Category Archives: Non-Profits

BioScience on the Brink (Updated 5-3-2011)

Register for BioScience on the Brink in Seattle, WA  on Eventbrite

Check out the news section of the registration page to see why the Early Bird tickets are $3 off for a limited time.

What happens when the brightest researchers in Seattle get together to talk, eat, drink and listen to each other?

Join us May 24 for the organizational meeting of BioScience on the Brink. Science exchange overlooking Lake Union.

Seattle has a tremendous number of researchers working on a wide variety of projects covering biosciences. Meet some of them.

In both for-profit and non-profit research settings they are exploring problems in  global health, biotechnology, bioinformatics and much more. Discuss their work.

Science on the Brink will be an informal space for them to talk with peers and to hear presentations from this vast array of scientists. Exchange knowledge.

Science on the Brink will provide  a place where young researchers, working hard at the bench, can connect with other scientists who are perhaps developing novel drugs, designing clinical trials or perhaps even selling pharmaceuticals.They will be working at non-profit institutions or for-profit corporations. There might even be some interested laypeople in the mix.

The plan is to have an opportunity for networking with some good food and drink, along with a couple of short (20 minute) presentations by working researchers. This will generally not  be a place for CEOs and department heads to present. They have many opportunities to do that. These presentations will be for the younger scientists – the scientific leaders of tomorrow.

This organizational meeting is to gauge the enthusiasm for such an event and to discuss future ideas. We are asking for a nominal fee in order to cover some of the costs for food and for the venue. However, the ticket price will be discounted – and SpreadingScience will pay all service fees – until May 10.

The Eastlake Bar and Grill  is centrally located to the greatest concentration of researchers. It has a great deck overlooking Lake Union which should be fabulous in May.

This should be an invigorating meeting in a wonderful location. If you would like to have some critical input into the future of these meetings, be sure to attend.

Hurry. Space is limited.

Supporting Partners:


Founding Sponsors:

Information into action

Online Activism: The Movie – Ten Tactics for Info Activism
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Activists around the world are using social media tools to make change. A new 50- minute documentary film called “10 Tactics for Turning Information into Action” is a guide to how best to use take advantage of the power of these tools and avoid hidden dangers. The site and film include inspiring info-activism stories from around the world, a set of cards with tool tips and advice. The project comes from Tactical Technology, inspired their info-activism camp in India.

The film is being shown in 35 countries, showcasing the experiences of 25 human rights advocates from around the globe who have masterfully incorporated tools like Twitter and Facebook to take on governments and corporations.   The film also covers the security and privacy issues faced by human rights activists.


In today’s world, the huge amount of information makes it impossible for one or a few people to quickly examine a complex situation and begin to formulate a successful response. It requires a knowledge of social interactions as well as an appreciation for systems thinking.

These ten tactics fit right in the sweet spot of systems approaches and social interactions. There ned to be good facts and information. There need to be great stories and an understanding of policy. Here are the ten (there are more but ten is such a great number):

The Ten Tactics

1. Mobilise People

2. Witness and Record

3. Visualise Your Message

4. Amplify Personal Stories

5. Just Add Humour

6. Investigate and Expose

7. How to Use Complex Data

8. Use Collective Intelligence

9. Let People Ask the Questions

10. Manage Your Contacts

These tactics can be incorporated into several strategies for systems thinking to produce some powerful solutions to complex problems.

My model is the bacterium. It does not know where a food source is, yet moves quite rapidly towards it. Bacteria, such as E. coil, have no eyes or nose. How does it find the sugar, or other nutrient it needs? It is called chemotaxis and is actually a very simple solution to a complex problem.

E. coli has a few flagella to propel itself. When they all rotate counter-clockwise, they work together and move the bacterium forward. This is called swimming. When they rotate clockwise, the bundle of flagella breaks apart and the bacterium rotates in a random fashion called tumbling. Here is an example:

The combination of these two behaviors allows the bacterium to move towards a food source. As long as the concentration of the attractant is increasing the bacterium swims. If it gets off track, and the concentration begins declining, it tumbles, eventually picking a new, random direction to swim. No attractant, more tumbling. More attractant, swimming.

This actually results in a very efficient method to move to, or away, from things.

When the bacterium fails to successfully follow the correct path, it makes corrections to see if a better path arises. If these corrections fail, more tumbling until it succeeds. It has a process for dealing with failure that inevitably leads to success.

Same with systems approaches. Intermediate evaluations, rapid failure, path to success. Incorporate the ten tactics into these strategies and you are well on your way.

Using crowds to solve problems

crowd by James Cridland
Get Ready to Participate: Crowdsourcing and Governance:
[Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan]

Crowdsourcing and Governance

by Daren C. Brabham

It’s been three years since Jeff Howe coined the term “crowdsourcing” in his Wired article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” The term, which describes an online, distributed problem solving and production model, is most famously represented in the business operations of companies like Threadless and InnoCentive and in contests like the Goldcorp Challenge and the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest.

In each of these cases, the company has a problem it needs solved or a product it needs designed. The company broadcasts this challenge on its Web site to an online community–a crowd–and the crowd submits designs and solutions in response. Next–and this is a key component of crowdsourcing–the crowd vets the submissions of its peers, critiquing and ranking submissions until winners emerge. Though winners are often rewarded for their ideas, prizes are often small relative to industry standards for the same kind of professional work and rewards sometimes only consist of public recognition.

Recognizing that not all creativity and innovation resides in-house, some organizations are looking for connections to outside innovators. New social tools allow them to make connections, through such sources as InnoCentive. When done well, these approaches can not only produce new ideas but help vet these ideas for suitability.

This approach can work in areas other than for-profit settings. Think non-profit biomedical institutions or government.

Though you’d be hard pressed to see them ever use the word “crowdsourcing,” one such example of crowdsourcing in governance is Peer-to-Patent. Begun in June 2007, Peer-to-Patent is a project developed by New York Law School’s Institute for Information Law and Policy, in cooperation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The pilot project engages an online community in the examination of pending patent applications, tasking the crowd with identifying prior art and annotating applications to be forwarded on to the USPTO. The project helps to streamline the typical patent review process, adding many more sets of eyes to a typical examination process.

Another attempt to use crowdsourcing in public decision-making is Next Stop Design, a project with which I am involved that asks the crowd to design a bus stop for Salt Lake City, Utah. With Thomas W. Sanchez and a team of researchers from the University of Utah, we’re working in cooperation with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and funded by a grant from the U.S. Federal Transit Administration. On the Next Stop Design Web site, you can register for free, submit your own bus stop designs and ideas, and rate and comment on the designs of others. Launched on June 5, 2009, the project runs through September 25, 2009, and the highest rated designs will be considered for actual construction at a major bus transfer stop in Salt Lake City. Winning designs will be publicly acknowledged and included on a plaque affixed to the built bus stop.

It will take some changes in viewpoints but the ability of the public to directly engage important aspects of government should only enhance policy. Obviously, this approach could not be used in every area but careful positioning of the approach could have real consequences.

There is much potential for crowdsourcing in government, certainly as one of an array of social media methods quickly being embraced by all levels of government. President Obama has made his intentions with technology and transparency in government clear. His appointment of Beth Noveck, the New York Law School professor who launched Peer-to-Patent, as Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government, makes his intentions very clear. I predict over the next two years we’ll see in the U.S. a rapid proliferation of government by the crowd, for the crowd. Get ready to participate.

It will be interesting to see if this approach also harnesses some of the social commitments seen in the Millennials. This generation is already connected and has shown some strong willingness to work on social needs. I think that the impact of these approaches may be greater in non-profit settings than in for-profit. By engaging people in the charitable work in ways that easily make them a part of the process, non-profits have an advantage that few for-profits do.

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An op-ed I wrote


I have an article published online at the Xconomy Forum called
Biotech Needs Charity, and Profit Motive, To Flourish.

It discusses the possible role of non-profit research institutions in Seattle in new drug development. It also mentions a new corporate entity called an L3C that could have some impact in this area. This permits an entirely new focus of research to occur on diseases that might not have the profit potential needed by current approaches.

I first heard about an L3C at an Idea Club that dealt with green microfinancing supported by the Sustainable Path Foundation, whose board I am on. Idea Club is a monthly forum where anyone who has an interest in the topic can attend and enter a conversation.

It is designed to be very open with little of the hierarchy seen in normal lecture-audience presentation. In last month’s meeting, someone mentioned L2C as a possible approach here in the US rather than microfinancing. None of us had heard of an L3C before so I quickly looked it up.

I realized immediately how it would inform my ideas about an article and my op-ed is the result.

So much of the health needs of our world are unattended because of the cost of development of new therapeutics. This means that only very highly profitable drugs can be developed, those with market sizes in the billions.

The non-profit research institutions in the Seattle area are working from over $2 billion in grants on several different diseases, many of which will never produce the profit needed for commercial development.

An L3C, or similar, gives them the ability to develop drugs that do not have the high profit requirements of current drugs being developed and expands the universe of approaches for finding new breakthrough therapeutics.

Essentially, the current model of near term, high profits would remain, as well as the very long term, low/no profit model of the non-profit research organizations. There would be the addition of a new model, a longer term, modest profit company, that could work on drugs that remain out of reach for current funding opportunities.

This might open up a whole new realm of therapeutics for our sick.

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Other matters

For those interested, I’m hosting a open discussion group on science and sustainability called Idea Club here in Seattle on March 23. It is hosted by the Sustainable Path Foundation.

This month’s topic is on turning knowledge into action and how sustainable communities may be formed. It is based on some sessions that the AAAS Annual meeting in February.

I have written about some of these at my other blogs, Path to Sustainable and A Man with a PhD. You can register for the free event there.

One of the things we like to do is to ask people to submit their own ideas for a topic, even if you can not attend. If you have an idea,leave a comment at any of the other blogs.

Hope to see some of you there.

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Opening sources for Biotech

Genentech open sources Unison: [Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 14:  Pedestrian...Image by Getty Images via Daylife While on the subject of open and pharma, a bioinform article (sub reqd) tells us about Unison, a protein sequence analysis platform from Genentech that has been released under the Academic Free License (why not the Apache License since they are very similar). What is Unison? Unison is a compendium of protein sequences and extensive precomputed predictions. Integration of these and other data within Unison enables holistic mining of sequences based on protein features, analysis of individual and sets of sequences, and refinement of hypotheses regarding the composition of protein families

Essentially Unison is a data warehouse, which includes a number of protein sequences, and a bunch of pre-computed data. They have also released the complete schema, API, and some of the predictions. The backend is PostgreSQL and the platform leverages the BioPerl API. So the web service serves as a reference implementation of the Unison platform. People can essentially replicate the system and contribute code within their own servers using.

I think that biotech/pharma companies may do this more and more. The advantages for a company do not really come from these particular tools but how they are used and interpreted. Making this available to a much larger group means it is more likely to yield useful results. Genentech can only do so much with these tools. If someone else uses them to find something novel, some thing that Genentech did not recognize at all, Genentech might be able to reap some rewards that they would not have if they had kept things to themselves. Even if they do not get rewards directly, the publicity is worth something. They see this as a way to extend their influence rather than something for competitors to use against them. By furthering collaboration and increasing the number of eyeballs using their tools, Genentech can accomplish some things that would be difficult to do with their cards held close.

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Online listening

ROI (Results on Insights): Nonprofit Examples of How Listening Returns Value:
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Click to see larger image

This is a really handy flowchart detailing the proper responses to many of the conversations happening on the Web. It reflects a lot of thought and understanding of just how many Web 2.0 approaches work.

I’m very tempted to start using Results On Insights for ROI thanks to Barb Chamberlain’s comment in yesterday’s post “What Are The Best I-Words For Nonprofits To Think About Social Media and ROI?

But what does that really mean?

A few days ago, I asked for some stories “What is the value of listening through social media channels for your organization?” I wanted to see examples from nonprofit organizations engaged in listening and conversation and the value it has to their missions, programs, or marketing efforts. And you shared them! Thanks.

Here’s what I learned.


  • Listening may happen at the personal, staff level as a best practice for doing their job whether or not it is embedded in the organization’s culture.
  • For listening to become an organization wide activity and more impact, it needs to be part of the organization’s culture. That happens when leaders model and encourage it.
  • Listening is typically used by nonprofits to provide better customer service, correct misconceptions, and other ways to support external audiences. Nonprofits are also using listening to support improved program implementation.
  • Organizations use both hard data points and qualitative data to listen and learn.
  • Having a structured way to collect and analyze qualitative insights can not only help with designing a social media engagement policy, but also harvest insights.
  • Effective listening through social media channels means that individuals and organizations need to identify why they are listening and how they will apply what they hear.
  • The value of listening is not in the act of listening in and of itself, but when an organization or individual uses the information to improve programs or marketing. This requires engaging in a conversation.

Web 2.0 involves a conversation. A large part of any conversation is listening something that there have been little metrics for. ROI is a poor choice at the moment since simply because no one has measured listening previously does not mean it is not important. ROI is fine for measuring all the ‘talking’ that happens but not so much for all the ‘listening.’

Correcting Misconceptions and Improving Customer/Stakeholder Relations

The AirForce Blog:

The image above is of the US Air Force Blog Assessment and Engagement process. It is an excellent example of working through how an organization might respond to comments on a blog, but even better it is map for insight harvesting.

As David Meerman Scott notes in his analysis of their social media strategy, the goal is “to use current and developing Web 2.0 applications as a way to actively engage conversations between Airmen and the general public.” If you were still thinking about ROI as Return on Investment you’d never be able to make a case! With such a clear policy for response, it is obvious that the blog generates valuable information to shape and improve a marketing strategy.

As Pudding Relations suggests “Take a look and see if you can use it to enhance your own thinking around social media with, ahem, military precision.”

Listening is very important. It will tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. It will allow the organization to gain wisdom much more rapidly. Beth gives some great examples but here is one I really liked.

Improving Program and Service Delivery

Green Media Toolshed;

Founder Marty Kearns says that listening is something that is done on an individual staff level, but for it to become an organizational process leaders need to build a culture of listening. He encourages staff to listen on many different channels and to blog what they learn in order to share with members. He notes that they have a 80% retention rate with members and “you can’t do that without listening.” Listening by using rss feeds helps refine their services and help stay sharp and connected to experts in the field. A lot of their listening is through filtering information from friends on social networks which saves them a lot of time and helps the organization “work smarter.”

The purpose of the organization is to help create conversations so it is not surprising that is listens very intently to what is being discussed. This is a group that lives what it preaches.

The tools we have today are creating connections that have not easily been measured before. But those connections are what help make everything work. Applying ROI arguments to only one side of the conversation will result in poorly managed connections.

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The science commons

Supporting the Commons: Jesse Dylan and Richard Bookman:
[Via Science Commons]

Today, we are proud to announce the release of Science Commons’ first informational video. The video was directed by renowned director Jesse Dylan, the director of the Emmy- award winning “Yes We Can” Barack Obama campaign video with musical artist from the Black Eyed Peas. The video can also be seen on the front of

“I believe Science Commons represents the true aspiration of the web, and I wanted to tell their story,” Dylan said. “They’ve changed the way we think about exploration and discovery; the important and innovative ideas need to be shared. I believe it’s vital to revolutionizing science in the future. I hope this is just the beginning of our collaboration.”

This video is launched in conjunction with a letter of support from Richard Bookman, the Vice Provost for Research and Executive Dean for Research and Research Training at the University of Miami. Bookman joins a group of esteemed Commons supporters featured in this year’s “Commoner Letter” series, including this year: Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center and Columbia University, Renata Avila – CC Guatemala Project Lead, and singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton. More information and an archive of past letters can be found at

In his letter, Bookman writes:

“We need to find ways to make sharing research results and tools easy, trackable, and useable by scientists on a day-to-day basis. Science Commons is working on these problems in a way that few other projects contemplate: they don’t write papers, they release “running code” like contracts for sharing biological materials and open contracts for biological tools like stem cells and genetically modified mice. […]

I support SC/CC because I think it’s the right approach at the right time. It’s vital that we as a community support the organization – the interstitial nature of what gets done at CC makes it harder than many might think to raise money, which can leave the most important work dying for lack of funds.

I hope everyone in the community can dig deep and support CC during this campaign. When you support CC, whether because of the cultural work, or the education work, or the science work, you’re supporting an organization that is much more than contracts and websites and videos. You’re supporting an umbrella organization working around the world that lives and breathes the “some rights reserved” philosophy.”

Our thanks to Jesse Dylan, Professor Bookman, and the broader CC community for their ongoing support. For more information about the campaign, or to show your support, visit Every little bit counts. Help support the Commons.

Science Commons has a very strong role to play in getting scientists to actively develop the web in ways that can benefit everyone, including themselves. In particular, Health Commons is a project that may provide a place for biologists to ‘remix’ their data in profound ways. If we can only get them to think about the Commons in the pursuit of their work.

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INTJ for me also

animal animus by even.
Typealyzer says my blog is INTJ:
[Via Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

Typealyzer says that this blog appears to be of the Myer-Briggs type INTJ.

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

Myers-Briggs is a useful tool for demonstrating that different people have different strategies for solving life’s problems. It is based on Jungian archetypes that, while sometimes simplistic, can offer insights that may be useful. The danger is that people make the analysis definitive, much like some people make genes the final arbiter of all behavior. People are not archetypes and can easily change depending on circumstances.

The truth is that each of us use different parts of the Myer-Briggs types depending on the circumstances. Much like different environments can alter the physical effects of the same genetic sequence, different milieus can alter which MB type we use.

I have taken MB tests several times. What I find interesting is that, for me, there often seems to be only one reasonable answer. I figure everyone feels this way. I am usually an ENFP (Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving).

While ignoring some of the astrological vagueness of the description, it does come pretty close to describing some important traits of mine. But all of us can act in a different fashion of we need to. We can adapt our ‘style’ for the particular venue we find ourselves.

For instance, this blog, when run through Typelyzer, gives an INTJ type. Now this could just be real hokem, but this does come closer to the style I have tried to apply to this site – a little more grounded and focused on specifics.

But care must be given. Daily Kos, the largest progressive political site, comes out as ISTP – the mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

while RedState, one of the largest conservative, comes out as INTP – the thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are espescially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

I am sure there would be some disagreement in these designations but it sure would make for an interesting discussion.

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