Voters will be able to get up-to-the-minute information about polls on Election Day from their phones. Community leaders trying to help kids will use software to see which of their efforts are producing the best results. Journalists will inform the public about how education policy is affecting their communities through their own news websites, bypassing collapsing media empires. Patients with diabetes will get text-message reminders to check their glucose levels—and will then text back to calculate their insulin doses.
As we turn to technology more and more frequently to assist with daily tasks, nonprofits in a variety of fields are finding ways to ensure that technology is there to help people and help people help each other.
“With technology changing so rapidly, we are seeing an enormous return on our investments in harnessing the ability of new platforms to collect and disseminate information,” says Elizabeth Good Christopherson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rita Allen Foundation. When the Foundation sought in 2009 to move beyond its traditional funding of young leaders in biomedical science to support rising leaders in social transformation as well, it made investing in innovation a top priority. Since then, the Foundation has supported Facing History and Ourselves’ efforts to digitize curriculum for use in classrooms and communities and PeaceTXT, a project to reduce urban violence through strategically timed text messages to potential perpetrators. PeaceTXT has now spread from West Garfield Park in Chicago to sites in Africa.
Among the groups that caught the Rita Allen Foundation’s attention for its latest round of funding is Medic Mobile, an organization that develops and extends open-source platforms that can be used on simple devices, such as cell phones, to support patient care and public health services. Medic Mobile was created by Josh Nesbit, who is also a partner in the PeaceTXT project. The group’s new effort will use SMS messaging to remind patients with chronic diseases to fill prescriptions, check glucose levels, and keep to a nutritional diet. The group is also developing an insulin calculation tool that allows patients to text glucose readings to a secure platform that returns insulin calculations in seconds and tracks glucose measurements over time. Medic Mobile will then develop a toolkit and plan for implementation that will scale to free clinics across the United States, most of which are strapped for resources.
Open-source software for mobile devices is also being developed by the Voting Information Project of the Pew Center on the States, which aims to increase voting and decrease voter disenfranchisement through facilitating voter registration and improving the availability of election information. The program has been conducted in partnership with several technology companies, including Google and Microsoft, and with local election officials and technology officers across the country. It uses data-matching techniques, online databases, and social media to increase access to key information, and it will soon include software for mobile platforms and a social-media dashboard for election officials as well.
The Strive Network, meanwhile, is developing software that will help its Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky chapter to track the success of their efforts to positively influence young peoples’ lives from “cradle to career.” By connecting results data with specific activities, the software will point to areas on which to focus. Strive is also developing software to facilitate a Time Bank, through which peer organizations can benefit from each other’s expertise by sharing their own knowledge.
The Education News Network, a merger of two award-winning education news sites, Education News Colorado (Denver) and GothamSchools (New York), is committed to filling a significant gap in news coverage – to provide high-quality, reliable news coverage of education policy, practice and implementation at the local level. The group is creating a fellowship program that will train journalists covering education to create and manage their own news websites. In addition to the immediate result of informing citizens about pertinent education issues and preparing them to take informed positions on how national education policy affects their communities, the project aims to build a transferable model of how to build sustainable digital news organizations rooted in local communities and oriented toward social impact.
The Rita Allen Foundation recently has supported several journalistic endeavors—for at the core of its interest in investing in technology is an even more fundamental conviction: “information is power.” Information is fundamental to a healthy democracy, and strategic innovations using technology and new media have the power to connect and engage more people for the common good.