Nonprofit Innovation

Despite being a decade into the 21st Century, the unfortunate reality is that most governments still reflect industrial-age organizational thinking, and are based on the same command-and-control model as industrial-age enterprises. But the good news is that just as new waves of innovation are washing over the private sector, opportunities to harness new models of collaboration and innovation are arriving at the doorstep of governments everywhere. Indeed, if mass collaboration is changing how enterprises innovate, orchestrate capability, and engage their stakeholders, why can’t the public sector seize networked business models to cut across departmental silos, improve policy outcomes, reduce costs, and increase public value?

At the heart of the crisis response to Haiti’s Earthquake was a small Kenyan-born organization called Ushahidi whose crisis-mapping site allows users to submit eye-witness accounts or other relevant information in a disaster situation via e-mail, text, or Twitter—and then visualize the frequency and distribution of these events on a map. Originally created to map election violence in Kenya in 2007, in the absence of government grants and restrictive mandates, Ushahidi’s free and accessible platform has seen many applications around the world, including government snow removal efforts during a major snowfall in Washington D.C.

In the new model of public service delivery, the citizens can take on a more active and engaged role in identifying needs and helping to shape their fulfillment. The technology and tools become a means to finding better ways to integrate service – taking into account a person’s preferences, his or her community’s needs and the places and spaces where services are needed most. The result could be a dramatic improvement in the responsiveness of public systems, and an increased ability to focus the energy on all those involved – from officials, to stakeholders to citizens themselves – in setting and achieving goals together.