Four types of online volunteering

This is sort of second part of my previous post. I know there must be some pretty good theory about all this, but I’ve got quite a bad connection and less time to do a little research. So, just thinking out loud.

I find there are four levels of online cooperation, or, to be more specific, online cooperation for development, say, online volunteering

  • Advocacy: Online volunteering in advocacy consists in subscribing online campaigns to promote human rights and, more specifically, to report some human rights violation and, thus, to force some change. Amnesty International Spain campaign against death penalty in Nigeria for women such as Safiya Hussaini and Amina Lawal is a very good example. BUT, you’d never call it volunteering if asked to sign for a campaign in the middle of the street, so I’d rarely consider it online volunteering when it happens in the Internet, as I’ve seen these actions often labeled this way. On the other hand, sort of very “light” online volunteering would mean make people know about the campaign. Most of these sites include a “send to a friend” option. I think this is online volunteering, though, as I said, in a very few level of commitment.
  • Assessment and consultancy: So you know some things and other people (NGOs) don’t. They have connection to the Internet and so you have. So the online volunteer is asked for advice and he brings back some kind of helpdesk service in plenty of subjects, usually related to NGO management or development projects management. No proactive but reactive. “Little” to “some” level of commitment depending on what happens if you just don’t answer the request for help. SolucionesONG (NGO Solutions), the Spanish online community born thanks to some retired enterprise managers that wanted to volunteer (and then enhanced into a portal by Fundación Chandra) is just that: a clearing house of questions and answers where needs (NGOs) and experts (online volunteers) meet. The online volunteer registers, defines his area of expertise and waits for mails to come in with the questions. Answering back or not is up to you. As there’s more than one person by area of expertise, questions rarely remain unanswered.
  • Online volunteers for offline projects: This is the natural evolution of the last level. Why don’t increase the commitment of the online volunteer and give her or him a defined role in the development project the NGO is running? No helpdesk but responsibility: this is your duty, your task. These modality usually converts offline volunteers into online volunteers. I mean: volunteers that would exist anyway but that ICTs allow them not to travel abroad, not to be there in that precise place or then at that precise time. It is full volunteering, but kind of a real volunteering virtualisation. Most serious online volunteering programmes work this way.
  • Online volunteers teams for online projects: But why virtualize when the Network could exist by itself? Why not think directly in online volunteers teams instead of thinking how to virtualize them? Why not think in fully online development projects instead of its online side? This is what keeps me thinking lately, related to what I said in my previous post and what I read in Pekka Himanen’s book The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. e-learning for development projects, just like F/OSS projects, do not need to have an off-line version, support, etc.

Just to conclude: while first and second steps in online volunteer can be a good approach to a newcomer to online cooperation for development, I think steps three and four should be fostered in order to profit from the full potential of ICT4D. We’ve seen very good examples of both, but mainly of the third type. But I think somehow somewhere a virtual community will rise and lead an exponential growth of the fourth type. The F/OSS community has already done it. The e-educators community – specially when talking about authoring and shared authoring tools – is in the way and there’re already new tools that start to make think of a possible and near future of a real virtual community of e-educators (or ICT assisted offline educators). We (I) should think on how to replicate these experiences in the development field.


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2005) “Four types of online volunteering” In ICTlogy, #16, January 2005. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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4 Comments to “Four types of online volunteering” »

  1. Hi Ismael:
    Speaking of online volunteers, I received a request to volunteer as a Research Advisor with a “non-profit” organisation. They want 60 hours of volunteer time per year and seem OK on the surface, but I can’t find out much information on them. Have you ever heard of this org?

  2. Ooops, I’m affraid I know anything about them… and their site doesn’t say too much either…

  3. Pingback: ICTlogy »

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