Eight business technology trends to watch." The article details emerging trends in the use of technology—particularly internet-based and related tools—that will continue to transform markets and business in the for-profit sector in the coming years. Four of the detailed trends, grouped under the heading "Managing Relationships," provide a good discussion point and analogy for participatory media for social change agents. These are:
1. Distributing co-creation
2. Using consumers as innovators
3. Tapping into a world of talent
4. Extracting more value from interactions
The article recommends that businesses should proactively shape these trends to increase wealth and economic value by using internet-based technologies, and social networking and communications tools. The authors recognize that technology alone can't unlock value, but must be combined with a new way of doing business, the most relevant of which is to foster "co-creation networks."
In the face of the current financial crisis, the tightness of funding to the third sector (which is already stretched for dollars and paid talent) makes it necessary for social change initiatives to create new economical and effective ways of “doing business,” and to be creative and aggressive in minimizing their cash outlay while maximizing their reach and building their audience. But while funding may be low, the social and political will to be engaged and “do good” is strong and continuously growing. (Paul Hawken’s writing on that in Blessed Unrest describes the networks arising from this will to improve societal conditions.) Combine the available technologies with the existing will to do good and business model innovation, and the trends outlined above might be adapted for third sector initiatives to increase return on social change initiatives. Here’s a brief description of how the trends might apply:
1. Distributing co-creation and 2. Using consumers (or, “beneficiaries”) as innovators
Just as corporations have started to harness marketing techniques to inspire product and service innovations from the collaboration between in-house developers and external stakeholders, so too can a social change initiative work with its stakeholders to encourage or solicit innovations in program or service delivery, raising awareness and inspiring action. The first two trends deal with building a co-creation network (and relate to the August 4th post below regarding transmedia storytelling).
The McKinsey Quarterly article notes that the Internet has become a “widespread platform for interaction, communication, and activism. Consumers increasingly want to engage online with one another and with organizations of all kinds.” The Internet and related Web 2.0 technologies have opened up new and cost-effective ways for social change initiatives to communicate with their base to raise awareness and inspire action. You only have to look at the number of causes and groups on Facebook, Twitter and similar sites to see the burst of social networking activity by third sector initiatives. Accessing stakeholders and beneficiaries to foster a co-creation network requires a similar technological effort—and has the added benefit of expanding the engaged audience and moving them from awareness to action. (There is another potential benefit in terms of fundraising organizations, in that engaged audiences are more likely to donate money; an engaged stakeholder is more likely to donate in kind, as well.)
External partners can offer objectivity, knowledge of market trends and insights on the ground—particularly in locations remote from a nonprofit’s corporate office—that can help shape program development and allow nonprofits to delegate and decentralize innovation (and, depending on the structure of the relationship, lessen costs). Companies that involve customers in design, testing and marketing get better insights into customer needs and behavior. Similarly, social change initiatives that involve their stakeholders and their beneficiaries in program design, testing and marketing can inspire “loyalty” and adherence to mission and vision, speed up development cycles and improve accountability. Keystone provides a good example of employing co-creation to work with its beneficiaries in South Africa and the Philippines (where it has ground staff, as well) to create and implement programs that enhance organizational efficacy. Keystone also works with like-minded organizations in strategic collaborative partnerships that have agreed to support testing and application of the model.
There is one caution here, also inspired by the article. In opening up innovation to stakeholders and beneficiaries, you must be sure that you are not overly swayed by “information gleaned from a vocal minority,” and also that you continue to pay attention to both short- and long-range needs of your organization and beneficiaries.
3. Tapping into a world of talent and 4. Extracting more value from interactions
The third and fourth trends allow for more effective work flow, both internally and externally to an organization. In terms of tapping into external talent, interactive technologies allow cost-effective outsourcing to specialists, consultants and independent contractors. “As more and more sophisticated work takes place interactively online and new collaboration and communications tools emerge, companies can outsource increasingly specialized aspects of their work and still maintain organizational coherence.” This could be especially useful to nonprofit organizations, no matter what size, but particularly for small- to mid-range organizations. Because of the problem of financing—and despite what I can see as an increasing number of conversations about the need for more foundation and donor funding to support administrative activities—nonprofit organizations are more stretched than ever. Nonprofit staff members often wear more than one administrative hat to keep within budget. I’m not certain how many nonprofits outsource or off-shore their administrative activities—or even how many create partnerships with other nonprofits to share back office or program/service delivery functions—but since interactive technologies are making it easier and less costly to integrate and manage the work of outsiders, a number of functions (including innovation as described above, and administrative tasks, such as finance, IT or operations) can be outsourced here or abroad by nonprofit organizations.
Relative to enhancing communications within an organization, or between an organization and its external partners, “[t]echnology tools that promote interactions, such as wikis, virtual team environments, and videoconferencing, will enhance managerial innovations—smarter and faster ways for individuals and teams to create value through interactions…” For most social change initiatives that are leanly staffed with personnel who are more mission-aligned than well-compensated, building a smarter, faster operational system will make it easier for them to do their jobs and to focus more on the actual work of social change and program delivery. This combination will also make an organization more attractive to funders, while creating an environment in which program and service delivery can thrive. A nonprofit organization can improve its staff’s productivity in the realm of program delivery while relieving staff members of some of the day-to-day pressures that come along with working in the nonprofit sector, by investing in interactive technologies and the training to have staff and stakeholders adopt and use them.