From mass communication to personalised interaction
Pre-digital communication has put people mostly at the receiving end of expert insights, government policies or corporate publications – just to name a few. This has fundamentally changed. In the digital age people take a much more active approach to customising and shaping their interactions with organisations, on issues and in regard to outcomes. The rise of the blogosphere in the early 2000’s, open source collaborations in Linux and Wikipedia, digital campaigns’ organisations such as MoveOn and GetUp or social movements like Occupy Wall Street exemplify people’s new engagement model. Key characteristics in all of them are: easy access, personalised in-time communication and taking an active role in co-shaping outcomes. Communication scholar Lance Bennett calls it a shift from the “dutiful” to the “self-actualising” citizen. People don’t just want to be informed by organisations, but actively contribute and move in and out of issues they care about as their interests, desires and life circumstances change.
The digital impact opportunity
People’s willingness and ability to actively contribute to a common cause offers a huge new opportunity – in particular to those CSOs for whom massive people support is conducive to achieving their objectives. It allows them to tap into enormous skills, knowledge, capacity and energy of like-minded actors. The core competence in this case is no longer to optimally leverage in-house expertise but to optimally connect and co-create with people and partners to advance the shared cause. Creating the most favourable ecosystem for them to thrive is the key to success. Charles Darwin already said: Those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. This has never been truer than in the digital age.
The emergence of people-powered CSO strategies
Not surprisingly, the interactive model of co-creation is central to a number of recently developed CSOs strategies like that of Amnesty, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Restless Development or Transparency International. CSOs founded in the digital age such as 350.org, 38 Degrees, Amandla, Jhatkaa or Purpose were already built around this model, which comes under names such as people-centric, people-powered, engagement-focused, supporter-led or membership-driven strategy. Organisational emphasis here is no longer on expert staff implementing good programmes with people. Primary focus is rather on the ability to identify people and partners outside of the organisation who share the common cause and to successfully build their capacity and aggregate their voices and connective actions. Taking a people-powered approach is not new. The level of co-creation and the numbers of people involved actually is. But it does not come without its challenges – like most big opportunities do.
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