2005 Annual Appeal
For 24 years, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) has been working to promote public interest objectives in the information and communication technology (ICT) arena. In that time, we have grown from a small group of computer scientists in Palo Alto, California who were deeply concerned about the Reagan Administration’s Star Wars program into a global organization that could take on any ICT issues that our membership cared to address. Whether the pressing topics of the day have been government surveillance and violations of privacy and civil liberties, overly restrictive intellectual property rules, industry concentration, telecommunications and mass media regulation, unreliable voting technology, computers in the workplace, the participatory design of technologies, the Internet’s development and governance, the global information society, or something else, CPSR and its members have been there ---voicing concerns and raising awareness by writing policy statements and reports, giving testimony, lobbying policymakers, organizing events and campaigns, working in coalitions with other public interest groups, and more. Whether acting alone, in ad hoc teams, or through our formal working groups, chapters, and ongoing projects, CPSR members have made notable contributions on these and many other fronts.
CPSR has been able to make a difference solely because of our grass roots membership. While we have hundreds of members around the world, our financial resources---and by extension, our office support---are very limited. As such, we have no central organization comprising paid professional staff to plan and carry out programmatic activities; instead, we are essentially a highly distributed network of people who volunteer their technical expertise and effort to address the problems that most concern them. Our member-driven character and our involvement in a broad range of local, national, and global issues make us very different from the various staff-based public interest groups working in the ICT arena. We fill a vitally important and complementary niche---a progressive organization that computer professionals and other concerned citizens can actually join and work through in order to connect with colleagues that are interested in promoting free and inclusive information societies.
To preserve this open platform for collective action, we must strengthen CPSR’s institutional and financial foundations. That is a big challenge for volunteers who are invariably pressed by the demands of other obligations, and in consequence CPSR’s fortunes have waxed and waned a bit over the years. Lately though, the Board of Directors and other dedicated members have been working hard to put the organization on a sound footing for the future. In a similar letter sent during the 2004 holiday season, I mentioned a number of priority initiatives we hoped to push in the coming year. During 2005, we achieved these objectives, and more. To note just the more prominent examples, we have:
Established a new Advisory Council (AC). Composed largely of committed veteran members who have experience with our inner workings, the AC has provided the Board of Directors with insightful input on ways to enhance CPSR’s organizational management and programmatic direction.
Produced a Strategic Plan (SP). Written by three members of the AC, the SP provides a valuable overview of CPSR’s past, present, and possible futures. The SP has served as a vehicle to prompt dialogue among the Board, AC and other interested members. A draft version was posted for member comment on the website prior to the Annual Weekend, and the final version, revised in light of these and other comments, will be available there in January.
Held a successful Annual Weekend. Our October gathering in Palo Alto was an ambitious multi-part affair that included: a special Board meeting on organizational management that was facilitated by an expert in non-profit boards of directors and supported by the Ford Foundation; a regular Board meeting characterized by a renewed sense of commitment and shared direction; a productive Board/AC dialogue on the SP; and a lively and extended Members’ meeting that focused in particular on program issues and possible campaigns.
Strengthened the new website, www.cpsr.org. The transition to the new site has been a very demanding and time consuming task, but with support from the Ford Foundation, the capabilities we wanted are now mostly in place. The member comment cycle for the draft SP and steps taken by some Chapters and Working Groups in growing their respective portions of the site have demonstrated the content management system’s ability to facilitate member initiatives and collaboration. All we need now is for more members to use these resources!
Reconstituted the committees that are responsible for various aspects of CPSR's management and bring together representatives of the Board of Directors and the general membership. More information on this evolving effort will be available soon on the website and in the CPSR Compiler.
Rebooted the publications program. CPSR has a new Working Paper Series, available on the website, that will soon release its third publication.
Completed our first ever financial audit, which focused on the 2003-2004 fiscal year but also highlighted some broader structural issues. The auditor gave us a clean bill of health and drew our attention to practices that can enhance our ability to make the best of our limited resources going forward.
Expanded our collaborations with other public interest organizations. Productive linkages have been fostered in particular with respect to global policy processes, e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and Internet governance debates, and there has been movement in the United States as well.
Increased our visibility and influence in the policy sphere, again most notably at the global level through our involvement in the WSIS and Internet governance. CPSR members participated actively in the global negotiations by making written and oral interventions, lobbying governments, organizing side events, and generating ideas and texts that fed directly into the intergovernmental agreements.
In 2006, we plan to build on these gains to further strengthen CPSR’s organizational foundations. In consultation with the AC and other members, the Board of Directors is actively exploring issues raised during the Annual Weekend and in the SP and is considering new programmatic work. Voting technologies, censorship technologies, and Internet governance (broadly defined) seem like particularly pressing options for one or more campaigns. In parallel, we are considering institutional initiatives that could help us to make better use of CPSR’s scare resources.
In short, CPSR is making progress, and we enter into 2006 with renewed energy and commitment to secure the organization’s future. It promises to be a very exciting time, but we very much need your participation to make it a success. There are two things you can do to help us in this effort.
First, if you are not a member in good standing, please consider joining or rejoining CPSR and getting involved! While some of our members have been very active in recent years, we really need to get more people into the stream of things. There is much to do: for example, you could help get the new website up-to-speed; join or form a working group on an issue of particular interest to you; join or form a local, regional, or national chapter; start an ongoing project and work with CPSR to seek financial support for your efforts; join one of the committees that are responsible for various aspects of CPSR's management; or stand for election to the Board of Directors. We will have several vacancies to fill in the next election cycle, and are eager to get some new blood that is committed to sustaining and growing the organization. And of course, spread the word about CPSR. We need more members!
Second, this being the holiday season, please consider making a financial contribution to CPSR. We really need your support at this crucial turning point in the organization’s evolution. Our finances have been in general decline since the dot.com crash, we can just barely cover our staff and other operating expenses, and we have little financial "cushion." On the current trajectory, and despite the continuing activism and contributions of our members, CPSR could very well become unsustainable in its current form within a year or two. Let's work together to avoid that scenario playing out. And remember, CPSR is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For those paying taxes in the United States, your contribution is IRS deductible. You can use the form below, or the secure online form at http://www.cpsr.org/membershipForm.
My best wishes for a happy holiday season, and thank you forsupporting CPSR.
Last modified March 14, 2006 03:46 PM