Google Moderator — Your Key to Community Input?

June 3, 2010

“Don’t do something about me without me.” I first heard Tamar Cloyd of Education Voters of America speak these powerful words during a talk on diversity and the leadership pipeline on Rosetta Thurman’s podcast.

The Suggestion Box

Google Moderator, it's like the suggestion box for the 21st century.

This phrase succinctly states the importance of community engagement in the work we do as philanthropists, and the words come echoing back to me like an idiomatic boomerang every time I recognize a new tool for grantmakers to engage their grantees and community stakeholders.

Today I’d like to share with you one of those tools, Google Moderator, and discuss how using it to crowdsource decisions can help you tap into the communities you seek to serve.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term crowdsourcing, let me give you the quick explanation. Crowdsourcing is when you use an online platform such as a website or a web application to allow people to do an activity, like donate to a cause or create and rate solutions to a problem. Minnesota Idea Open is one such example of how a foundation is using crowdsourcing to determine how to solve pressing social issues and, in turn, who should receive its grant money.

Google Moderator is a free online tool that allows anyone who has a Google account and something to talk about to start a discussion. It allows the moderator to post a question in text or now in the form of a YouTube video and solicit feedback in the form of ideas, suggestions or questions. Anyone who has a free Google account, like a gmail account can submit a response. Once a response is posted, it can in turn be rated by other users for quality, so that best input gets pushed to the top.

To see an example of Google Moderator, you can view this discussion that I just made on the topic of using tools such as Google Moderator to crowdsource philanthropy (I know, it’s so meta!) While you’re there, feel free to give the platform a test drive by posting your own thoughts.

One of the most obvious limitations of the tool is that there’s no way to pick the crowd that you’re sourcing. Currently, if you create a discussion, anyone can participate. So, if you’re a grantmaker looking to engage a very specific community, then there’s no way to ensure that you’re engaging only your target population.

However, despite limitations, it’s exciting to think how grantmakers, policymakers and nonprofits can use tools like this to partner with communities in problem solving.

For grantmakers concerned with upholding the principles of transparency and the engagement of diverse communities, figuring out how to harness these online tools effectively to support grantmaking decisions will be where the rubber meets the road, and support of these values translates to action in the 21st century.

– Cary Lenore Walski, MCF web communications associate

Image CC Peter J. Bury