Today on the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Blog, Lucy Bernholz has begun an online dialogue with grantmakers on what philanthropists can accomplish in virtual worlds and how to measure success. As preparation for the real world panel discussion that will take place at the Second Life Community Convention this weekend, Bernholz has asked each of the panelists to respond online. The panelists include Benjamin Stokes of the MacArthur Foundation, Chinwe Onkere of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Allyson Knox of Microsoft, and Brad Lewis of Learn and Serve America.
Specifically, Lucy asks:
- What are reasonable expectations for philanthropic activities within virtual worlds?
- How are you defining both success and failure for your initiative?
Given the panelists, it looks like an interesting discussion, which you can take part in by replying to the blog post. I just sent in my $.02, which you can read after the jump…
Here’s what I submitted to the MacArthur Blog:
Lucy has provided a good context to examine the role of
philanthropy in virtual worlds. If I
might be a bit negative, I think it might be helpful to begin with “what do we
It seems to me that one likely form of failure would be to
simply do what you are already doing, but do it “virtually.” I.e. looking at virtual worlds the way that
television producers used to look at TV as “radio with pictures.”
I have been observing and working with a number of
non-profit and for-profit entities that have tried to translate their work into
virtual worlds. I’ve seen lots of
fitful, painful, ill-considered startups that the philanthropic community
should try and learn from.
Here are some ways that philathropic institutions could get
off to the wrong start:
- Create non-dynamic, un-staffed virtual offices
- Pasting virtual billboards everywhere extolling your mission and work
- Brag bout how you are the “first” to do something virtually
- Ignore the existing virtual community and try and re-create it with your own branding
- Fund existing central players that you already work with, instead of widening your net to outreach to other groups already active in virtual worlds
- Expect one staff person to be your “virtual guy/gal” and have the rest of the staff carry on as normal
If any of these describe your virtual world activities, I
think it’s safe to say that you’ve failed.
The encouraging part is that this is a frontier medium, and
failure is the grounds for new learning and refocusing of energies and
strategy. Virtual worlds are nothing if
not adaptable and ever-changing, which your institution should aim for as well.