Highlighted Selections from:

The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the 21st Century


Bernholz, Lucy; Cordelli, Chiara; and Reich, Rob. “The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the 21st Century.” Stanford PACS: Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology (2013): 1–29. Web. http://www.stanford.edu/group/pacs/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Shifting-Ground.pdf

p.5: The first decade of the twenty-first century is proving to be a foundational era for the digital domain. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.10: This broader context allows us to identify shared policy concerns across a range of actors. We can begin to identify categories of practice that should inform new policies. These include:

  • Structuring social good: Governance and corporate structures
  • Financing social good: Investing and philanthropy
  • Creating digital social good: Using data as a resource
  • Accountability for social good: Transparency, anonymity, disclosure
  • Incentivizing social good: Distribution of tax advantages

-- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.13: Networked crowds are now a part of every social movement and many community change efforts, with both positive and negative effects. We need to think systematically about how these networks operate, where they fit into the social economy, what they are and are not capable of, what influence they are having on the institutions with which they interact, and what norms and rules should govern them. How will such groups, which may be temporary by design, be held accountable, when, and by whom? Perhaps most important, how different are these online networks from their more familiar offline counterparts? -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.13: Nonprofits are limited in the ways they can raise and use revenue, where social businesses are not. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.16: A new sphere of policy is increasingly important to nonprofits and foundations, as more and more of their work relies on digital access and information. In an age when accountants, economists, businesses and government officials are looking for ways to value data as an asset, the way information is used and valued as a resource for social good also warrants scrutiny. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.17: However, there is no such pressure for openness or sharing on the social businesses now active in the sector. The pressure for these enterprises to generate revenue—and protect intellectual property—serves as a countervailing force to the principles of more open sharing of social purpose research or data. Once again, the distinct regulatory structures and different governance or corporate motivations at play become visible here. One common resource, data and digital information, will be treated quite differently within the context of a subsidized public purpose enterprise and in an earned revenue-based business with a social mission. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.18: How do the preconditions and roles of a well-functioning civil society transfer from our analog practices and policies to the digital environment? There are three levels to this question. The first concerns access to digital infrastructure itself, the “pipes” of the Internet and mobile communications. Policy issues at this level are focused on whether access to these technologies is a fundamental right. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.18: The second level focuses on the production, distribution, and consumption of the digital goods that flow through the infrastructure. We refer here to the ways in which traditionally “analog” social goods, such as libraries or scientific research in the public interest, function in the digital environment. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.19: The third level deals directly with the associational or “voice” role of civil society. In the actual, non-digital world, people physically meet and organize, correspond via mail, pamphlet, or other publication to pursue their common interests, whether those are cultural creation, environmental cleanup, political protest, or neighborhood sharing. We built a set of institutions and philanthropic behaviors on top of these basic practices. In the digital world, associational life is different. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.19: But our presence and full catalogue of activity in the digital sphere is visible to the companies and governments that provide the infrastructure in ways that weren’t possible, or were legally prohibited, in the analog space. How do we ensure freedom of speech and association online? How do we protect digital associational activity from commercial or government control? How does online anonymity change how we feel about online speech and associational life, and what do we make of so-called “real name” policies that seek to eliminate that anonymity? -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.20: Given civil society’s responsibility as a bulwark against corporate and government intrusion on individual liberties, as well as its longstanding role as a haven for dissenters, alternative viewpoints, and minority rights, nonprofits should consider the potential of sector-wide data privacy, access and usage norms. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.24: Most important, the crucial expressive role that civil society associations play is muted in this frame. As many nonprofits rely on public funds to support programs that were once provided directly by public systems, they find themselves in close competition with commercial firms and social businesses. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.26: One thing is clear: the narrow set of policy issues, regulatory overseers, and industry practices that have shaped the nonprofit sector no longer cover the full scope of practice. The multiple motivations of different actors in the economy are reflected in their corporate codes, their governance requirements, their transparency practices, and their view of data or intellectual property as either a public resource or a revenue generator. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.28: The global digital infrastructure of the twenty-first century has brought forward digital data as a new type of resource. The economics of this resource—how it is used, shared, stored, and kept secure—are different in fundamental ways than its analog predecessors. Civil society secures the rights of individuals to freely express themselves, to come together in association, and to provide alternative social goods to those entrusted to the public sector. Its ability to continue to do this in the next century depends upon our ability to develop new norms, policies, and practices governing our digital infrastructure and data practices that respect these same ideals. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014