C.I.V.I.C. = Center for Internet Volunteerism, Instruction and Collaboration

Marc Baber
Marc@opn.org

Whereas:

1. The creation of "mirror worlds" as envisioned by Gelernter and others offers enormous benefits to humanity by streamlining government, making business more efficient and helping individuals access more complete information when making decisions.


2. Efforts to solve global problems appear to satisfy the criteria set forth in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric S. Raymond for "open source projects". The stunning implication is that it may now be possible to address the problem of "saving the earth" with a methodology that releases the same kind of explosive human energy as was harnessed to create the Linux operating system and other highly successful open source projects. It's possible that nothing less will work.


3. A new generation of Philanthropists, made wealthy by diverse ventures in information systems technology, will be looking to fund non-profit endeavors that intelligently use information systems and generally approach problem-solving in ways similar to those that the philanthropists would themselves choose if they were in charge.


4. A global recession, coming on the tail of the dot-com crash has left many talented software and web developers with little to do in the commercial realm. A significant number of them may be doing serious soul-searching and looking for work that is more meaningful.

Be it therefore resolved:

To create a new non-profit organization (or a project within an existing NPO and/or PAC) whose mission will be:

To help governments, NGOs and community-minded businesses solve global problems by creating state-of-the-art information systems produced from the talents of developers using open source development methodology and funding provided by a growing-class of high tech entrepreneur-philanthropists.

Examples of possible systems:

Watershed monitoring: A web site to disseminate lesson plans, testing equipment and supplies to teachers whose student would test local rivers and streams' water to detect pollution and suitability for fish runs and upload their data to a central respository that could be used by environmental organizations and the EPA to target clean-up and enforcement efforts.

Air Quality monitoring: Similar to above.

Shareholder Activism: Reform unsustainable business practices by mobilizing small shareholders with proxies to propose corporate by-law changes at shareholder meetings. This system was envisioned as long as thirty years ago in Saul Alinsky's book, "Rules for Radicals".

Citizen Government: Where citizen ballot initiatives are possible, enable people to "pass petitions" on-line. Provide database support for contacting registered voters about key votes. Provide on-line support for finding, registering and reminding new voters to participate in elections by voting.

Pent-Up Demand for Sustainable Products: Have you ever wished there was a particular product that helped you become more sustainable? Describe your ideas for hemp clotheslines, fuel-cell powered laptops, organic frozen dinners or whatever and see if other people sign up for them. List how much you'd be willing to pay. Entrepreneurs would love to know about opportunities for new products where the initial customers have already been identified. Think of this as the Citizens' RFP for sustainable solutions. I want to buy an earthship house in Eugene… I want to buy a Linux computer preconfigured for IP telephone… and so on.

Complaints: Been ripped off? Tell your story at this web site which automatically submitted the new web page of your story to multiple search engines. The accumulated knowledge will help others avoid the same fate if they get in the habit of checking out businesses and individuals in the complaint database. To get de-listed the unscrupulous would have to settle with the complaint's author. This site could be designed to work with the "Boycott Central" site.

Recycling and Re-Using: The "free-bay" will connect people who want to dispose of stuff responsibly with people who can put it to good use: styrofoam peanuts, egg cartons, plastic milk jugs, dismantled house parts, broken furniture, old books, outgrown childrens' clothing

Carpool Partners: A database of commuters with home and work locations and schedules helps match drivers and riders to reduce congestion on highways (already being done in some places).

Boycott Central: Who to boycott and why. Boycott criteria could be selectable by source or screened by reason.

Co-op Markets Online: Consumer Co-ops are great, but somebody has to do the work of collecting the orders, purchasing product in bulk, breaking bulk and distributing, and collecting payments. On-line software could help a lot.

People

These are just a few of what must be hundreds of potential applications of internet and database technology. The human energy is there to create these applications. Some excellent web sites using the latest technology to further sustainable practices already exist. Many more appear to have reached the limits of their technical volunteers' know-how and have stagnated. The goal of this project is to help the lone webmasters who are already giving their time to various organizations to advance their skills more rapidly and deploy better tools on their organizations' web sites sooner.We are looking for special people at the intersection of two groups: computer-savvy professionals and cause-devoted volunteers. We can help grow the community within that intersection in two main ways:

1. Give the volunteers more knowledge, and

2. Give the professionals opportunity for meaning and recognition/appreciation.


While it's easy to see the draw that would make volunteers want to learn more (potential access to high-paying jobs), the draw of recognition and meaning for professionals is much underestimated. That fact is one of the key premises that's been confirmed by the open source software movement. Indeed, it was found to be the primary motivating factor of participants in open software development.
This project would use a number of means to facilitate the harnessing of information systems for saving the world, by serving multiple communities:

High-Tech Entrepreneur Philanthropists: Report successes of projects and solicit both funding and volunteerism. Successful high tech entrepreneurs have a lot of basic problem-solving skills to offer. By involving them as deeply as possible, they identify more strongly with the project and make even more resources available because the success of the projects they participate in reflect on their abilities.

Governments: The highest calling of government is to serve the governed and to solve the global problems that currently challenge us all. Whereever possible, CIVIC projects will align with existing governmental projects that address similar problems. This will make government agencies accountable to their missions and possibly create opportunities to offer contract services to governments, creating commercial spin-off projects.

Non-Profit Organizations: CIVIC volunteers will help NPOs to write grants that fully utilize existing open source solutions and help make the NPO as efficient as possible with the most effective information technology available. These grants will have a greater chance of being funded as CIVIC's reputation grows. Currently, many NPO computer-related grant proposals re-invent the wheel and do not target the solutions that would be most effective for the organization.

Volunteer Webmasters: CIVIC will offer conferences, publications, training (both on-line and classroom) and access to mentor-coaches to help them make the most of their efforts for their organizations. These same volunteers would likely be the first to be hired to work on funded projects as more grants are successful.

Computer Professionals: CIVIC will recruit professionals to teach (on-line and in classroom, depending on the personality and inclination of the individuals) and to become more directly involved in their students' projects. The professionals' desires for meaningful work and recognition (or at least more lines for their resume's) will help funding go as far as possible.

Media Junkies J: Will videotape classes and prepare press releases about successful projects to drive users to newly-created web sites and to provide a certain amount of fame/recognition for participants (Webmasters, Professionals, Philanthropists)