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The Process of Re-Visioning
by Fire Erowid
Jun 2005
Citation:   Erowid F. "Erowid: 10 Years of History." Erowid Extracts. Jun 2005;8:15.
As part of Erowid's ten-year anniversary, it's time to take a step back and look at Erowid's overall mission and direction. Many parts of our original vision have been partially or completely realized, so it's a good time to survey what we're doing and where we're heading.

Change Course or Stay on Track? #
Is it time for a big change or should Erowid continue on its current course? That is perhaps the first question to be considered as part of the "re-visioning" process. The internet-enabled sea change in information access has fundamentally changed psychoactive-using subcultures in many ways. What implications, if any, does this have for Erowid's methods and goals?

In January 2005, we began holding a series of re-visioning meetings with Erowid supporters. While this process is far from finished, we've had two formal meetings and many casual conversations with members and friends around the world. As the year continues we'll be working to involve more of the community in this conversation.

The Broad Questions #
  • What is most needed in the world of psychoactive information over the next five to ten years?
  • What new audiences (schools, libraries, media, health care) should we target with our information?
  • What should change or be added to our current mission?
  • What ethical issues are raised by our potential participation in scientific research?
  • What organizations are doing complimentary work that we can collaborate with or make sure not to overlap?
The Specific Questions #
  • What are the major gaps in publicly available data about psychoactives and how best can they be filled?
  • Are there new technologies and information distribution methods that we should be utilizing?
  • How can we effectively involve more volunteers?
  • What new funding models and revenue streams should we consider? What new membership gifts would encourage people to join or renew?
  • What tools or resources would be most useful to reporters or physicians?
Results So Far #
So far, those involved with the re-visioning have said they think Erowid is generally on the right track. Many had ideas about how we could expand or grow, but none expressed the desire for a major reorientation. After brainstorming and discussion, a variety of ideas were generated, which everyone was asked to rank. The top topics are below:

Meeting 1: San Francisco, January 2005. Twelve participants, mostly major funders and long-time friends of the project. Main issues and suggestions:
  1. Hiring an assistant to decrease the amount of time spent on work outside our core areas of expertise.
  2. Fundraising opportunities and ideas for how we could develop towards increased, sustainable revenue.
  3. Outreach to professionals such as reporters and physicians.
  4. Providing more transparency to the Erowid publishing process, perhaps with a blog or portal-style What's New interface.
Meeting 2: Seattle, February 2005. Seventeen participants, mostly technically-oriented funders and volunteers. The specific ideas included:
  1. Publishing systems changes like user-manipulable meta-data, document management overhaul, the use of an off-the-shelf content management system, user ratings, etc.
  2. Pro.erowid.org and professional outreach, including law enforcement, health professionals and reporters. Also, institutional subscriptions.
  3. Hiring lower cost staff.
  4. Creation of a volunteer management system and volunteer development teams. A group of Seattle supporters has formed to look into this.
  5. Steering committees to focus expertise on technical and organizational tasks. One point on which the participants of both meetings agreed was the idea of hiring an assistant. As a result we recently began working with a new part-time contractor.
Community Building #
Of the top ideas discussed so far, one that has been identified as both high and low priority is "community building". Some supporters would like to see Erowid implement more systems for involving visitor participation (such as web boards), while others think this would put the neutrality of Erowid-as-library at risk.

In many ways, Erowid has a very strong community: a diverse volunteer network, over a thousand members, millions of visitors. We have connections to many online and physical communities, as well as colleagues, experts, and friends who interact with the project in one way or another. Yet we continue to avoid normal "community" functions such as public web boards and email discussion lists.

Some interesting ideas have been discussed during the re-visioning process for other ways we might build, utilize, and help the communities that Erowid serves, including: increased community review of articles and information; better networking of the many experts we interact with; and more behind-the-scenes view into Erowid's ongoing projects. We are very interested in improving systems that support the needs of the varied communities the site serves and that allow more community participation. As part of this, we will continue to invite feedback about Erowid's re-visioning over the next six months. If you'd like to participate in further discussions, visit:

Erowid.org/extracts/n8/revisioning.shtml