Does the Internet transform (civil) society?
An excerpt of my PhD thesis appears in the 3rd edition of INNO-GRIPS Newsletter, published by the European Commission DG Innovation, Pro-INNO Europe. Below is the text. The full PDF version of the newsletter (only 8 pages) can be downloaded directly from the Pro-INNO EU here. Enjoy .. 🙂
(just did not think that EC would be interested in a research on Indonesia .. :-))
Does the internet transform civil society? The case of Indonesian CSOs
by Yanuar Nugroho, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research
Innovation is usually understood to be distinct from invention, although both are closely linked. The economist Schumpeter once said that while invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process, innovation is the first attempt to put it into practice. The literature on innovation is extensive and covers a wide range of topics. Studies on the role of innovation in economic and social change show a trend towards cross-disciplinarity. This reflects the fact that no single discipline is capable of dealing with all aspects of innovation. However, it seems its study is rooted very much in the commercial or private sector. Only recent developments have shown that it has now also been adopted in state and governmental bodies, mainly to improve productivity and the effectiveness of public services, and sometimes to deliver democracy.
With regard to civil society organisations (CSOs), innovation needs to be understood in a different context. Their ‘innovations’ may not be recognised as such, under the traditional definition. This may be because the view that an innovation is not an innovation until someone successfully implements and markets that idea (which is very true for the private and sometimes the public sector) is not always the case in the civil society sector –the primary motivation of which is not profit seeking.
A traditional Schumpeterian interpretation of innovation considers new products, methods of production, sources of supply, the exploitation of new markets and new ways to organise business. In civil society, however, this traditional notion of innovation may only go some way to answering questions about the role it can play in creating a more dynamic society. What matters more for CSOs is not the ‘marketing’ of new ideas for profit, but rather, how those ideas are diffused and adopted in order to achieve societal goals.
My recent work on the adoption of the Internet in CSOs in the Indonesian context has led me to this conclusion (see Nugroho, Y. (2007) Does the internet transform civil society? The case of civil society organisations in Indonesia. PhD. Thesis, University of Manchester). Being ontologically different from business entities and government agencies, CSOs perceive and undertake innovation in a different way compared to other types of organisation. While the increasingly pivotal positions of CSOs mainly stem from their capacities as institutions in fostering civic engagement, their use of the Internet as a technological innovation has contributed considerably to building these capacities including effective networking with local, national, and global counterparts.
CSO characteristics, in terms of issues, concerns and activities, affect the pattern and sequence of Internet adoption, and are a significant factor in creating leaders and laggards in its adoption. Yet it is not straightforward: effective, strategic and political use of the Internet in CSOs is only possible when the organisations realise the potential of the technology, adopt it, then integrate its use into the organisation’s routines as part of their strategy. Such characteristics also have an effect on the stages of use and implementation, as well as the strategic use of the Internet, and may be a source of the difference between Internet use in CSOs and in other types of organisation. This may affect not only CSOs’ organisational performance but their identity and role in the reshaping of socio-political life of the country in which they work.
Based on my research, I would suggest that there are five areas in which the Internet as a technological innovation could be used strategically to achieve CSOs mission and goals, i.e. (i) collaboration: (networking and coalition building); (ii) mobilisation (campaigns and calls for action); (iii) empowerment and development: (alternative opinion and information and foster participation); (iv) research and publication (data and information acquisition and for dissemination ); (v) advocacy and monitoring (shaping public opinion, supporting advocacy works, facilitating watchdog activities). In the case of Indonesia, CSOs who have used the Internet find that such use aided the achievement of goals and missions and widened their perspective on a global level, has become the major support for CSO network expansion and has increased the performance of the internal management as it helps the organisation to become more focused.
I am convinced that for civil society, a meaningful innovation is expected to be transformational in its impact on the character of organisations and the network of social movement. CSOs should not allow themselves to be overimpressed by the popularity and rapid spread of any innovation, but rather, should assess its quality in terms of being able to serve their needs and to have a major impact upon social and political life. A transforming technological innovation, like the Internet opens up opportunities for CSOs. Their integration within global civil society and their increasing ability to reshape socio-political life shows the power of civil society. However, the actual strength of civil society does not come from their use of technology. This serves only to enhance their existing strength which comes from the nature of civil society itself: the guardian of civic life. (*)