Meet Your Neighbor: IssueLab

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(Special thanks to Gordon Mayer for the heads-up!)

Driving social change in Chicago means meeting a variety of really great like-minded people, but it also means learning about great resources for nonprofits. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about IssueLab, an online initiative that seeks to help nonprofits by centralizing research.

Although affiliated with the Foundation Center in New York, IssueLab is a Chicago tech story - founders Gabriela Fitz and Lisa Brooks started out by building the Community Media Workshop's (now better known as Public Narrative) first web site in the 1990s, and later expanded to building sites as part of New Media for Nonprofits. As they helped nonprofits build and develop sites, both realized that the sites they built for nonprofits contained research that needed to be integrated into a central location, rather than just "thrown out" when a site was developed or abandoned. Fitz and Brooks realized what was needed - a centralized resources where reports, case studies, evaluations, and other knowledge created by nonprofits, foundations, and other related organizations could be accessed and shared.

As part of the Foundation Center, IssueLab provides an easily accessible medium where users can upload, discover, and freely share research. Features of the site include an easy-to-use interface allowing users to upload and share items; filtered search and curation capabilities; identify resources that could be useful long-term; and metadata that allows for searching and browsing across 38 different categories focusing on key issues.

IssueLab also provides some custom services for nonprofits, foundations, and university-based research centers, including synthesis reports, knowledge centers (like this site focusing on freshwater issues). Although partwith the Foundation Center, IssueLab's focus is on outreach to nonprofits, making sorely-needed research accessible for nonprofits with a less pandering and more practical approach. (For example, IssueLab has approximately 1,000 annual reports, and they are actively seeking and engaging nonprofits to help foster resources and collaboration). IssueLab is also engaging nonprofits around perceiving IssueLab as a knowledge resource. Quoting from IssueLab's recent press release, Lisa Brooks, Director of Knowledge Management Systems, states that

"Our sector tends to under-value the knowledge we generate or treat research as much as they would communications and outreach efforts....Open knowledge and publishing our research will bring all of us closer to why we invest in social sector research to begin with - to better understand and raise awareness about pressing social problems, and to deepen the impact of the work we do to solve them.

Hosting more than 20,000 pieces of research published and/or funded by over 7,000 organizations from around the world, IssueLab is a Chicago initiative that seeks to make greater impact upon nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations. IssueLab is free for everyone and is licensed via Creative Commons. If knowledge is power, then IssueLab provides a method for nonprofits to contribute resources as well as generate power.

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