Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Online Capacity Mapping and Resource Matching for Nonprofits

"I was first inspired to think about one giant web-based tool for capacity mapping and resource matching for nonprofits..."

That was Deb Finn's opening line to tell us the topic of last night's Ethos Roundtable. Of course, this is huge and there is no one tool out there right now. It's more like a garden of available tools that, partly through conversations with Deb on this topic, are converging. As Deb herself states, "It's also clear that this could be many separate projects with clever mash-ups and data interchanges. In the age of XML, it does not have to be a monolith with one owner, one web host, and one platform."

The neat thing is, much of this is out there now. The difficult part is, it's not yet organized into anything recognizable. Yet. Getting it into a recognizable shape is why I used the garden analogy. One size does not fit all well. But pulling together a number or tools and placing them in an area where people can pick and choose what fits for them is a rather organic process. What grows, grows. As people use a tool, share it with others, blog about it, find it useful, etc., that process will stimulate growth.

Pulling together existing and new products/services from many organizations to provide another level of service fits another analogy I use when talking about collaboration and developing communities and their organizations. I call it JigSaw Puzzlin' because each organization is like a puzzle piece with form (shape) and function that exists independently. Sometimes several pieces (organizations) get together and form a different shape with form and function. Yet each organization retains its independence and original form and function.

How is this like JigSaw Puzzlin'? When you work a jizsaw puzzle, you pick up pieces, turn them around, look around for other pieces that may fit with the first piece, and so on. If these two pieces don't fit, you don't throw them away. You look for other pieces that fit together in a different way with these two pieces. You might even temporarily abandon the first two pieces and come back to them later, separately. This is what Deb is doing in her "conspiracy" (her word) to find a solution to the question, "What if we had web-based tools to help mission-based organizations use every possible resource and meet every possible need?"

As usual, Ethos Roundtable was a stimulating and informative session/discussion followed by the monthly 501 Tech Club - Boston and hosted by the TechFoundation.

You can get a closer look at some of the services Deb discussed last night by visiting her blog and looking for the May 8th post, "Online capacity mapping and resource matching for nonprofits."

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