Georgia Civil Society 2.0
How are Georgian civil society organizations using social media to engage citizens, spark change, and shift public policy? Implemented between May 2012 and June 2013, Georgia Civil Society 2.0 was an action research project designed to assess needs and practices, deliver training and resources, and weave networks. Georgia Civil Society 2.0 focused specifically on using social media and other ICT tools, data visualization, and information design to improve policy analysis and advocacy. The project was one component of the Policy, Advocacy, and Civil Society in Georgia (G-PAC) initiative — a four-year effort (2010–2014) implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) with funding from USAID to strengthen civil society’s role in advocating for, influencing the development and implementation of, and monitoring effective public policy reforms in Georgia.
Few organizations have a communication or social media strategy that documents decisions and guides implementation, learning, and reporting.
Developing, implementing, and reporting on a social media strategy may provide an opportunity to hone transferable skills. Specifically, it would provide low-cost, hands-on practice conducting stakeholder analyses, audience/user research, and evaluation, as well as setting up business processes.
Most civil society organizations are using social media to broadcast, the next step is to use it to power social networks for social change.
CSO’s use of social media can be characterized as official, one-way broadcasting focused on informing. The next step would be for CSOs to assess the “Networked Nonprofit” model (Kanter & Fine, 2010) to assess whether the approach and associated social media practices fit with their organizational mission and objectives. This model aligns with thinking about the new media and network effects in the context of political change, and builds on experiences with organizing and using civil society networks to shape public policy (Ashman et al., 2005). CSOs that decide to adopt networked practices should do so as part of their longer-term organizational development and strategic planning efforts.
Few apparent connections between CSOs and free agents.
TASCHA did not find evidence of efforts to network or leverage “free agents” — independent, networked professionals, content creators, and activists — to spread advocacy messages or translate research findings and NGO-speak into plain language (creating "edible evidence" = bite-size chunks that tease and nudge people toward increased engagement and action). This may be because of the assessment’s limitations, a lack of free agents in Georgia, and the current practices of CSOs. It would be good to learn more because free agents can be valuable infomediaries: processing nuanced content, making it more accessible to a broader audience, and connecting it to current realities.
CSOs are active Facebook users, but unaware of limitations and risks of using proprietary or closed platforms.
In Georgia there is a polarized media landscape with a handful of television channels acting as the main source for information about current events. For those with access (predominantly people living in Tbilisi), however, the Internet is emerging as an important alternate source. Facebook figures prominently in this picture, as an information source, email client, and blogging platform — and perhaps even a forum for vibrant social and political discussions (contrary to prior reports). CSOs recognize this and many use Facebook as their primary digital home, gaining exposure and audience. However they appear to be unaware of issues related to losing control over their online identity, content, and data.