Posts Tagged ‘marc maxson’

 

Gathering real-time feedback in haiti can improve disaster response

Posted by Marc Maxson on February 1st, 2010

Judging from some of the comments GlobalGiving donors have made on recent haiti updates, I gather that television news falls short of presenting a multifaceted view of the earthquake recovery effort. There is a mix of ongoing challenges with some successes. Last Friday someone wrote in:

Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 4:36 PM
Project ID: 4559 / IMC provides medical care to Haiti
Project URL: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/haiti/

It gives me a first hand account of what medical relief is taking place as oppose to what’s being transmitted over the airways showing de-humanizing conditions with no relief nor help in sight!! They’ve aired trucks of food being returned to warehouse while Haitians are starving and waiting for FOOD!! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!! YOU ALL ARE IN MY PRAYERS!! IF I COULD GET THERE, I WOULD!! GOD’S PROTECTION FOR ALL OF YOU AND IMMEDIATE SALVATION FOR THE HAITIANS!!

We currently rely on our partners and their staff to provide eyewitness accounts of the ongoing work. But there’s no reason we couldn’t open it up to any eyewitness. Mobile phone texting may be an easy way for us around the world to get to know each other better. Great innovators like Ken Banks of FrontlineSMS and Erik Hersman of Ushahidi are turning phones into web 2.0 reporting tools. Highlighting this pressing need, Washington Post Writes:

“Much as truth is the first casualty of war, reliable information is one of the early casualties of natural disasters. Until fairly recently, disaster responders relied on their senses, and their common sense, to identify problems. The notion of measuring what you could see was viewed as an academic and slightly effete response to things such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

The survey this week didn’t ask questions of a random sample of Haitians in the way that a medical trial would. That would have been a huge and time-consuming undertaking. Instead, it sought out individuals expected to know what was happening to the people in their area: mayors, village directors, health officials. The places weren’t chosen randomly either. The designers chose fairly evenly spaced sampling sites, with extra ones in the heavily damaged Port-au-Prince area.”

What they [the CDC] found is that you can gather most of what you need to know to manage a crisis in real time with anybody, going anywhere, asking for feedback using a less formal system. To me, as a neuroscientist, it makes perfect sense. You need rigorous controlled trials to assess medical benefits that are small – like a 10% difference. But when the questions are knock-you-over-the-head obvious, like “who’s dying on this block” or “who’s handing out supplies?” and there’s no ambiguity from one witness to the next, you can do away with conventional sampling.

About a week before the electronic ink was dry on this Washington Post article, Ushahidi’s Haiti immediate SMS-based crisis response center had already logged hundreds of eyewitness reports from regular people about everything from looting to service delivery. See for yourself at haiti.ushahidi.com .


Number of Africans with cell phones now equals population of US

Posted by Marc Maxson on October 6th, 2009

4 billion cell phone usersThe New York Times reports there are now as many Africans with cell phones as there are people in America. This is something that we are very aware of at GlobalGiving. In fact, my biggest project over the next 6 months is to figure out how to make GlobalGiving more SMS-accessible for those 300 million Africans who have cell phones, but not necessarily electricity or running water.

There are over 4 billion people with cell phones in the world today.  Others, like TxtEagle founded by Nathan Eagle, have already started exploring how Africans with basic $20 mobile phones can be put to work. In the US, the Extraordinaries distribute an iphone app with the same goal in mind – crowd-sourcing simple tasks to anyone with 5 minutes of free time and a valuable skill, such as translating text from Swahili.

Why would there be a big demand for swahili translators? Because some day people in Africa might want to send text messages about their lives to others.

I met with the FrontlineSMS guys recently to see if they might help GlobalGiving get those SMS text messages from people in African villages directly onto our GlobalGiving project pages. If you have ideas on how we can do this, or want to help us test various approaches, please let me know by commenting.

What it all means: The Global Open Challenge Leaderboard

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 17th, 2009


Earlier today, Dennis Whittle was looking at the Global Open Challenge leaderboard over John’s shoulder.
“Can you believe it? This page is getting more traffic than our homepage!” John said.
“Naturally. This is where the action is,” I said.

Meanwhile, our accountant James has been clicking the refresh screen every 2 minutes. “Look, an organization just overtook the #5 spot!”
What does it all mean?” Dennis asked. “This is the most dynamic thing on our site. I was at a conference, and someone mentioned his experience getting on the site and this leaderboard in the same breath.”

I am realizing that it all adds up to something different than we ever expected.

Now, I think our impact comes by transforming nonprofits to be more effective, more responsive, and more successful in turning those million little earth changing ideas into a better world.

This transformation comes in the first 30 days, if it comes at all. We train organizations on social media. Some adopt the best practices. Then we test everyone.

Those who fail still gain, sometimes even more, because the staff come back with a new hunger for learning. That hunger is what the official aid guys have been struggling to create for decades. And we get it for free, because everyone wants to be noticed and validated on the leaderboard.

It takes failure before some realize that we mean it when we say that they own their success. The work they do determines the funds they raise, not some granting foundation. Regular people empower the organization, especially when the people see they are part of something meaningful, a community with a cause. This dynamic is why the leaderboard matters.

As a PhD neuroscientist and a teacher, I fully believe testing and failure is how we make progress. Scientific research is about learning through failure. The Open Challenge is a test of whether nonprofits have a sustaining community of supporters.

Winners like Critical Exposure who built that community during the open challenge can attest to being transformed in three weeks (from Jared Schwartz of Frogloop.com, a nonprofit online marketing blog):

  • “We regularly updated our supporters on the fruits of their labor and during the final weeks of the competition.”
  • “We pointed our supporters directly to the real-time standings.”
  • “Many of our supporters later told us that as the competition entered its final days, they wore out the refresh buttons on their browser keeping tabs on the competition.”
  • “Our supporters were 100% emotionally invested in the competition and did whatever they could to help Critical Exposure win.”
  • “They actually wanted more updates from us!”

What it means:

A community based organization in Zimbabwe can now compete with a 501(c)3 nonprofit in New York City, if enough people care about them. What matters is how passionate their supporters are in advocating on behalf of the great work the organization is doing.

We are listening: real-time feedback loops

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 16th, 2009

feedback loopIn the GlobalGiving office, people usually introduce me by saying “…and Marc does evaluations.” That’s not accurate. A truer story would be, “Marc facilitates feedback loops.” And over my first year here, we’ve been able to do more of that.

A feedback loop isn’t anything fancy. This is where someone tells you something, and you pass it on to the person who most needs to know, then you take what that second person says in response and feed it back to the first person. *I* don’t need to evaluate anything to ensure that people are hearing from each other. But these conversations are much more powerful than the most sophisticated super computer or all the analysis a team of experts can provide.

As a neuroscientist, I studied feedback loops in the brain, and feedback alone (copied 10 trillion times over) within a network is enough to provide humans with sentient intelligence.  Pubmed it if ye doubt the claim.

Today I am happy to announce that Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving’s president, is presenting a case study on the power of feedback, titled “Real-time technology aided feedback loops in international philanthropy” at the Skoll skollINTERNATIONAL SOCIAL INNOVATION RESEARCH CONFERENCE (ISIRC)

This case study follows one Kenyan organization that struggled to provide promised services to the atheletes’ satisfaction. How did we find out? First, I visited the organization and handed out bumper stickers that read, “What does your community need? Tell us: GlobalGiving.org/ideas.” We wanted the community to know that GlobalGiving is listening to them.

ideas sticker

I didn’t know at the time that a bumper sticker would start a chain reaction that would get people in the community involved with giving the organization greater direction. This dialogue between the organization and the people it aimed to serve took many turns and ultimately caused the founder to leave the city and a new organization under the leadership of the youth athletes themselves to emerge. After months of hard work, including 3 visitors who send in visitor postcards and 3 other people who were full time volunteers working with this organization, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief. Not because the problems are gone, but at least the youth have had their voices heard and are now trying to help themselves.

We don’t know if this new organization, the Manyatta Youth Resource Center will ultimately succeed, or whether the old organization, Sacrena, will re-emerge as a stronger organization, more responsive to the community. You can’t predict when or how social change will take place. All you can do is keep listening, and keep sending these messages back and fourth so that the people with the cash hear from the people in the grass of every grassroots project.

Speaking of which, the new Manyatta Youth Resource Center is temporarily being supported through one of our Global Open Challenge projects, the Amani Na Upendo Dev Youth Group, who I am afraid is currently unable to attract any donations online by itself. Such is the paradox of grassroots philanthropy. Many of the most responsive local village-based organizations lack the social connections and international exposure needed to raise money. We know about this problem, and struggle with it daily.

But if you read this case study and want to help – tell us. We’ll send your message back to them and start another feedback loop. Another way you can help is to give the Upendo group a donation.

I’ll summarize in another post the aspects of this paper that relate to how new technology makes it possible for the people to advise donors and implenters about progress with continuous feedback.

Note: You can read all visitor postcards on our site: http://www.globalgiving.com/projects/youth-sport-in-kenya/updates/ but I think the full paper summarizes the series of events more concisely, also available from the youth-sport-in-kenya (DOC FILE LINK) page.

Tracking what matters in online fundraising

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 1st, 2009

John List at the University of Chicago studies fundraising strategies. In a recent article he said, “Especially in difficult times, it’s very important to learn what works and doesn’t work. I’m trying to change a sector that’s run on anecdotes into a sector that’s run based on scientific research.”

The down economy has resulted in some peculiar findings. List finds that phone marketing is more effective than direct mail, and door-to-door fundraisers get more people to open doors but with fewer donations:

 In one test, instead of knocking, they left fliers stating they’d be back during a specific time frame the next day. Before the economic meltdown, most people weren’t home or didn’t answer the door that second day. By early fall, however, people were more likely to answer the door, yet less likely to give. He concluded that most giving — more than 75% — is indeed driven by social pressure. It’s just that the economy provides a way out while still saving face. “Before the meltdown, if you answered the door, it was very difficult to say no,” Mr. List says. “But now people have a built-in excuse.” Source: www.chicagobusiness.com

One way we’ve tried to get beyond anecdote-driven fundraising strategies is by systematically collecting information about what works in online nonprofit fundraising and sharing that with our organizations. Take a look at our Global Open challenge.  It takes a different approach to raise money from a lot of people – a social media based strategy – and we are eager to join the conversation about what works. One way is to periodically link to other places and people whom we think you ought to know about, if you are trying to pursue funding for your little earth changing idea in a crowd-sourced way.

The other is to ask you what you think. Please submit comments!

Put on a Happy Face

Posted by Marc Maxson on August 30th, 2009

Recently, Science Magazine (August 21, 2009) described the findings of a recent survey by Richard Wiseman, who who asks what is the most potent trigger for happiness? Science Mag writes:

“[Richard Wiseman] divided his 26,000 [online] respondents – mostly young adults – into five groups. One was a control group. During a 5-day exercise, each of the other groups engaged in one type of upbeat behavior: being kind to others, dwelling on a happy memory, feeling grateful, or smiling.”

And the results over 5 days?

  1. Control: Half got happier, half didn’t (just as you’d expect of a large random sample)
  2. Dwelling on a happy memory from yesterday (65% got happier)
  3. Feeling gratitude (58% got happier)
  4. Practicing smiling (58% got happier)
  5. Trying to perform an “act of kindness” (50% got happier, identical to the control group)

So how do these findings map to what we do at GlobalGiving? I assume people get happy when they give to something they care about, which is an “act of kindness.” But just how happy do people get?

My girlfriend pointed out that performing an “act of kindness” is much harder than the others, so maybe fewer people succeeded, and so fewer got happy.

What do you think?

How do you interpret this survey, as it relates to GlobalGiving? Post a comment. Thanks in advance!

Beyond Good Intentions: Getting more visitor postcards from the field

Posted by Marc Maxson on August 28th, 2009

Tori Hogan at the Social Edge blog “beyond good intentions” recently wrote about the problems with getting reliable feedback from projects in international development, and what GlobalGiving has been doing to improve feedback. Here is an excerpt:

“My old stats professor will probably kill me for this, but what ever happened to good old-fashioned gut instincts? Do you trust anecdotal reports by people who have visited field projects and come away with certain perceptions?

I started considering this concept recently when Marc Maxson at Global Giving introduced me to a new project they’re running that allows people who visit any of their countless field sites to submit ‘postcards from the field. These blog-like reports written by non-professionals (mostly by interns and student travelers) have an open-ended framework and are only guided by the question,’”what would you tell your friends about this project?’ According to Marc, ‘gut feelings about recommending a project are broad enough to predict deeper problems.’”

Tori dug through our more than 70 postcards from 2009 and found that this new Visitor Postcards program still needs more volunteers to scale up. I quote again from that post:

“However, as I scrolled through the “postcards” I had a really hard time finding any that were critical of the organizations they highlighted. Are visitors afraid to report on problems or are these organizations actually as perfect as they sound? Marc informed me that, ‘most volunteers try to self-filter and only say good things publicly, but privately send in negative comments.’ Well, it’s not perfect, but at least it’s a start!”

This remains true. The vast majority of comments on projects are positive, although I can think of two organizations who hosted visitors this year that posted negative comments and triggered larger dialogues. But anyone doing a spot check on our postcards is bound to miss them because they are not a significant fraction. :)

Bloggers and the public are our advisors. I personally thank Tori and look forward to doing what I can to get more honest feedback from visitors onto the site. Visitor postcards have played a major role in the outcome of one organization, and we will be presenting a case study on this at the upcoming Skoll “International Social Innovation Research Conference.”

I replied to Tori’s post:

We think visitor postcards have been a major success because more people are getting a first-hand account of what projects look like. And (as our case study will show) it also works to reform a problem project. The power of real-time feedback loops was enough to cause the organization visited to dissolve and reform under new leadership of a group of underserved beneficiaries. This happened in spite of the “self-filtering” problem we discussed.

Visitors often don’t realize that they omit inconsistent (negative) details when they have good rapport with the people the meet. This is human nature, and affects tourists and evaluators alike. I urge you to read “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice” from Science Magazine (March 2009), which shows that (a) strangers’ gut feelings are more reliable trust indicators than a set of facts and (b) most people DO NOT BELIEVE THIS even though they act on it.

I cannot underscore strongly enough that getting more people to walk through more  village-level development projects would transform the way that money is spent, for a variety of reasons.

I hope you’ll attend our talk at ISIRC in September, 2009 – Oxford!

Who is this Marc Guy Who’s Been Posting on GlobalGoodness?

Posted by Donna Callejon on October 7th, 2008

He’s Marc Maxson, newest member of the GG team, residing in the “supply pod” (aka, the folks who source, vet, manage and monitor the projects and organizations who post them).  Marc is a brainiac. No kidding.  He’s got two Bachelors – in Chemistry and Biochemistry – and a PhD in Integrative Biosciences. He’s been published a bunch.  Here’s the title of his most recent work:   “Estrogen receptor dependent mediated calcium signaling in PC12 and GT1-7 cells.”

Typical GlobalGiver, right?  Well, did I mention he was a Fulbright Research Fellow (IT in West Africa) and did Post-Doc work?  He writes a blog.  He also was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia.  As you can see, he rides a bike.  But not just any bike.  It’s a bright red beach cruiser.   He’s definitley got the chops, and the personality, to add to the diverse and eclectic family here at GG World Headquarters.  Welcome Marc!

More on Marc, plus the picture of the bike:  http://www.couchsurfing.com/people/marcmaxson