Computers or vaccines? Technology, social networking sites and new citizenship

I was invited to present a keynote during the VII General Assembly of the Spanish Red Cross, on 26 March 2011. I was asked to talk about what should nonprofits do in view of the proliferation of social networking sites, online participation, cyber-activism and so.

In such cases, I generally try to avoid the usual showcase of “best practices” and go instead to what causes made possible those “best practices”. It’s a tougher option, as it often implies a trade-off from the “wow factor” towards the “what-is-this-guy-talking-about factor”. On the positive side, I pursue the trade-off from the “let’s-copy-these-actions” towards “I-know-why-they-worked-and-I-understand-how-to-design-them-myself”.

On the other hand, the representatives of the Spanish Red Cross were choosing their President and the members of the boards of directors of different regional levels. That was a very strong reason to shift towards more strategic issues instead of strictly practical and punctual applications of social media and nonprofit technology.

Thus, the structure of my presentation was explaining:

  1. What caused the transition from an Industrial Society to an Information Society;
  2. how people were leveraging their access to information and communication technologies for activism and self-organization;
  3. what was being the impact like for institutions, especially those that represented people’s interests: governments, political parties and non-governmental organizations.

In a nutshell, the main message was that the Internet, cellphones, social networking sites, etc. are not a matter of how you inform your stakeholders, how you communicate with your volunteers or how you convince your donors, but a dire change of the game-board that requires serious strategic reflections and decisions in the very short term. Evidence shows that many institutions will either go through a deep process of transformation or will simply disappear, and NGOs are included in the set.

[click here to enlarge]

More information and downloads