What most excited me about Jonathan Peizer’s book was its historical placement – working in the Open Society Institute during the most revolutionary period for ICT development in history puts him in an almost unique position of being able to share the discoveries of an organization thriving during the internet boom and attempting to harness this momentum for social change.
The first two chapters give a detailed background of the Soros Foundation and its Internet programme, how it worked, where it worked, the type of work it did. It was a unique situation. As Peizer puts it: ‘They [the employees] had the unique opportunity and responsibility to change the world using new concepts in philanthropy and technology that were tested and deployed thanks to Soros’s largess.’ The optimistic attitude to experimentation with new technology struck me as very similar to the corporate mentality of the period.
The following chapter provides an in-depth look at how a well-structured and properly planned technology programme can revolutionize how an organization works from the top down. The practical advice available in this section underlines Peizer’s intimate understanding of the impact of ICT introduction from the side of both the techno-junky and the techno-phobe, and the fact that he is fluent in both their respective languages.
The book then switches into its primary focus – the six areas identified by the author as the primary dynamics of technology that influence social change: Sector dependencies and collaboration; Marketing and promotion; Nonprofit capacity; Sustainability; Implementation strategies; Criteria for success. Each is covered logically and precisely: What is the context? What is the problem? How can NGOs deal with the problem? Peizer’s advice and the case studies he uses are easy to understand yet complex enough to be relevant to a wide range of readers in organizations of all sizes.
Given the focus of the book, I was expecting the chapter on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in the non-profit environment to be full of unblinkered enthusiasm for its introduction across non-profits worldwide. Peizer’s analysis of FOSS’s potential impact on the sector is practical and cautious and has clearly arisen from front-line experience. The underlying message is the same as in the previous chapters: constant self-questioning and evaluation are vital to the success of any ICT project, and in the world of non-profits, where one failed project can lead to organizational disaster, its importance is even greater.
Overall the book succeeds in offering different things to different readers. On a basic level it offers a range of ideas and suggestions which could be drawn upon by those working on technology-based projects in the ICT community, and practical examples of how they have been tested in the field. Where it really shines, however, is in underlining the importance of bridging the divide between the ICT and managerial functions of non-profits, and pointing out that for a project to work at its most efficient level, the management and technical sides must be fully appraised of each other’s needs.
Oliver Denton is Alliance Business Development Manager. Email email@example.com
The Dynamics of Technology for Social Change
Jonathan Peizer iUniverse $21.95/ £12.63