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Key Roles for Nonprofit Organizations

The private community will be less likely to embrace an open, free environment
The government community will be ambiguous about an open, two-way environment

The nonprofit community can be a critical player in the development of local systems because nonprofit organizations:

...are an informal network of organizations
...will benefit from stronger system links
...depend upon good constituency relations
...use content to educate constituencies
...constantly seek new solutions and strategies
...are committed to building community

Discussion

All organizations and leaders have a role in the development of a local community presence online. Few have recognized how important the nonprofit community may be to this effort or how valuable telecommunications may be to nonprofit organizations.

The private community will be less likely to embrace an open, free environment

For profit organizations will be motivated to conduct commerce and to "market" themselves on Internet. The paradigm for this process is different from any other experience, however. Businesses are tentatively exploring the options and opportunities - but there is little clear vision of what will evolve.

It does seem clear at this point, however, that the for-profit community will not be as critical a contributor to the development of a local community base. Much of the initial work that needs to be done is too abstract or generalized. Businesses will be best at filling specific niches within the process.

Businesses that have initiated efforts on Internet have often been the slowest to develop significant content within their experiments. After prototype material has been put together, the business becomes motivated by the need to find the profit in the process. Frequently, this may mean limiting content to those categories in high demand among those able to pay for information. Charging for information, however, can slow the process by further limiting the access and use of information.

The government community will be ambiguous about an open, two-way environment

Government has already demonstrated a capacity to provide information in quantity and to develop subjects of direct relevance to public policy. The public information function of government will become increasingly efficient with online resources.

Individuals in government may be substantially more cautious. Online systems - particularly two way communication systems - can increase the openness of government in ways uncomfortable to bureaucrats and politicians. The political process can be threatened when one feels a lack of control over the process. The ideal model from the perspective of community activists may be anathema to some government insiders. The rhetoric of open government will be further challenged by these developments.

Initial experience has been mixed. In some cases, the government response has been to embrace the new technology and the implications for greater access. In other cases, change has been stalled because of concern for the broader implications. In still other instances, information is carefully channeled to limit the process and problems that might occur with open, two way systems.

The nonprofit community can be a critical player in the development of local systems.

Although nonprofit organizations have not been very involved in the initial steps of the information revolution, they are well positioned to contribute substance and utility to a working system. This is true because of central characteristics of nonprofit systems:

Non profit organizations -

...are an informal network of organizations

The nonprofit community is a decentralized group of independent organizations who are substantially interdependent. There is no clear structure to the health care system, the youth service system or any other service or community system. This informal model parallels the basic structure of Internet. Organizations are able to contribute to the common good while maintaining individual responsibility and independence.

Non profit organizations -

...will benefit from stronger system links

The nonprofit community stresses cooperation and collaboration among organizations. Organizations share common constituencies, intersecting programs and similar visions for a stronger community. Further communication can strengthen these relationships in the interest of all nonprofit organizations.

Non profit organizations -

...depend upon good constituency relations

The nonprofit community places a high value upon support and participation by constituents and the community. Nonprofit organizations are mandated to operate an open management governed by community representatives. Organizations depend upon citizens for input and support. Most work with clients is a form of "co-production" - dependant upon a high level of involvement and understanding on the part of clients.

Non profit organizations -

...use content to educate constituencies

The nonprofit community frequently includes educational components in programs. Problem prevention, client involvement and follow up activities require an informed clientele. Organizations may make a substantial investment preparing and distributing materials designed to support this educational agenda.

Non profit organizations -

...constantly seek new solutions and strategies

The nonprofit community frequently tackles problems that are difficult to resolve. Organizations spend much time re-examining issues, trying different approaches and evaluating the efficacy of their work. Rapidly changing circumstances can make this process even more important. Organizations clearly benefit from opportunities to learn from one another as new models are developed.

Non profit organizations -

...are committed to building community

The nonprofit community is grounded in a commitment to community service. Many organizations explicit recognize their role in strengthening individuals, families and communities through their work. There is a clear understanding that stronger communities have a natural ability to provide support to individuals and to reduce the crises people face. A community information network which strengthens the fabric of communities can be a strong tool for nonprofit organizations.

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