This summer, TASCHA and Facilitating Change wrapped up work on Georgia Civil Society 2.0, implemented between May 2012 and June 2013. Since then, we’ve taken some time to reflect on the project: what we’ve achieved, what we’ve learned.
One of our main achievements was to learn from others. You’ve heard some of this before: involve local stakeholders from the beginning, plan for sustainability.
So that’s what we did. And we ended up doing it right. Our initial assessment revealed a strong local organization: Jumpstart Georgia. So I started stalking Eric Barrett, their Executive Director, on Facebook. Luckily he wasn’t phased, and this connection led to a partnership to deliver Phase 2 of the project. Our rationale: We were short-term consultants for this project, but they have skin in the game. Jumpstart is already providing services to many of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) we worked with. We wanted to strengthen that bond. Our hope is that next time a donor needs consultants with similar skills they can go local — thus boosting Jumpstart and the great work they do. (Of course, we’re always here to help fill any gaps, but like all good development folks, we’re happy when we put ourselves out of business.)
Working with Jumpstart, Phase 2 of the project included:
Creating an online resource kit: CivicMedia.info
We remixed and curated resources for the members of the mentoring team, which we made publicly available at CivicMedia.info. The kit highlights good planning, essential tools, and examples. It also includes Planning a Data-Driven Advocacy Campaign, a guide adapted from Spitfire Strategies’ Just Enough Planning Guide specifically for this project. TASCHA plans to maintain this resource in partnership with Facilitating Change.
A two-day training on data visualization for advocacy
JumpStart Georgia led a two-day training on creating data-driven visualizations to advance public policy analysis and advocacy. Eric did an excellent job at mixing overviews with practical exercises, and the participants were engaged and enthusiastic — asking lots of questions and focusing on working through all of the tasks. An outline of the training content, as well as detailed notes, is available at http://civicmedia.info/ideas/workshop-communicating-data-effectively-with-visualizations/.
An awesome Civic Media Festival
We organized a one-day unconference, drawing inspiration from the vibrant knowledge sharing and peer exchange that happens at events designed by Gunner and Michelle Thorne — especially Mozfest 2012. We asked Mirian Jurgheli, one of the participants in the Phase 1 Training-of-Trainers sessions, to co-facilitate. Session ideas were solicited in advance to inspire other participants (Look! It’s easy! You can do it too!), and we prepared a quick overview of the unconference format for newbies. Eventbrite was used for ticketing, and the conference was promoted and documented using Lanyrd, a social conference tool. See http://lanyrd.com/2013/civika2013/.
More Phase 2 details are available in our report: http://tascha.uw.edu/publications/georgia-civil-society-2-0-phase-2-report/. One thing I’d like to highlight is two of the recommendations that emerged from this work:
Provide more core funding for CSOs
Let’s face it: when all of your funding is project based it’s really hard to keep your nonprofit afloat, build on previous work, and to be strategic. More core funding would contribute to advancing professionalism and enhance CSOs’ ability to develop long-term strategies, retain critical staff, analyze public policy issues, and incorporate both best-practice and innovative uses of ICTs. As part of this shift to core funding, more clarity and an open discussion about the sources and nature of CSO funding could raise awareness about civic engagement and help donors understand how the broader environment contributes to CSOs’ ability to get the most out of innovative technologies.
This is our “not so new” recommendation. The elephant in the room here is the dreaded “Impact with Attribution”. It’s hard to claim credit for specific social outcomes when your input was stuff like salaries and office supplies and rent. That said, organizations that receive core funding and strategic support can make important contributions. (TASCHA itself is an example of this. We received core funding that allowed us to develop tools and practices that we share as public goods.) I think we could move this forward by coming up with a theory of change and metrics that help link core inputs to outcomes that donors care about. (Here’s just one example from a quick Google search on the topic.)
Invest in innovation spaces
The in-person festival and training created a temporary environment for people to share, learn, and innovate. A permanent space for the CSO community — including both coworking/co-location and event space — would contribute ongoing innovation and strategic thinking while offering cost savings. There has already been some talk of this in Georgia — led by Jumpstart — and we’d be happy to provide specific examples and models to push this forward.