1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Technology and Society

Technology and Transformation: Facilitating Knowledge Networks in Eastern Europe

This paper examines the co-evolution of interactive technology and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Eastern Europe. It addresses, on the one hand, the emergence of NGOs as actors who exhibit new organizational topographies and, on the other, the emergence of the Internet and related interactive technologies that not only provide a new medium of representation in a virtual public sphere but whose adoption makes possible fundamental changes in the character of organization.

Non-governmental voluntary organizations play a key role in strengthening civil society in Eastern Europe. The extremely rapid growth of the voluntary sector since 1989 has coincided with the digital revolution, and today both NGOs and the Internet are experiencing exponential growth throughout the region. In little more than a decade, the technological framework in which voluntary associations are operating has gone from the limitations of a pre-Gutenburg setting to the opportunities of advanced communication technologies. Jonathan Bach and David Stark explore how organizations of civil society can be a source of organizational and technological innovation necessary for their societies’ continuous adaptability in a fast-changing global economy. They argue that NGOs can enhance their use of new technologies to go beyond their existing roles as safety nets (mitigating the social problems of emerging market economies) and as safety valves (giving voice to underrepresented social groups in the newly competitive polities). In doing so, NGOs may function as social entrepreneurs that explore new organizational forms, and thus as sources of societal innovation.

If interactive technology is altering the organizational form of NGOs, however, this poses a whole new set of problems: can new hybrids remain within the accepted definition of voluntary organizations? What new accountability problems might ultimately compromise their autonomy or flexibility? What impact might such changes have on their ability to act as socially transformative organizations? In this paper, Bach and Stark focus on three NGOs in Eastern Europe that are co-evolving along with interactive technology: the Center for Advanced Media—Prague, in the Czech Republic (C@MP); the Center for Culture and Communication (C3) in Hungary; and Klon/Jawor in Poland. They follow their development as organizations that facilitate collaboration, develop new entrepreneurial programmes, create novel organizational forms such as the virtual meta-NGO, and transform technology and social relations through their practices. As NGOs become sites of competing and co-existing evaluative principles, they are increasingly caught between the value systems of business (efficiency, solvency) and social mission (adherence to principles, ideological agendas). The authors see a tension between successfully exploiting these contradictions and the challenges raised by the proliferation of performance criteria, where the danger is that actors who are accountable according to many principles become accountable to none.

Jonathan Bach is a core faculty member of the International Affairs Program at the New School University, New York and a faculty affiliate of the Center on Organizational Innovation at Columbia University, New York. David Stark is Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Columbia University.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Nov 2003
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8216
    From: UNRISD