economies of the South. They want to know how China in 30 years has lifted 500 million people from poverty. They also want to know how the Oportunidades in Mexico program has improved the education and nutrition of millions of children. The new ecosystem of open knowledge fluxes works in this way, as knowledge does not transfer just from North to South, but also from South to South, and even from South to North”.

What open data are

Let us start with what they are not. They are not “numbers” in a pdf file, and they also are not reports. According to the Open Data Handbook, they are “data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone, although they might need to cite the source and be shared with the same type of license with which they were originally issued”. If we want to understand what it means to have an open data program in development cooperation, we can just browse the UK site of co-operation. A “development tracker” follows the citizen in the reading of public spending numbers in development assistance, with all the original data sets freely available and ready to use in any format, per project and per country. The Swedish and Norwegian cooperation sites take the same approach. In order to follow a similar approach in Italy, you need to use individual web documentary, such as Follow the money (getting data from the OECD). American cooperation moves far beyond it, as it even has a profile on GitHub, a platform where developers upload their open source software projects and discuss changes with the community.


(comparison between the Italian and British cooperation websites)

In his Ted Talk, Pradhan highlighted the importance of accompanying the data release by humanitarian organizations with open government a startup project. Both actions are aimed at openness, transparency and civic participation in all fields and by the Governments of both the North and the South. Unfortunately, Italy lags behind in this field as well, given that a new rejection was issued a few weeks ago by Independent Reporting Mechanism of Open Government Partnership (OGP). Ernesto Belisario analyzed it in depth on Wired.

Caution: do not confuse “open data” with “big data”. The latter term refers to data collected in large quantities from either public or private companies, which can be processed by powerful software often unavailable to non-governmental organizations or editorial boards. The magnitude of big data is of the order of the zettabyte, i.e. billion terabytes, such as the phone records collected by the American Security Agency in its Prism surveillance program. The collection, analysis and visualization of big data also require the power of thousands of servers (read the definition on Wikipedia).

Aid transparency Initiative

Even the enrollment of organizations in the Aid Transparency Initiative has not been very successful among Italian NGOs. The International Aid Transparency Initiative was presented in 2008 at a forum on aid effectiveness in Accra. It is a platform for the release of open data on aid, whose goal is to make the information on aids easier to access, use, and understand. Data are uploaded through the AidStream application. How many Italian NGOs registered for it? None.

Available international databases

Collections of internationally data are available to journalists and developers wanting to explore cooperation for development through data visualization. Here is a list that we will try to keep updated with your suggestions:

World Bank



Open data for Africa


Directorate-General for development and cooperation EU

ODA (Official Development Assistance)

Update from Italy (21 March 15:18 hrs) – and some good news

The word “open data” is mentioned in the 2014-2016 guidelines and policies for the Italian cooperation, under the accountability and transparency paragraph.  The document states that “in 2014, during the Italian Presidency of the EU, an open data platform will be launched. It will be meant to make all funding and cooperation data public and useful. The database will help achieve transparency and accountability objectives with respect to “internal” guidelines towards the partners and the OECD-Dac. Additionally, it will help the citizenship at large (citizens, researchers, journalists) to get acquainted with cooperation, its numbers, and its stories. All of this will be disseminated through multimedia materials dealing with the presence of Italian cooperation in single countries and the implementation of individual projects”.

We are looking forward to being able to gain access to such an information mine.





Scientists without borders for co-operation


Changing the world with data analysis is an initiative of Jake Porway, scientist in the R&D department of the New York Times, who combines non-profit and statistics in the service of humanity. And yet he is not the only one promoting this sort of “laboratory volunteerism”.

by Donata Columbro

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NGOs should learn from the Guardian

On March 27 Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, launched a tweet abot ten participatory journalism rules that the editorial board of his newspaper  decided to adopt. They also happen to be ten rules any non-governmental organization could – and should – make their own.

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