For civil society organizations across Africa, the expanded use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT) has launched a new era marked by easier, more frequent, and more widespread communication directed to a variety of key audiences. The advent of social networks has resulted in greater awareness for many important causes and collaboration among different groups on crucial social initiatives, and as civil society organizations continue to maximize the potential of social platforms, their influence will continue to grow over time.
Polling an indicative sample of civil society representatives across 15 different West African countries in October and November 2010, the survey provides a preliminary glimpse into the nature of daily interaction with social networks and communication technologies in the region.
Among the study’s most prominent conclusions was that funding and infrastructure problems are limiting the use of online collaboration and communication tools.
Respondents cited lack of funding and infrastructure issues as critical factors limiting their use of the internet for their organization’s work.
While 76% of respondents go online every day, one-third of those polled indicated that inadequate training and skills are limiting their usage of Web tools. This is reflected in respondents’ reliance on email – 87% use email every day or several times per week, a significantly higher percentage than those who utilize tools such as social networks, instant messaging, or blogs for example.
In addition to email, SMS technology, used frequently by 61% of respondents, is a preferred method of communication for those involved with civil society organizations, underscoring its importance in keeping organizations abreast of the latest information and news.
Social networks, email discussions and SMS are becoming important communication and collaboration tools for West African civil society organizations.
Sizable investment in the development of the local telecommunications infrastructure is considered essential to maximizing the potential of the Internet, as is improvement in the ways that individuals are trained about Internet technologies. A high number of respondents, 39%, have been self-taught in usage of the Internet, while nearly the same percentage, 41%, learned how to use Web technologies through the help of work colleagues or friends. Few, 16%, have been trained through professional programs. This indicates the need to direct resources toward self-learning materials and programs, and user-friendly interfaces to facilitate self-learning.
On the topic of social networks, Facebook was found to be the most popular platform, with nearly half of those surveyed using it for purposes ranging from dissemination of information, to collaboration on projects, to sharing best practices, and beyond. One respondent summarized the benefits of social networks to civil society organizations by noting:
“You can reach a wide network of people not only within your organization and NGO circles, but also Africans fortunate enough to have Internet access. It has great potential to share ideas across cultural and political boundaries.”
Amidst the promise of social networks, there is also concern regarding security and privacy. Many respondents believe that information shared online can be easily misused, while others see the potential for social networks to become a waste of time. In order to allay these concerns, there is a need for those who support ICT initiatives to address the areas of privacy and security; spammers and scammers; information overload and time management; and cost effective use of technology.
“This survey illustrates the hunger among African civil society activists to utilize emerging Information and Communications Technologies to help advance the missions of their organizations,” said Camilla Burg, WiserEarth Communications & Outreach Director. “The next step is to supply the resources needed to make a truly wired future a reality.”
“The availability of online communication and collaboration tools and the ability to use them properly profoundly impacts the way that civil society functions,” added Tobias Eigen, Kabissa Executive Director. “This survey helps us understand how far we have come in that respect, guiding our priorities as we nurture and support our membership and evolve the functionality of our online community platform.”
Full results of the study, including the survey’s methodology, are available for free download on Kabissa. For more information about this survey, or to give feedback, please contact Camilla Burg of WiserEarth (camilla [at] wiserearth.org) or Tobias Eigen of Kabissa (tobias [at] kabissa.org).
To join WiserWestAfrica Group on WiserEarth visit: http://fr.wiserearth.org/group/WiserWestAfrica.
To join Kabissa visit: http://www.kabissa.org.