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Further reflections on taxonomies

November 21, 2010

Here’s a draft of the taxonomy that we are using for the nonprofit management knowledge base on the Boston Foundation’s web site.

An Overview of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Sector

  • Data and Research
  • Laws and Regulations
  • Advocacy and Lobbying
  • Nonprofit Basics
  • Executive Management

Leading with Mission

  • Planning and Strategy
  • Board Management
  • Program Development and Evaluation
  • Financial Management
  • Fundraising and Resource Development
  • Staff Development and Oversight
  • Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations

Board Governance

  • Responsibilities of the Board
  • Education, Training, and Evaluation
  • Best Practices in Board Governance

Nonprofits in the 21st Century

  • Diversity of Leadership
  • Mergers and Strategic Alliances
  • Technology
  • Risk Management
  • Volunteerism
  • Environmentally Responsible Nonprofits
  • Managing in An Era of Limited Financial Resources
  • Peer Learning and Collaboration

(The corresponding material hasn’t been published to web yet, so I can’t give you a link to it just yet.)

This is a very different kind of taxonomy than the one that Jennifer Koerber developed for the Nonprofit Management Resources project, even though both will be used.  Jennifer’s addresses the need to clarify the format in which information is available (e.g., web page, podcast, PDF), while the TBF taxonomy shown here addresses the need to understand what questions can be answered by drilling down into the latter’s knowledge base.

The TBF taxonomy was provided to me by Geeta Pradhan and Andrea Martinez, along with the content that they had developed for their nonprofit management knowledge base.  As I dug into that content in order to vet, amplify, extend,and webify it, I didn’t change the taxonomy much.  However, I did add a name for the fourth section:  Nonprofits in the 21st Century.  It’s a catch-all for nonprofit management challenges that simply didn’t impinge on most of us ten or twenty years ago; I’m open to suggestions from word smiths about a better name for this category.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to compare the content taxonomy currently being used for Third Sector New England’s nonprofit management knowledge base, and note where TSNE and TBF do and don’t overlap:

  • Collaboration and Merger
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Evaluation
  • Executive Transition
  • Fiscal Sponsorship
  • Fund Development
  • Getting Started
  • Going Green
  • Governance
  • HR & Workplace Culture
  • Leadership
  • Legal Compliance
  • Media and Marketing
  • Money Matters
  • Online Communications
  • Organizational Development
  • Public Policy & Advocacy
  • Social Justice
  • Strategic Planning
  • Technology

In the case of both TBF and TSNE, the content was developed in response to untold numbers of questions that each organization has received over the years from their respective stakeholders.  Once again, I’m struck by how savvy both these organizations are, in realizing that instead of building two information silos, there would be strength in creating a reference tool that would search the knowledge bases of multiple content partners.  As we get started with a small number of feeds, it’s a plus to find that a question is addressed by one content partner even if the other two don’t.  Later on, it will be a plus for users to find that there are multiple resources on a given topic; he or she will have the luxury of choosing information on the basis of its source, its format, its freshness, or several other criteria.

If we get the search and aggregation engine just right, it may turn out that the average NPMR user will not have much need to think in terms of content taxonomies.   The knowledge landscape will be rather flat, and as David Weinberger says, everything (will be) miscellaneous.  The user will be able to run searches based on the key words that spring to his or her mind, without knowing the hierarchical order of things. But I suspect that the content taxonomies will always be of use to the project team and the content partners, enabling us to take inventory and assess gaps or redundancies.  I also suspect that the taxonomies will also be of interest to casual knowledge geeks; I know this, because I am one of them.  I like to browse through other people’s FAQ files even when I don’t have a question, in search of not just arcane information but glimpses into the depth and breadth of unfamiliar fields of knowledge.  I hope that the various content taxonomies of the NPMR project will always prove worthy of the knowledge geeks of this world.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 3:13 pm

    Yes, Deborah.

    All content (and data) providers will / must create their own taxonomies to catalog their works with. Only in very special circumstances will two content providers ever be able to use identical taxonomies. It makes perfect sense for providers to use custom taxonomies that fit their “personal” editorial approach to subjects.

    However, that leaves consumers of that content in an interesting situation. Every different site will have a different taxonomy to navigate through. Of course all sites usually have a “keyword search” option as well, which helps at the site level.

    However, the master taxonomy of sites are often used by Google crawlers to index the sites’ content. So when a consumer is Googling something, then they are actually doing a “keyword search” on the taxonomy terms!

    It would be ideal if the terms of such differing taxonomies were *correlated*. So in your two example taxonomies TBF’s “Mergers and Strategic Alliance” term would be correlated to TSNE’s “Collaboration and Merger” term.

    Then there is one further concept that really gets me excited…

    So if we spend this [considerable] effort to correlate taxonomy terms, as well as create the front-end interface taxonomy for same, then that still leaves the whole non-English speaking portion of the world out in the cold. However the value of the correlated “front-end” taxonomy should become so highly trafficked and valued by consumers that it would then be a no-brainer to translate the terms and “meta keywords” of that taxonomy into a hundred-plus languages.

    That is what the InterEthos project is all about. The goal is to create an internationalized correlation of taxonomies that enhances access to the content and data of the social services sector.


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