Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Method for organizing volunteer efforts

The Cancer Beatdown

At it's simplest, it's just a task manager for researchers who would like to utilize volunteers in the search for a cure. For volunteers, it's a way to get their hands bloody at cancers expense. "No, you won't cure cancer, but maybe once in a while, you can come on over here and get a few good licks in". And, yes, I'm going to continue to refer to fighting cancer in more colorful ways than just "fighting cancer". It's quite satisfying.

No money, no donations of protons or neutrons. Just electrons, photons, and elbow grease. This isn't a site for beggin; it's just a site that invites others to get in on the beatdown while the beatin' is good.

The idea is based on the premise that the pool of smart, motivated volunteers is underused and underorganized by the cancer research community. In other words:

1) there are a lot of very smart people who would get a profound satisfaction from knowing that they contributed in some small way to developing a cure for cancer.

2) there are a lot of researchers who will buy that exposing some of their tasks in a sensical way to an army of smart people who want to work on them could speed their work.

One case in which this might work is:

A researcher needed to develop a significant new body of software, and was looking to task some portions of that development out to volunteers in a test-driven manner - "I write the tests, you guys make as many as you can pass before I do".

I recently participated in agile development of this sort, using pivotals excellent agile project manager, which is influencing my thinking on this type of application.

The basic site workflow for Cancer Beatdown is as expected:

1) Site manager invites a few researchers who are doing promising work.

2) Researchers post the task, whether it's stuffing envelopes on-site or coming up with a new way to search a massive database for correlations. The required form of the solution is also specified.

3) Volunteers propose solutions.

Some sensical reputation/core user policies would be adopted - i.e. Researchers or the site manager can invite more researchers, after vouching for them. Volunteers are invested in performance.

Personally, I would love to volunteer for some well-defined and promising projects in which I could invest one day per month. I know some people who would never consider such a thing, and some that would invest considerably more time. What do you think?

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