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Reflections on the Pizzigatti Prize, Peter Deitz, and Social Actions

December 16, 2010

This week, I had a pleasure of nominating Peter Deitz (the founder and co-director of Social Actions) for the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.  This was fun to do, because it gave me an opportunity to reflect on how much his work has meant, not just to me, but to the Nonprofit Management Resources project (NPMR), and to everyone who cares about delivering useful information to those who seek to make the world a better place.

Peter deserves a lot of credit for drawing together a network of advisors and colleagues, (the foremost of which is Christine Egger, Social Actions’ co-director) from the ranks of the most innovative nonprofit technology professionals around.  He deserves still more credit for demonstrating that it was not just technologically but organizationally possible to mash-up data streams from over 70 content partners.

But before Social Actions put together these networks and partnerships, someone had to be enough of a visionary to understand that we didn’t need another social network or online source of information in our sector – we need tools that help us search and aggregate what is already available, albeit scattered, over the web.  Peter is that visionary.

Of course, that insight – about the need for an uber-tool for online search and aggregation -has had an enormous impact on the NPMR project on at least two levels.  First of all, it inspired me, when I was approached by both Third Sector New England and the Boston Foundation about providing online answers to frequently asked nonprofit management questions, to think in terms of bringing together multiple knowledge bases instead of building separate information silos.

On a more mundane level, the existence of the Social Actions web site gave me a prototype to show the good folks of TSNE and TBF.  Instead of trying to describe it in words, I could show them Social Actions’ functionality, and say, “Now, imagine that what we’re searching and aggregating is answers to questions instead of opportunities to volunteer, make donations, sign petitions, apply for jobs, or take other actions!”  And, indeed, our next step was explore whether we could use the Social Actions platform for our purposes, with a few tweaks and changes of field names.  Thanks to Peter and the Social Actions team,  a working prototype was quickly developed, and we are well underway.

I’m looking forward to seeing even more replications of the Social Actions vision and platform, in addition to the NPMR project.  There’s no lack of crucial information in our sector that needs to be sorted in an appealing and usable way.  What is rare and precious is the emergence of a visionary whose demonstration is so convincing that it seems like an obvious solution to all of us after the fact.  Fortunately, Peter came along – and recruited his network of advisors, collaborators, and content partners.

As for the Pizzagatti Prize, this is what the advisory panel says:

(They) will be looking for nominated individuals who have demonstrated remarkable leadership in the field, exemplified by:

Well, that’s Peter!

I hope that the Pizzagatti Prize panel agrees that we’ve found them a keeper.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010 5:28 pm

    Deborah, you’ve put your finger on it: Peter has both the ability to hold the vision of where technologies like the Social Actions API can take us, and a leadership style that simultaneously accommodates AND stretches the capacity of those around him to share that vision and its fulfillment.

    You draw attention to how Peter’s work in developing the Social Actions API is technologically and organizationally noteworthy, and I wholeheartedly agree. He’s incredibly adept at meeting people where they are, authentically and respectfully, and inviting them somewhere new.

    Thank you for honoring Peter with your nomination, Deborah. I see a wonderful alignment between his accomplishments and the spirit of Tony Pizzigati’s legacy, and join you in encouraging members of the advisory panel to award Peter this recognition.

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