Communication possibilities challenge traditional civil society organisations. Formal organisations require a degree of formality – meetings, agendas, minutes, statutes, etc. There is also a strong emphasis on “the corporate voice” – Amnesty, the Red Cross, the Nature preservation organisation, etc, try to protect their brands by filtering what poses as organisational communication and official positions. Facebook, etc, provides easy non-bureaucratic organising – just sign in as a member (even using an alias), and you participate in an organisational conversation where enthusiasm counts, and formal rank does not. Besides, the “organization” needs bear no costs, and thus financing does not become a limiting factor. ATTAC and The Pirate Party are examples of organisations that grew, or came into existence even, through non-hierarchical, ICT-supported communication. At the same time, they share some characteristics with social movements of previous eras, such as the French or the Russian revolution or the 68 movement. Some of the differences between then and now are captured by the concept virtual volunteering, soliciting and harnessing the, possibly small, efforts people are willing to direct at a worthwhile cause, facilitated by modern ICT. An example at the meta level is the Volunteer Bureau, serving as a broker for virtual (and physical) volunteering.
Have we learned to understand these social-movement-like new ways of organising? Have existing civil organisations “learned”? To what extent does society shape the new organisations, and the institutionalisation and formalisation of them? What roles do ICT providers play? Have we yet seen the end? This article draws on a number of examples in striving to explore these questions to further our understanding of the interaction between possibilities offered by modern ICT and changes in civil society.
Honolulu: Pacific Telecommunications Council , 2010. 534-544 p.