Social tech and civil society: not so very different from banking

Are nonprofits really much different from private companies and other organisations in the way they use – or don’t use – social technology? Not as much as they may think.

That’s the conclusion I reached in an interview at the end of today’s UK Carnegie Trust seminar about social technology and civil society associations – which I wrote about here.

I was talking to Suw Charman-Anderson, who is researching the topic for Carnegie, and Euan Semple, who has wide experience in the field and a willingness to share his expertise understandably.

Suw said five years work across sectors had confirmed to her that the main, common, issues were people’s behaviours, the cultures they worked in, and their preparedness to communicate, share, be more open. The adoption and use of social media in charities was not that different from banking .. you have to identify what’s of benefit to the individual and the organisations, and how to embed that in work practices.

All of which is about change … and Euan emphasised it can’t usually be achieved solely by top-down “change programmes”. It is about people’s preparedness to change, and that takes time. The key issues are the passion of people leading, their credibility, the culture they are working in.

So what’s this going to mean for civil society associations? There was a lot of discussion in the seminar about how far technology-enabled change could come from within, and how far charities were broken – as Dan McQuillan has put it – and we must rely on the sort of start-ups encouraged by Social Innovation Camp.

Of course it’s not either-or. Suw’s view: flexible organisations would change, inflexible ones would die, and we would also see a lot of new, less formal, more self-organised bodies around the landscape.

There was optimism. Andy Gibson promoted a return to mutualism, where those benefiting were also the owners … a way of avoid current tensions where nonprofits followed the dictates of funders and were hindered by structures for accountability which didn’t necessarily achieve that. (I hope Andy will expand…)

And as Euan said at the end of the interview … this technology is personal, and empowering. Just the sort of thing that civil society organisations should be adopting if they were are to their values.

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