Why the Digital Civil Society Frame Matters: Insights into the future of civil actions

Digital civil society is an emergent frame that helps us consider the ways that shifting our civil society actions and behaviors into digital environments will matter in the long term. Each time individuals take civil action with digital tools – texting donations, sharing videos, mapping information on open source platforms for others to use, snapping and sharing photos of protests or movements – we invent digital civil society. The challenge for all of us over the next several years will be to also invent “the rules by which we use these new tools.”

Here are some insights on what this future holds:

  • The boundaries separating organizational forms within the social economy continue to shift, but the economics of digital tools and practices apply across all forms.
  • The digital environment will drive continuing innovation in enterprise forms.
  • We might see foundations start to share metrics and analysis the way impact investors and others in the social economy already do.
  • Digital economics contribute to the blurring of public and private sector actions, particularly when philanthropy is seen as an escape valve for privatization.
  • The norms and the laws for gathering, sharing, and retaining information vary across the enterprise forms within civil society. There is the opportunity to establish a new standard of trust regarding how private data are used for public benefit within digital civil society.
  • We will have more discussions about businesses masquerading as “social good,” as with Internet.org and its claim that interconnectedness is a human right.

Digital civil society gives us the opportunity to question the way lines between sectors and organizational forms are being blurred and to articulate what values each type of enterprise represents. When do we need organizations that are truly separate from a business bottom line or from political control of democratic systems? What’s needed to maintain the operation of organizations that freely and anonymously represent or protect the rights of minority views or populations? What are the roles of endowed philanthropy in the digital age?

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014.

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