The (Im)Balance of Social Forces – Part Two

As I mentioned in Part One of this post, the Collaborative Society’s main premise is that the (im)balance of role, responsibility and power that exists in a society between the three segments (government, non-profits and for-profits) could provide indicators and even predictors of that society’s health.

The Collaborative Society focuses on these types of initiatives because the most complex and difficult collaboration effort is to bring these three segments together to solve social challenges due to the multi-layered people, dynamics and goals issues. Learning from their successes and failures could help other less complex efforts as well.

This Part Two of the post lists randomly selected projects, in no particular order or subject, from the (very) long list of government-led initiatives I have been reviewing in an effort to identify collaboration projects that bring together the three sectors to address social challenges. You can also see health and environmental projects posts in the Collaborative Society’ recent posts section.

At this time, none of these has qualified for the Collaborative Directory, but they are very worth learning about:

City of Boston’s City Sourcing: Enlists Boston residents to gather information about the physical state of the city. There is similar and much larger project that you might want to check out SeeClickFix.

Cityyear.org This project called my attention because when I was an elementary school student in Panama, I won an honor student award in a civic program that brought top students from certain grades across all elementary schools to the city capitol to assume public office roles (from governor to sanitation secretary) for an entire day. During that day, each of us held a post and learned what all those roles meant to the city at large. As you can imagine, I never forgot the power city roles have on the health and progress of a city. I simply couldn’t imagine what an entire year learning about the civic roles in a city would do to a future citizen.

San Francisco BART’s use of mobile technology to engage citizens had to make the list since this is a very practical use of a pervasive technology .

Seattle’s CityLink which interconnects city blogs primarily to serve the citizens. Although a very basic use and technology, it illustrates Seattle’s adoption of blogs as a communication mechanism.

Servicenation.org: A national campaign focusing on service as a mechanism to idea generation and problem-solving.

Voices for Service. Quoting their mission: To support the growth and development of opportunities for all Americans to serve by mobilizing the field to educate our nation’s leaders and the American public about the power and impact of national service.

Data.gov and Govpulse: If you don’t know what these are, go and learn, you might find something of value to you or your business…I have been following these since their launch, but this time I spent actually used some of the data.gov’s geo apps.

Gov 2.0 and Open Government: One second on the site and you know what’s all about (I’m still thinking about where a practical value exists, maybe in emergency/crisis management).

National Association of County and City Health Officials: I decided to revisit this site because when I first learned about it a while back, I recall wishing it would grow into a successful resource and tool exchange environment not only for health officials, but for the public at large. It doesn’t seem it got there.

Open Government Initiative: As part of reviewing this initiative, I also studied the ones they list under their Innovation Gallery, which they categorize under Transparency, Participation and Collaboration. One that intrigue me the most was CDC’s IdeaLab where employees can exchange and collaborate on ideas to address challenges. If such project succeeds within a governmental environment, we should all be able to learn their learned lessons.

I also reviewed many local (i.e. ManorLabs, Wisconsin Towns, Denver Zoning Code, and City of Arvada’s community information initiative initiatives to connect government to citizens). Most smaller projects focus on blog types of formats to allow for citizens to exchange comments with city officials or institutions. The heavy use (or at least accounts) of Twitter indicates to me that we should no longer wonder if government is embracing Web 2.0…let’s move on from that.

Please, if you know of or are involved in an initiative that brings together the three segments to address social challenges, let me know. An example of an originally government led initiative is the EPEAT.

What is this all about?
The Collaborative Society Directory’s goal is to collect and understand information from different collaborative projects that bring together as participants entities from the three forces that shape our societies: public, private and
non-profit. The goal of The Collaborative Society is to explore if such information can provide us with insights of what could be the characteristics that make a society or a community healthy.

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Edward Williams

A great list. I love Gov2.0 on topichub -very cool. I knew about data.gov but not govpulse – very interesting. Thanks.

Question – is it surprising that there is such a lack of balance? It’s not to me, but I wonder if your expectations were different when you started.


Hi Edward, would love to hear why it isn’t surprising to you. I don’t go into any of my reviews with any sort of expectation. I truly look to learn from them as much as possible so I can help others in their collaborative endeavors.

I have been researching collaboration in the three segments and between the segments so I’m familiar with lots of non-profits and for-profits led efforts, and then lots between non-profits and the other two segments. I also keep up with social entrepreneurship.

I don’t yet have an answer about why is it difficult it is to find them that is either verifiable or supported by enough samples to even articulate them in a post. But, I’m starting to see some dynamics that reflect larger picture in our society between corporate world and large and government structures.

I look forward to any comments, feedback or perception you might have to share about this.

Edward Williams

Good to hear that you’re approaching this with objectivity. I’m not an expert in this matter; this is an observation on my part – an outsider, if you will.

To answer your question – it’s not surprising because of the bottom line. There is always the question of “what’s in it for me” that needs to be answered and usually the return is some sort of exposure (at the very least) that might lead to a huge contract. And if corporations don’t see that it’s hard for them to get involved. Unfortunately, collaboration for the betterment of society isn’t a priority.

To be fair, I know of certain companies that participate on an silent basis. That to me is the true participation; problem though is that it’s not know to people like you.

However, I do hope that projects such as yours will change the priorities. Btw, I just started following you on twitter (@thesitema).


Hi Edward, I just love the exchange of perspectives. thanks for taking the time to expand on your answer. Interesting point is that my professional background is primarily in IT for corporate, but personally, I have been involved in socially oriented endeavors since I was in my teens. At one point I actually directed a non-profit funded by taxes.

I bring that up because Collaborative Society was born out of years of involvements in the three segments and from the very intriguing questions about how societies go about solving social issues, if at all.

With that said, it has been much easier to find collaborative initiatives led by corporate and non-profits that try to bring the three segments together than those led by gov entities. What I find very difficult to discern is the reasoning. It is not that gov and corp don’t work together. In fact, it is extremely easy to find projects where corp is a vendor for gov projects and that is what continues to intrigue me, can those two segments mostly operate under a structure where corporate either sees gov as a client or as a taxing/regulating institution or as a venue to expand its market? This, obviously, goes straight to the heart of economic systems in relationship to political systems.

Both, the collaboration software arena as well as the the Foundation/non-profit segment funders, consist primarily of corporations. Meaning, most of the consumers of collaboration software are corporates and corporation put a big chunck for the funds behind foundations or non-profits across all segments. And, if you check sites like CRSWire, you might also find out how much corporations use the “social responsibility” message for their marketing plans.

With that said, I don’t yet have clear explanations (working on finding experts on the sociology, policy and economics to expand the understanding), but issues like the AIG, mortgage crisis and many other situations where the gov “helped” corp with the bailouts, yet the regulatory/policy making role of the government in the whole thing is still unclear, seem to be a bigger picture of the type of partnerships that do exist between these two segments.

And other types of complex partnerships with the non-profits (e.g. United Way’s millions of dollars received via congresses sponsored policies) also bring upfront the question of balance between these three segments.

Thanks for the following and again for sharing your thoughts.