Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Building a Better World, the Wiki Way

Recently, in my Elevator Pitch, I talked about creating a webified version of "Building a Better World for Dummies" (again with apologies to Wiley & Sons), a book which does not (yet) exist. More recently I wrote about foundations for peace. How do those tie together? Glad you asked!

As I mention in my profile, I've reached a point where I'm ready to start working hands-on (in addition to donations) for progress toward a better world. I'm particularly attracted toward making a difference internationally, and yet I'm not currently in position to do my best Paul Farmer imitation and jet off to other countries and get my hands dirty. But I'm convinced that I can make a difference, if I can just figure out how. After all, I seem to make a difference in global climate change, right? I make a difference in the US trade deficit, too. These are unconscious, or at least unintended, impacts. I'd like to adjust my behaviors in small and big ways to have a more intentional impact. What if I buy coffee from a different country? Should I buy shirts made from imported cotton? Wine from Chile? Boycott something? Eco-tourism? Why would these things be good or bad? Do I believe in the reasoning behind the action? In addition to lifestyle tweaks, I want to do small direct projects as well.

So I started working the net trying to find something to engage with, and man what a lot of work that was! (Ever googled "world peace"?) I've found tons of sites, and some are quite intriguing to me. Still, the most interesting ones (like this one to help provide clean water in third world countries) are impractical for me. (Basically, I really want to go and do things in third world countries, but I just can't right now.)

In my searching, I realized that I often don't understand the impact of a particular recommended action. In other cases, I'm given a high level idea, but can't see how to translate it into action. In some cases, there are ideas that I just know have been worked out before, but no real guidance is provided. In other cases, I'd like to figure out how to some how connect with others in my local geography who have similar interests. You know, "enter zip code" kind of thing.

Somewhere during this searching process, scattered randomly across weeks or months, I naturally bought books on Amazon, and read various product reviews, and book lists, etc. I also searched TheSchedule.com for running events in various geographies and timeframes. And I studied various things in Wikipedia, a truly amazing collaborative effort. A glance just now shows that 1,300,000 articles are now included in English alone, essentially all written by volunteers since January 2001. The site infrastructure is maintained by a (relatively) tiny staff. Anyone can edit an article; a "neutral point of view" is always the goal, and there are ways of arbitrating disputes about such things. Just an amazing example of a Tipping Point in terms of technology (wiki), infrastructure, and willing people, including a lot of experts in their fields.

So of course I've walked you down my garden path and you can see where I'm headed. I want a combination of a Wiki that allows everyone to join in and work on articulating what they think would be a way to make the world better. I'd like to see a top down structure that starts very big (World Peace) and carves up the problem in various dimensions. Sequential dependencies (we need this before that), and levels of responsibilities (this will need to be handled by bureaucrats, this can be done by corporations, that can be done by individual citizens). Etc, etc.

When I wrote about foundations for peace, I recognized that many of the areas (building understanding, opening lines of communication, peace education) can readily be translated into actions I and other individuals can take right away, if we can get access to guidance from willing experts.

The "Build a Better World Wiki" (let me know if you've got a cooler name) will help us dig right down to specific actions. For example, it can include a sample outline for a presentation on building peace to present at a place of worship, or a community center. It can be a repository for expertise on providing clean water to 3rd world villages. It can include links to organizations that engage in the work you want to do. Indeed, I see links as a key piece of this wiki, since a lot of good work has already been done by numerous organizations. What's missing is a centralized inclusive "clearinghouse" that can be maintained by the community, which will allow it to be kept authoritative and up to date.

Inclusivity is a key point. The biggest and best known wiki, Wikipedia, strives for a Neutral Point of View (NPOV). This aspect of Wikipedia is a critical factor in making it a credible reference, but there are other options, such as including multiple points of view, as pointed out in this Wikia page. Different volunteers may have differing opinions about various issues (e.g. distribution of condoms), and a good clearinghouse can support multiple views and enable volunteers to understand and connect with those efforts that they align with.

I'm not sure if it's a formal pre-requisite for a wiki, but it seems a good idea to develop some first-pass policies and guidelines, such as what content belongs in the wiki, and what doesn't. I'll post on that (please send suggestions!), then I'll take a swing at a proto-wiki (you know I like prototypes) and you all can join the party! After all, a viable wiki requires a fair-sized community of participants to fly (as mentioned in the Wikia page above).

Related to that, it's time to make some noise about this idea. I'm going to start following the recommendations of the Blogger help page. I surely appreciate recommendations and support from you as well!


Blogger Joobie said...

You've got my support!

Unfortunately no great recommendations at the moment, but something about your post reminded me of one of my favorite 'make the world a better place' websites: Volunteer Match, which tries to match willing volunteers with organizations in need.

I think so much of it is just Tipping Point-style bringing people together with things that will impact them: showing people what they can do and helping people find opportunities to help in tangible ways.

You're on the right track. :)

11:48 PM  
Blogger Curt said...

Thanks, Joobie.

I agree about Volunteer Match. I had already added it to my "Interesting Links" section, but for some reason those are only visible when you're viewing the main page, and not when you're viewing individual posts. Urg!

6:53 AM  

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