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Open Grantmaking - Fast-Tracking the Social Investment Market

The G-Cloud will enable an entire transformation of UK Government

As you'll see the last blog posted to our iFOSSF site was published almost two years ago. We've been busy in other areas so the organization has been on hold, but now we're ramping it up again.

You'll also see it was about the UK Cabinet Office Open Source strategy, a program they intended to drive major efficiencies not only through the use of open software but more so in terms of the sharing and reuse of best practices this enables. This has since led into their 'G-Cloud' initiative, a strategy to adopt Cloud computing to accelerate uptake of these apps, via an 'ASG' - An Application Store for Government.

As I highlighted in the iFOSSF blog, we set up this community site and the organization itself for exactly this purpose, to provide an incubation-to-launch facility for new open source projects. The portal offers workflows for proposing and building software projects, and importantly linking them to social needs so that they can be funded from various grant-making bodies.

This is because iFOSSF has an overall social mission, that being to apply this ecosystem for purposes of helping grow the social enterprise sector. Critically this means that it can also play a key role in helping other Cabinet Office programs, most notably their ambition to 'Grow the Social Investment Market'.

Open Government
This helpful role is because of the key relationship between this type of portal community web site and the principles and practices of 'Open Government'. Not only in terms of open source software but also in terms of utilizing Open Innovation principles to transform how government processes work, making them more open for every one to participate.

The relevance to the Social Investment strategy is best described by the world's leading Open Government expert, Beth Noveck, who provides an introduction to how it can applied in this type of area through 'Open Grantmaking'.

Beth pioneered the application of 'openness' to business processes in her Peer to Patent project, and talks through the benefits that could be gained by repeating it for the behemoth of government-wide grantmaking in general.

Beth insightfully articulates how the reuse efficiencies and benefits of the open source approach that the UK Government is seeking would be manifest in this area:

"In practice, this means that if a community college wins a grant to create a videogame to teach how to install solar panels, everyone will have the benefit of that knowledge. They will be able to play the game for free. In addition, anyone can translate it into Spanish or Russian or use it as the basis to create a new game to teach how to do a home energy retrofit."

For the Social Investment program an important process is what is known as 'Community Impact Investing', and Beth describes how these same benefits would be enjoyed here in another blog, describing how OG would enable more transparency and related improvements.

This shows the use of Open Government methods would improve how effectively Impact Investing is conducted, and the combination represents a profound level of transformation. The Social Investment market will change how public services are financed, and Open Grantmaking the manner in which these processes are fulfilled.

Social Inclusion
By doing so this will help in a number of areas that demonstrate that Open Government is about much more than just providing transparency of reports.

One of the most important factors is that its about Social Inclusion. In other words addressing areas of how government work that purposely or accidently prevent some members of society from gaining access.

We're setting up this portal as a system towards this goal, providing a working demostration of the power of Open Government models, which will cater for a specific requirement outlined in the Social Investment white paper :

"Creation of a single web portal or gateway.

The portal would help social ventures to connect with the right sources of finance, business capability or investment readiness support. In time, the portal could serve as a broader gateway: facilitating recruitment and internships to social ventures and intermediaries; and connecting social ventures to expertize offered by other social ventures, private sector organizations, universities or the general public. There may also be scope to use the portal as a platform to build social venture consortia to bid for large-scale contracts, or to help develop sector-specific networks."

The site offers an 'Open Collaboration Funding System', a Web 2.0 environment of blogs and communities, and within that workflow tools for proposing new project ideas that can be evolved through a process of grant application support. We're going to be using the groups feature to co-ordinate teams to respond to government bid opportunities and the like.

These group tools are openly published and openly accessible, meaning it's easy for any one to join in, which is a simple but hugely powerful feature. One of the key questions governments need to test about their openness is how easy is it for those furthest from society to participate in these areas.

Linking government procurement to social enterprise development is one of the key goals of the Social Investment Strategy, but often it's only the larger or preferred organizations who have a fair access to bid and win these deals. In other words it is usually the people most in need of help that are excluded.

By publishing them to sites like this one, they can create an open vehicle whereby key groups of individuals, like foreign immigrants, can more easily gain access to joining this opportunities, making their government process more Open.

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