One of the interesting things about social networks is that you get an insight in how people are connected with others and organized into subgroups of the total social network. Social networks make it very transparent how users are (or could be) linked to other users. These links can be made directly by the users (e.g. friends or contacts) or they can be established by the internet application based on the user generated data (e.g. people that share the same interest, location, organization, etc.). When these links and subgroups are established, the social networking application is then used to share and discuss information.
If we talk about the use of web 2.0 (including these social networks) for development organizations, we often focus on how these tools can benefit people in the South directly, mobilize the supporters in the North, facilitate sharing of learning between people in the South, development practitioners, and development organizations around a certain theme, or how these tools can help to improve internal organizational processes.
However in all the discussions (blogs, conferences, presentations, wikis) I haven't seen a lot of thoughts about how web 2.0 has the potential to bring transparency and coordination in the development cooperation system.
Like social networks are now giving us insight in how individuals are connected and organized into subgroups, they could also connect and organize organizations. At the moment this transparency is non-existent on an overarching level. Some development organizations have links on their websites to websites of their partner organizations in the South. Some use intranet, e-groups or social networks that link them to their partners and other organizations. But there is no Facebook for development organizations that for example has profile pages of all organizations working in development, shows links between them, can help to organize them into thematic or geographical subgroups, and where applications can be added for institutional e-collaboration.
There are thousands of development organizations, big international NGOs and one man organizations, left-wing and religious organizations, with one or multiple objectives, and focusing on micro, meso, or macro level. There is no overview, no global data of who works where and with whom; it's not transparent. Almost all of the development organizations (and especially their donors) talk about the importance of coordination and cooperation, but based on my own experience of working in development I would say that this continues to be one of the biggest challenges within the development cooperation system.
At the same time, the general public in the North doesn't always understand how the development cooperation system works, how problems and solutions at various levels are connected, and what the added value of each organization is.
One way to respond to these needs could be to develop a social utility like Facebook, that connects organizations with organizations around them and provides transparency about who's doing what together with whom: an "Orgbook", tailor-made to respond to the specific needs in the coordination of development cooperation.
Some first questions come up:
Would development organizations be willing to link up to such a social network, provide insight into their networks, and use this for online and offline cooperation and sharing of learning?
What would this mean in terms of changes in their web strategies (the way they present themselves) and the internal organization behind these web strategies?
What would be the technical challenges of developing a social network for development organizations?
Would donors (like UN, EU, national governments and Worldbank) be interested to demand this type of transparency, coordination and cooperation as part of their donor requirements? And would they be willing to support the development of the required social network?
Could the general public have a role in demanding this transparency and more clarity in the proliferation of development organizations? And could they have a role in building parts of the organizational profiles?
Will people and organizations in the South ultimately benefit from these changes?
Through my blog with the temporary working title Orgbook and through various linked wiki pages, I hope to work together with other people interested in some of these ideas. Collectively, I hope we can develop clearer ideas on what the "Orgbook" should look like, answer some of the questions I formulated above (and others that will come up in the process), and eventually see if it is possible to launch such a social network for development organizations.
Looking forward to receive your feedback, ideas and questions!