Ecosystem and Network

Building capacity is too often framed as training for individuals or for teams. This falls far short of true sector-level capacity building, which involves strengthening and building institutions, capabilities and experts in a network that is interdependent, resilient, and self supporting.

Instead, we should imagine all the roles and organizations that do not yet exist, that will live within the sector or directly strengthen it.

One way to look at this ecosystem in civil society as of consisting of:

  • Independent entities of civil society. This list varies depending on who you ask, but often includes nonprofits, NGOs, academic institutions, hospitals, journalistic & media organizations, and religious organizations.
  • Data initiatives, and projects. These may be housed within one organization, or may be collaborations between many organizations from within and without civil society.
  • Funders, including governments, philanthopy, and private donors.
  • Experts and consultants. These include lawyers and accountants and their firms, that focus on relevant issues.
  • Vendors of products and services in addition to the above experts. Examples are: strategy consulting firms, software and technology vendors, etc.

A few comments are important here.

First, this ecosystem contains entities from all sectors. Many nodes in this network are in the private sector (e.g. a for-profit software vendor) or in the public sector (e.g. NSF in the US as a funder). They are included in this ecosystem because of their interaction and importance in civil society data initiatives, but they themselves could be from any sector.

I also want to note that this description is not intended as a taxonomy. It’s not exhaustive, there is some overlap and unclear boundaries between these groups. Instead the intention is to draw attention to a few specific areas of my interest. Finally, I am focused on data initiatives in civil society, and this description of the ecosystem reflects that lens.

There are additional categories of organizations in this network that are of particular interest.

Special interest communities
These are communities and networks in civil society that support each other, usually directed towards common interest or issues. Some are trade associations, like the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN).

Support organizations
These are organizations or groups that serve other civil society orgs and efforts. These may be “vertically oriented” around domains, such as the Centre for Investigative Journalism. Or, they might provide resources “horizontally”. An important example of the latter horizontal type are the technology transfer offices at universities, that help academic research and efforts develop into organizations, IP, patents, or products. There’s much to say about the role of tech transfer offices in supporting the Six Pillars.

Building a healthy ecosystem

It is useful, then, to ask what makes this ecosystem healthy and resilient. Are there members of this ecosystem that are bad actors in some way, on which others are dependent?

These are some of the nodes, links and paths in this network that deserve attention:


  • discuss national and local policy infrastructure (and in some cases international policy as well). These might be less visible, but are important parts

Interactive Graph

Nodes on the graph represent articles; try clicking on them. Experimental. May not work on mobile.