IT for Social Activists: A Study of World Social Forum 2006 Organizing Process

IT for Social Activists: A Study of World Social Forum 2006 Organizing Process

Saqib Saeed (Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, Saudi Arabia), Markus Rohde (University of Siegen, Germany) and Volker Wulf (University of Siegen, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/jabim.2012040106
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There has been little research on how social activists use information technology in carrying out their activities. Most of these activists belong to social organizations and recent literature has highlighted that most civil society organizations lack IT appropriation in their work practices. To better understand IT requirements of this sector, there is a need for longitudinal ethnographic studies. In this paper, the authors examine the organizing process of the World Social Forum 2006 event, held in Karachi Pakistan. World Social Forum is an important gathering of social movements across the globe, and organizing such an event requires extensive communication and effective planning skills. The authors’ intention is appropriate technology introduction in the organizing process to improve the organizing process. The objective of this paper is to highlight the need and importance of this research issue.
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1. Introduction

Civil society organizations (CSOs) require effective knowledge management methodologies, as knowledge is the prime resource in knowledge society (Lytras & Sicilia, 2005; Stehr, 2007). Information technology is an important enabler for modern knowledge management methodologies but IT adoption in CSOs is not as rapid as is the case in other organizations. There are a number of factors which make IT usage in this field of application very specific. CSOs are very diverse in their operations and compositions. Most CSOs face a significant lack of funding for development, improvement and maintenance of their IT infrastructure. As their activities are mainly run by donations; often it is hard to invest these donations in establishing sustainable IT infrastructure and continuously employing IT professionals. Difference of language, backgrounds, working habits and culture among social activists of organizations operating in different regions adds further complexity in designing an effective IT infrastructure. Furthermore as these organizations are mostly run by volunteers so lack of permanent staff and weak hierarchical structure adds further problems in establishing sustainable IT infrastructures (Saeed et al., 2008b). These factors highlight that as there are similarities between conventional organizations and civil society organizations but at the same time considerable differences too. So there is a need to keep in mind these issues as well while designing IT systems for them. These issues advocate for intense research efforts to support these organizations by technological solutions. There has been related work to appropriate technology in voluntary organizations by different researchers. Benston (1990) has described how participatory design methods can be used to help nonprofit organizations. There have been examples of application of technology in regional nonprofit organizations by different researchers’ (cf. McPhail et al., 1998; Trigg, 2000; Rohde, 2003, 2004; Farooq et al., 2005, 2006). There has not been much work carried out on empowering CSOs which operate in transnational context. Mclever worked with transnational NGOs to develop a multi-lingual collaborative legislative drafting application (Mclever, 2004a, 2004b).There is also analytical work on use of technologies by transnational NGOs (cf. Cogburn, 2004; Currion, 2006). In an earlier version of this paper (Saeed et al., 2008c) we briefly discussed the IT implications for World Social Forum, but in this version we have extended the empirical data.

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