Foundations and nonprofits have a range of decisions to make about how information is shared, stored, retained, or destroyed.

The form of information matters


The same data (whether digital or analog) can vary in degrees of access and use depending on what is selected to share and how. For example: a paper version of the 990 form stored in file cabinet is like an ice cube. A single 990 form scanned and hosted online as a .pdf is like water. A downloadable and open access database created from all the individual fields drawn from all organizations’ 990s is like steam.

The form and process of digitization

Information can be changed from “analog” (paper-based) to digital. The information stays the same but the form changes – the way water can be liquid, solid, or gas. Once the form changes, managing it requires different tools (It’s easy to hold ice but hard to hold steam.) In the water metaphor the choices being made are to heat or to cool – when it comes to information the choices usually revolve around opening or closing access.

Digitization and open/closed access

Digitized information acts like steam: it’s hard to hold onto. In digitizing information organizations make decisions about opening up access to more people and allowing more uses of the information.