This will be a bit long, and probably most interesting if you are active in one of the organisations where I have been active. Maybe not even then. Sorry.
I´m reading an interesting book called ”The wealth of networks” by Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard. It is not about NGOs or voluntary organisations, its more economics, but many of the things he writes is very relevant regardless.
His starting point is that the most advanced economies has made two parallell shifts - to an economy centered on information (financial services, accounting, software, science) and cultural (films, music) production and the manipulation of symbols.
And to a communication environment where cheaper and cheaper PCs and the Internet are central elements.
This he says allows for an increasing role for nonmarket production in the information and cultural sector, organized in a radically decentralized pattern. Nonmarket since its not the prize mechanism which regulates and motivates the participants.
”Declining price of computation, communication and storage have placed the material means of information and cultural production in the hands of a significant fraction of the world´s population”. Quite a difference from the big machines in the industrial age.
All of this should be good news for voluntary organisations. Nonmarket, that is us, isn´t it?
He continues -
The networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals
• It improves their capacity to do more for and by themselves (we have cheaper and better hardware and software which gives us the possibility to for instance make brochures, magazines, material or web-pages in a way not possible 10 years ago)
• It enhances the capacity to do more in loose commonality with others, without being constrained to organize their relationship through a price system or in a traditional hierarchical model of social and economic organisation (see for instance Wikipedia)
• It improves the capacity of individuals to do more in formal organisations that operate outside the market sphere.
Again – good news for voluntary organisations.
But do we use these opportunities?
Its of course different from organisation to organisation. Juvente seems to be better at using their network than IOGT, working better together inside the organisation. Being more self-contained. But even them I think have some way to go.
If we should start completely new - how would we organize our work then? Would we still be the organisations we are today?
Would we for instance be better at finding resources and competence where it is instead of being restrained by organisational borders, or even borders between countries?
Why don´t information flow just as easy between Oslo, Brüssel, Tallin and Sarajevo as between Oslo, Bergen, Hamar and Tromsø? Yes, i know. Sometime it does. But how often do we really cooperate over borders - not as a result of some project, making it something special - but just part of ordinary day-to-day work?
Why don´t we have this wiki-factbase about alcohol and drug information available? (Ok. I guess we had part of it until the server crashed. But why wasn´t it developed more than it was? Why did the work on it stop at one point? Why was it in norwegian?)
Why are NGOs being more and more ”professional” when these new possibilities for nonmarket production are present? Why does it seem that we pay for more and more of the work we want to have done? It could have some connection to where we think the competence is, but that is not the most important thing i think. (If we can´t find competence without paying for it, then we probably also have something to think about if we are going to continue being a voluntary organization)
And no – i´m not advocating geting rid of all employees. That would be like throwing stone in a glas house, and we need people who have time to do some of the work that has to be done. But maybe we should look at their tasks. Maybe competence for making people self-organize is something we should look for more, than expecting the employees to do all the work themselves.
Why do i spend more time trying to write applications, than trying to organize and motivate people to make an effort? Giving small tasks that people would be able to do?
Where do the lines of communication go? Where do they stop? Why do they stop there? Which borders and walls do we need to break?
What motivates people to voluntarily give some part of their time working for a cause? (What in its for me?, doesnt explain everything i think.) Why Wikipedia, Seti@home, Linux?
What would make people write a text, or work with layout on a brochure or do some work on a webpage without needing some decisions from a board to do it? Feeling a sort of ownership I think is very important.
How much time sitting in meetings making decisions, could be used more productively?
Do we need leaders? What is their role, in that case?
Why are many of our organisations still so hierarchical when there is lots of other ways of actually completing tasks. Why this hierarchy of status based on age or experience? Some of the most fun tasks i have done last couple of years has been done without anyone really telling me to do it. But the company i´m doing it in is important.
Oh, well. This was just a lot of question. I need to find some answers. Or maybe there were some answers here. Maybe what IOGT-I and Active are trying to do with Actio is some of the answer. Atleast some of the borders are being teared down there. The idea of individual membership in an international organisation I think is interesting, even though I also think we still need national presence. That is still where policies is being made. And in the end - everything is local.
But maybe thinking like that is what we need to make us think really new. Because i do believe that we are still prisoners of our tradition and history, and its difficult trying to think really radically new about how to organize ourselves.
For those of you, or maybe only you, who are still reading, thanks. And sorry for the length. Just a bit frustrated about all the possibiities out there.
This spring i think i`m going to buy mysef a new bike. The old one is really getting old, and much of the things on it doesnt function very well any longer. Well, atleast it didn`t last time i used it two years ago or something. Then i lost the key...
Yes, i know. it`s a lousy excuse for not biking for two years. But i havnt`t got as far as to cut up the lock yet. But this spring i`ll start anew. Biking is quite nice actually.