Several years ago, I wrote a book chapter about open source philanthropy. It is in The World We Want, edited by Peter Karoff and Jane Maddox and includes an interview with me called, “Open Sesame: Networks of Cooperation and Open Source Solutions.”

It presented seven building blocks for bringing open source principles to philanthropy.

These seven building blocks of open philanthropy are:

  1. Facilitate adaptation; don’t hinder it
  2. Design for interoperability; local specificity will follow
  3. Build for the poorest
  4. Assume upward adaptability
  5. Creativity and control will happen locally
  6. Diversity is essential
  7. Complex problems require hybrid solutions

And more recently I’ve been thinking about public ideas, crowdsourcing innovation through Kluster or Social Innovation Camp, and now the folks at Social Edge are onto the idea - read this discussion on open source social entrepreneurship. If nothing else, the basic premises of seeking diverse input, trying some design methodologies such as rapid prototyping, and drawing from multiple disciplines are strategic approaches to solving social problems that are starting to gain some traction.

These concepts are all exciting, and they also raise some questions for philanthropy. Where are the lines between public and private when it comes to ideas for the public good? Can or should someone be able to own a policy innovation? Protect a service delivery process? Are all socially positive ideas public? How will new entities like L3Cs or B corporations re-mix the assumptions about ideas and innovation as proprietary sources of business proposition - or are they public goods?

What are the best ways to encourage creative thinking and bring the ideas to action? Is social entrepreneurship better at this than anything else? Are social entrepreneurs even paying attention to raging intellectual property debates - and, if so, how and why? What should they be asking? What should philanthropy be asking?

imageLucy Bernholz is the founder and president of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc, a strategy consulting firm that helps philanthropic individuals and institutions achieve their missions. She is the publisher of Philanthropy2173, an award-winning blog about the business of giving and serves as executive producer of The Giving Channel on