Åsa Månsson

23 January, 2018

Digitalisation offers CSOs huge opportunities and great challenges

Digitalisation is having an enormous influence on the new infrastructure of global society in the 21st century. It is changing the playing field as we speak and forcing us to adapt quickly to new circumstances, changing the way we see ourselves and our organisations. The World Economic Forum talks about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” when describing the current digital revolution.[1]

More than just laptops

CSOs also need to consider digitalisation as more than just laptops, mobiles and Internet connections. Digitalisation must move out of the back office to all parts of our organisations, and begin to lead projects in order to have a significant impact on our missions and stakeholders. Digitalisation should be about how we get new and existing work done on every level of our organisations. It must contribute to our thinking about how to reinvent our organisations to achieve better impact.

Huge opportunities

There is huge potential for CSOs to identify opportunities linked to digitalisation. For example, how can we use data in a way that increases our knowledge and understanding about our beneficiaries? How can we use technology to strengthen the participation of stakeholders? CSOs should start experimenting more with how digitalisation might affect all areas of work. CSOs should also seek to collaborate with others in order to take advantage of progress that has been made and to share the risks and costs of digitalisation with each other. There are indeed good case studies to learn from. For instance, the use of Blockchain Technology enables CSOs to target their programmes more precisely to the needs of the people. However, much more could be done.

Great challenges

On the other hand, digitalisation is linked to challenges that should not be overlooked and that need innovative solutions. Data security and privacy in the virtual space are huge issues and should be given sufficient attention. In times of increasing restrictions on civic rights and where various actors have access to people’s behavioural patterns in the virtual space, there is a significant drive to make use of information of what people think, and an increasing ability to restrict people’s use of online space. Many CSOs or digital activism platforms are not sufficiently sensitised in regard to these issues, which is problematic as they possess a lot of sensitive personal information. As a result, civic actors might unintentionally endanger their own beneficiaries through an improper use of their digital assets, which poses a risk for the credibility and trust of our sector.

While making use of the opportunities that digitalisation brings, CSOs need to develop alternative approaches and tools that are part of a value and rights based agenda. We need to protect civic rights and make sure that inequality does not grow through digitalisation. CSOs can act as a vanguard of change and establish an approach to digitalisation where people’s needs are served while personal information is simultaneously protected.

Various parts of the International Civil Society Centre’s work in 2018 will focus on the topic of digitalisation. Our Innovators Forum on 27-28 February will explore how CSOs can benefit from digital innovation and Vision Works on 17-19 April 2018 will run under the topic ICSOs in a Digital World. If you have any ideas about how CSOs should – or inspiring examples of how they already do – approach this topic, please get in touch!

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

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