Inroads to formal organizations

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Opening Vollies

Q: Why is you’re doing community work would you go through a “formal institution?”

Q: How do we get more people to help who are already in the institutions? They house the resources.

The large institutions have mandates and resources. This presents a challenge for playing nicely. New things coming into the ecosystem mean giving up power and money. How do we break that model?

Community Participation

Challenge: Disjoint / lack of relationships between the communities and the institutions.

Q: How might civilians affect policy-making?

For example: There are civilian groups doing who who might design valuable policy - to address ebola, for example - who do not have access to the people within institutions who can implement. One researcher, an anthropologist, discovered that changing burial practices could dramatically reduce ebola outbreak. It ended up being one of the most significant advances in policy and helping the crisis.

Q: What are the possible mechanisms for this sort of exchange between institutions and civilians?

Good Examples:

There is often a disjoint between what is said and what is done, for example: The World Humanitarian Summit consultations went well (“you should do this”). But the results of the conversations were miscommunicated, resulting in problems and ambiguities in the actual final outcomes.

Logistical Barriers vs Cultural Barriers

Many of the perceived cultural and attitudinal barriers to getting things done in “formal” institutions have roots in logistical problems.

For example: Procurement process raises the cost of bringing anything new into the system, therefore raises the political pressure, fear of failure, often results in refusing to try.

Systems map of interconnected logistical + cultural issues within UN’s Office of Information Communication Technology UNSystemsMap.jpeg

Story: FEMA’s biggest hurdle to progress is middle management. One hack to address this is to transfer problematic managers laterally to get them out of the way of progress. “We worked with upper management, which applied pressure to middle management, which resulted in change.” Long process.


“When working with institutional leadership, it’s important to find ways to make them look good.”

Attribution: People are willing to share if there’s something in for them. One example of this is in data attribution. People are more likely to share data if they’re attributed as the source: Ex: Maps with organizations’ logos who contributed data.

But the effort of taking on, cleaning up, standardizing data is so much work. How might we offset, or motivate, that work?

Example from Sam on Libraries & Info Sharing

The Digital Public Library of America standardizes by providing a service:

  • They are committed to not setting data standards for the groups they work with.
  • They find people who like (!!!) the painful part of the process of “data massage” and data cleanup. These people do actually exist.
  • These people become hubs of data massage. If you submit your data to them, you will receive it back structured, clean, easier to use. And, in turn, the massaged data goes into a collective repository.
  • Key learning: Be useful in areas where you were not useful before.

Human relationships across entities

Relationships allowed Hannah and Marie to maneuver between entities.

Standardization and interoperability between systems

At every level - local, state, national, international - deal with the same problems of interoperability.



Documentation of successful relationship and collaboration models and hacks can help spread what has worked in the past.


Hannah and organizers captured practical documentation of process and materials (down to granular level, like forms, etc). She understood that they were competing for money, so it was a priority create understand how the system worked and establish relationships.

Could we get a link to documentation?

At Border Relief

The group documented by:

  • Starting with a Google doc
  • Grew into a Google Group
  • The Google Group’s conversation flow allowed them to see the timeline of events
  • Then they added hashtags to events, pulled out keywords
  • This was the beginnings of a guidebook

Idea: “We need a clearinghouse for this sort of thing.”

Matching Needs with Capabilities

There’s a major need for a translator between different types of institutions, the public, etc. Many times people are using the same words but saying different things.

One successful way Hannah and Marie have jump started this process is to get everyone in a room together and have a facilitated conversation designed to surface needs and challenges, and connect them with people or orgs that can help.

The main two problems to address in this process are:

  • Finding the right people who will actually be helpful
  • Explaining how things work within the each institution or community group
    • Onboarding is critical.

As this relates to volunteerism, the group had feelings: “Most volunteer programs are crap.”

Creating a sense of ownership is critical for successful volunteerism.

Orgs vs People

All roads seem to point to this truth: “Collaboration does not happen between organizations, it happens between people.”


During a meeting about an emergency telecom cluster between CIOs of Un agencies, the group proposed 6 months to make a decision about 6 questions. Instead, G proposed “what if we go have a good dinner and work this out tonight instead?” The group ended up meeting in the morning and making decisions about 5 out of the 6 issues.


“Find your people, pick your battles.”

During Sandy:

  • Hannah was able to get data she needed by calling a buddy.
  • Marie and a group did a needs-assessment for 1600 households because no one else was going to do it.

Everything comes back to organizing. Everything comes back to taking initiative. In the end, the group felt that most people are waiting for someone to take the lead. Investing in leaders through mentorship is important. “Be the person to someone else that you wish you’d had when you were younger.”

“If the agencies spent more time looking for good guys than bad guys we’d be better off.”

Build your network.

And we ended on this magical example of stepping up: