Monday, October 30, 2006

Gates Project 13: What is e-advocacy?

Throughout my work on this project I have been wondering how to define e-advocacy. Wikipedia, my grail of all human knowledge, defines it as:
the use of communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing.
However, the exact meaning of e-advocacy seems to be in flux. On Wikipeda, although the URL for the definition is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-advocacy, the page itself prefers the term "internet activism" and is edited frequently. In addition, none of the area experts I have spoken to really like the term e-advocacy, saying that it is too vague.

I agree. One distinction that "e-advocacy" fails to make is separating day-to-day technology use by NGO's from tactical use of technology for a specific goal (using Skype to communicate between offices vs. organizing a rally via SMS). I at first decided that the difference was internal vs. external (as Wikipedia also implies), that e-advocacy is about communicating with supporters or political leaders outside the organization.

Today I posed my question to Stephanie Hankey. Formerly of the Open Society Institute, where she helped establish and develop the Information Communication Technologies for Civil Society project, Stephanie is currently the Executive Director of Tactical Tech, an organization she co-founded which helps NGO's in developing and transitional countries use technology in their advocacy. The organization has a wide range of expertise that ranges from Eastern Europe, to Africa, to South East Asia.

I posed this question to Stephanie: what terminology do you use to differentiate between day-to-day technology use by NGO's and the more active and campaign-based use that we traditionally think of as e-advocacy?

First off, Stephanie shot down my intern/external differentiator (which I was so proud of), pointing out the case of Global Witness, an international organization that exposes and breaks the links between natural resource exploitation, human rights abuses, conflict and corruption. Global Witness uses software developed by police in the UK to track criminal gangs and terrorists to tracks patterns of corruption. This tracking is not external, but it still seems like e-advocacy because it uses technology to actively address a social concern and forms the basis information for later external advocacy.

At last we decided that what separates e-advocacy from day-to-day use was that e-advocacy uses technology as part of a project with a specific public policy end-goal. This definition stresses that the use of the tool is more important than the tool itself and also that e-advocacy does not exist independently, but rather as part of a larger project. In addition, it clarifies that not all technology use by NGO's is e-advocacy. Stephanie and I decided that e-advocacy must be strategic (project -based and goal-oriented, as stated above), whereas day-to-day use of technology is baseline. I wonder if other e-advocacy practioners will find this terminology applicable to their experiences.

categories: internet activism_, gates project_, the "developing world"_

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