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Re-shaping the Voluntary Sector in the Information Age? 

Eleanor Burt & John Taylor

Centre for the Study of Telematics and Governance
Glasgow Caledonian University
Report Summary

Background
The voluntary sector’s embeddedness within the economy, the polity, and wider society means that it is strategically located to impact on the nation’s economic performance, on the political health and direction of the nation, and on the quality of life of the nation’s citizenry. Information is both commodity and currency in the economic, political, and social market place of ideas in which the voluntary sector operates, and to which it contributes. Moreover, their embeddedness within the economic, social and political fabric enmeshes voluntary organisations within a complex network of institutional relationships emerging around key information flows. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) mark out opportunities for voluntary organisations to redefine these relationships, lending new significance to the sector’s impact on economy, polity, and society.

Aims
In examining the voluntary sector in the information age the research examines the significance of ICTs applications in and around the voluntary sector. Firstly, the research maps the uptake and application of ICTs within a sample of UK voluntary organisations. Secondly, it seeks to examine the extent to which ICTs are used to re-shape or to reinforce existing ‘business’ relationships within these organisations. Thirdly, the research examines the conditions under which ICTs are adopted [or not] by voluntary organisations.

Methodology
The first phase of the research involves a large scale postal survey of voluntary organisations within the UK. The survey spans a range of income sizes, fields and types of activity. As well as providing insights regarding the use of information and communication technologies in the UK voluntary sector, the postal survey serves as the basis for further detailed case studies with exemplary organisations. Exemplary organisations are defined as either ‘high intensity’ users or ‘innovative’ users of ICTs.

Selected findings from the survey
The results which follow constitute selected findings from the survey of UK voluntary organisations, with annual incomes of 250,000 to over 11 million. The findings are important in signalling that key groups of organisations within the sector are embracing new information and communication technologies [ICTs]. Equally importantly, they suggest that significant proportions of the sector are failing to exploit the potential of new ICTs in terms of improving existing practices within the organisation, or in relation to the technology’s potential to re-shape activities and relationships in innovative ways.

 

Key statistics from the survey

Technology uptake

  • Extensiveness of computer networking
    84% of respondents are using some form of computer networking, and a further 6% plan to use computer networking within the next five years.
  • Fax
    95.1% of those currently using computer networking also use fax technology. However, this is expected to fall by 6% to 89.1% in the next five years.
  • Mobile telephony>
    68.9% of those currently using computer networking use mobile phones. This is expected to rise by 0.2% to 69.1% in the next five years.
  • External email
    67.2% of those currently using computer networking applications are using external email. This is expected to rise by 15.9%, to 83.1% in the next five years.
  • Portable computing
    64.8% of organisations use portable computing. This is expected to rise by 9.8%, to 74.6% in the next five years.
  • Websites
    53% of those currently using computer networking applications have websites. This is expected to rise by 33.6%, to 86.6% in the next five years.
  • Call centres>
    Just 5.2% of organisations have call centres. However, this is expected almost to double in the next five years, rising to 9%.

 

Technology suppliers

  • Software
    77.3% of those currently using computer networking applications use Microsoft software. This is expected to drop by 4.3%, to 73.0% in the next five years.
  • Hardware
    17.2% of those currently using computer networking applications use Dell hardware. This is expected to drop by 2.4%, to 14.8% in the next five years.

 

Applications

  • Geographical Information Systems [GIS]
    8.5% of those currently using computer networking use GIS. This is expected to increase by 8.2%, to 16.7% in the next five years.
  • Geographical relocation of business functions
    13.4% of those currently using computer networking use it to support the geographical relocation of business functions. This is expected to rise by 13.1%, to 26.5% in the next five years.
  • Home based remote working
    35.2% of those currently using computer networking use it to support home working. This is expected to rise by 26.3%, to 61.5% in the next five years.
  • Electronic data interchange [EDI]
    23.0% of those currently using computer networking use EDI applications. This is expected to increase by 11.7%, to 34.7% in the next five years.

 

Perceived benefits

  • According to those currently using computer networking, the greatest benefits to derive from its application are:

    Improved communication - 24.3%
    Improved information management – 20.2%
    Improved performance – 20.5%
    Improved working practices – 7.4%.

 

ICTs supported innovations

  • A relatively small number of organisations report telematics supported innovations:

    Changes in information management – 7.4%
    Changes in working practices – 4.4%
    Changes in client services – 4.1%
    Changes in communication processes – 3.6%
    Changes in internal governance practices – 1.6%

 

Some illustrative comments from the questionnaire

  • We now have better information analysis and better use of that information.
  • We are able to react to situations as they, arise with greater flexibility.
  • Using the internet [website, newsgroup, email] we can involve users in policy formation and decisions.
  • Corporate information can be received and discussed by interested parties at remote locations using electronic mail.
  • Informed decision making can be devolved from national to regional centres.
  • We now have a much better picture of our supporters – enabling us to tailor our approaches to them.

 

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Hard copies of the report are available from

Eleanor Burt
Centre for the Study of Telematics and Governance [CSTAG]
Department of Management
Glasgow Caledonian University
Cowcaddens Rd.
Glasgow G4 0BA.

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