Civil Society Signal and Noise?

I’ve noticed an uptick in my email of research reports from nonprofits and advocacy groups. I suppose this makes sense in a time of continued pressures on journalism and the swamp of bad information that is the internet. How should we know to trust these reports?

AI won’t make artists redundant – thanks to information theory – Piotr Migdał via Hacker News and read the comments.

Would be easy to create conceptually and aesthetically new works using prompts? Think about “addiction to social media” or even a broader idea “a current societal problem”. The question of “how?” turns quickly into “what do we want to do in the first place?”. Sure, you can create a stock image of someone looking at their phone. But if you want to create something genuinely new, you will need to expand your prompt a lot.

Fan Vote 2023

The top five artists, as selected by the public, will comprise a “Fans’ Ballot” that will be tallied along with the other ballots to choose the 2023 inductees.

Roots of Rock & Roll | Country, Folk, and Bluegrass

Playlist from they Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

#Links #CivilSociety #AI #Music


I keep thinking about The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok by Cory Doctorow.

He describes the process:

This is enshittification: Surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they're locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they're locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.

This process begins with finding the hard side of the market, described by Andrew Chen. This is the group — the Uber drivers, the Amazon shoppers, the Google searchers — that you need to bring in first.

The vicious cycle that Doctrow describes is one built on capitalism. The question that sticks in my mind: what other systems can we build that distribute the value in different ways?

I work in civil society. In other words, for and with nonprofit organizations. This whole sector exists to support people who have not been able to access the systems and resources made available by the model of capitalism that is practiced in much of the world. We can build shelter, transport food, provide education, collect memorabilia in museums. We can do so many things. However, so much of that is completely inaccessible to ever larger groups of people.

We are still — still — extracting value for the benefit of a minuscule part of our communities. And then many of us — I include myself — are just comfortable enough that our urgency for change does not lead to system change. We spend too much time doing system adjustment.

So, what does system change look like? Does it look like the fediverse?

People stand on what appears to be a train platform iso_pace on; Pixelfed is an ActivityPub-powered photo sharing network

ActivityPub-powered tools depend on protocols, not platforms. This promise is called out in an essay by Mike Masnick published by the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. Masonic writes:

So much of our thinking about today’s world is based on a mental model that effectively craves centralization. We’re working off of a model that focuses on efficiency and profit maximization that automatically pushes towards centralization and what is, in effect, a dictatorial (benevolent or not) view of how society should be structured.

What if, he asks, we can maximize for the benefits of a decentralized value:

Smaller, more decentralized projects can be more nimble, quicker to adapt and change. The fact that lots of smaller groups are trying out ideas allows for rapid experimentation with different approaches, often leading to faster iteration and innovation, driven by competition rather than sheer power and dominance. It also distributes power to the ends, decreasing the risk of abuse of power.

Decentralization is also more resilient. One part of the network can fall, without bringing down everything.

Protocols and decentralization bring benefits: – they make the rules explicit – this makes it possible for people to use the system – and to build at the edges – it provides a way for people to interrogate and improve those rules – this exposes this system and provides an opportunity for change

I muddled around recently in a thought experiment about using Mastodon (another ActivityPub-powered piece of the fediverse) to illuminate the network relationships of civil society organizations.

What if we develop the protocols and language that let us make our relationships explicit and make equally explicit the way resources are shared along the network? What if we support the policies that enable that? We can find chokepoints. We can find places where there are too many resources, places where there are not enough.

The call to action in Blueprint 2023 by Lucy Bernholz is also very relevant here. She argues:

… all civil society needs to engage deeply with the public policies that shape digital systems. It is the only sector that has the incentives and aspirations to do so on behalf of individuals and communities. Civil society organizations and advocates need to discard the sense that they are passively subject to the outcome of digital public policy negotiations or technology innovation. Civil society must recognize that it is, and must be, a leader in how digital systems are designed, regulated, deployed, and prohibited.

We can turn the energy of small civil society organizations into a benefit — they can illuminate a problem that would be otherwise invisible to the network. To do that, we need a decentralized network, multiple protocols for valorizing those organizations, and a way to visual the resources that travel over them.

We need more tools for this than tax records — which is by and large what we have today.

This thinking is still so messy — pulling together a variety of ideas and trying to hack them into working order. Since ideas come from the accretion of knowledge, I’m going to keep plugging away and trying to put these thoughts together.

#Areas #Decentralized #CivilSociety #Networks


I had a little thought experiment on using mastodon to map the civil society network.

So, why does civil society need a robust and resilient network?

Because civil society organizations play critical role in protecting democracy, human rights, and social justice. Being part of a robust and resilient network allows these organizations to share resources, knowledge, and best practices,

In addition, a network can provide support and protection for individual organizations and their members, especially in challenging environments where freedom of expression and association may be restricted.

#civilsociety #network #hardproblems


On Mastodon, I shared the hard problems that I carry in my pocket:

Next on my list is to build out those problems with greater description.

And, then taking my riff on the Fenyman technique build on this based on the new things I've learned.

Here's a start.

Creating a resilient and accessible network of civil society groups and actors.

In order for civil society to be resilient it needs to be connected. Connected to each other. Connected to funders. Connected to community members with a variety of capital. Connected to the people they serve? How do we visualize the network and make sure it is well connected, diverse, and health?

That's a very basic — maybe too basic? — view of the hard problem. But that's okay. I'm willing to start there.

So, how might we visual that. Very much like a network graph. You've seen it. Bubbles and lines connecting in a mass. Like this or this or [this}(

So the first step is getting that network graph is getting the data. How do we get the data?

I've been noodling on this and noodling on it on Mastodon. So stay with me for a minute or two.

Let's say we set up a series of mastodon servers and we match them to the SDGs. We have a server called “” and “” and so on.

And further imagine that for a group to get an account one of those servers they need show that they do work in that area. We can give them a variety of ways to demonstrate it:

  • via a Candid or TechSoup log on
  • via a reference from an existing group on the server
  • via a reference from a group of funders or donors
  • via a reference from a group of their clients

There can be other ways for sure but the point is we want more than one way for them to be able to validate that they do work in a particular area.

So they get through this hurdle, and they have a mastodon account on the appropriate mastodon server. Now, we ask them to follow the other groups — no matter the server — with whom they have a relationship. It might be a funder. It might be group with whom they have partnered for grant projects. It might be a group to whom they refer their clients.

In this way, we can start to build a map.

  • It has 17 centers, the SDGs.
  • It shows how groups are linked to each other.
  • We can find groups who have very few links (and so might be less reslient).

Further, we can recent our network map around a group by clicking on it and put it at the center of our map.

There are a lot of problems with this approach but it does demonstrate how we could use federated technology and group governance to start to build a map of civil society and then build out from there.

#civilsociety #network #hardproblems


The Magic of Small Databases

We’ve built many tools for publishing to the web – but I want to make the claim that we have underdeveloped the tools and platforms for publishing collections, indexes and small databases. It’s too hard to build these kinds of experiences, too hard to maintain them and a lack of collaborative tools.

This is a very interesting problem. And relevant to civil society organizations as well as hobbyists and collectors. How does a local nonprofit keep up a list of resources relevant to their community? How do we know what services are available in our communities? How do we discover all the forms we have to fill out and keep up to date if we need assistance getting food. How do humans find and reuse this data.

At the database of resources level, this is a problem 211 tries to solve. Open referral takes it a step further and provides an indie web like structure for marking up the resources, making it easier to remix and use them. Libraries bring it to their communities.

The now-defunct H2O from Harvard is a good starting place for thinking about this. It was made for collaboratively managing course syllabi. You could make a syllabus, clone a syllabus, fork a syllabus and rework it. It carried attribution with it. It preserved the contributors to the syllabus. I used to organize post-talk or workshop handouts.

It feels like their is a community project here to define a standards based approach that allows people to contribute resources, create lists with ability to create sections, order items, and annotate at the list, section, and item level, and publish to the web. It can borrow from the collaborative aspect of H2O so that you can remix other lists, preserving attribution.



Abstract images of people around a desk, an orange sky visible through the window.

“Part of the job of making change is working to make sure a bad story doesn’t get in the way of good facts.” This is good advice from Seth Godin. And it is so hard. Especially when teams of well trained humans are well funded to make excellent stories to elicit actions and those stories are based on lies.

To really accomplish this we have to:

  1. Prioritize access to data and the tools and humans to find the insights in the data. The Data Innovation Lab at Tech Impact is doing interesting work in this area.
  2. Help people interrogate the stories put in front of them. This is some of the work IREX does.
  3. Give teams skills in developing engaging narratives based on truth and that debunk lies. TechSoup’s teams in Europe have done tremendous work in this area.
  4. Create media outlets, forums, and campaigns that get this out into the world. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good example of this.

That’s, of course, still too simple. It requires funding and infrastructure and it has to start with the data.

#data #narratives #civilsociety


The White House’s ‘AI Bill of Rights’ outlines five principles to make artificial intelligence safer, more transparent and less discriminatory

To improve the safety and effectiveness of AI, the first principle suggests that AI systems should be developed not only by experts, but also with direct input from the people and communities who will use and be affected by the systems. Exploited and marginalized communities are often left to deal with the consequences of AI systems without having much say in their development. Research has shown that direct and genuine community involvement in the development process is important for deploying technologies that have a positive and lasting impact on those communities.

This is a role that civil society can take; making sure the communities they serve are reflected in this data that is used to train AI and how that training plays out. The difficulty, of course, is how to facilitate that engagement.

#civilsociety #democracy


The movement toward ESG reporting certainly highlights important issues, such as climate change and the treatment of workers, and it is welcome that corporations want to engage in the debate. But the belief that companies can solve such pressing issues—through pursuing ESG standards or otherwise—is deeply flawed. Despite purportedly having good intentions, many corporations are not genuinely interested in bettering the world, and some use ESG metrics or other sustainability measures mainly to launder their reputations. Fixing some of the world’s most vexing problems will require that businesses dramatically alter their own practices, and it makes little sense to entrust systemic reform to the very institutions that themselves require change.

Instead, action must come from elsewhere: namely, governments. States must impose new regulations on the market economy to ensure that businesses are delivering shared productivity and social progress. Politicians will need to create laws that make markets work well and embed values—such as environmental sustainability or higher wages for low-income workers—that reflect the mainstream views of society. Renewed regulatory activism must include restoring competition through effective antitrust enforcement, legislating for the national interest over global profits, and tilting the balance of economic returns from older, wealthier generations to younger, poorer ones. It should also mean regulations to fight climate change, such as emission limits, mandates to end the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles, or bans on the use of certain materials.

From The Revolution Will Not Be Privatized | Foreign Affairs

I agree with the limits of corporate social responsibility. However, government is not the only response. Civil society needs to hold both groups accountable. This highly localized sector has to engage in sector wide projects to aggregate data and demonstrate the reality of the experiences of so many who cannot access the resources offered by either government or business. And they must stand firm in holding open the space for civic engagement against the limiting action of so many companies.

#CivilSociety #democracy