Civil Society & the Aggregation of Information

by librarianincognita ~ August 12th, 2011. Filed under: Information Management, Reflections.

I thought for this week’s post on aggregation, I would think about how it affects civil society. The first thing I was actually thinking about is the type of civil society – from NGOs to community interest groups, the kind of impact aggregation would have on them would vary. The second thing was whether they would use it internally to collect and share information or whether they would use 2.0 tools to make increase their virtual presence.

On a very basic level, aggregation can benefit a group the same way it can benefit an individual, having a centralised place to collect and share information is great for exchanging ideas and tapping on each other’s knowledge. I thought Michelle’s recommendation Scoop.It. is great for interest-based organisations. The downside, however, is the assumption that everyone would be need to be technologically savvy enough to curate information or at least follow the person who does. Additionally, many charitable organisations do a lot of work on the ground and rely more on physical networks for information. In theory it seems like a great idea but it takes time to curate and many may simply not invest in that time.

Aggregation tools can impact an organisation positively, especially if someone has the required expertise and skills as well as a vision of how they are going to use such tools to reach out to the online public. A nature advocacy group can collect all their videos and articles so that people can easily find and follow them, a charitable organisation can share photos and information about their work and present them as a collective whole to get funding. With the world wide web, many groups can get international support where it would have once been impossible to do so. A petition against a controversial policy, international pressure, all of these have given much of civil society the bargaining power they need against governments or more visibility for a cause.

The flip side is this, bigger organisations often get more visible at the expense of smaller ones who do not have the resources or time to manage their online pressence. Let’s say I see a campaign for women’s rights online handled by an international NGO with all the resources to make themselves visible online and I find myself interested in the cause because they put up information, photos and of course a convenient link for donations. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know there must be other similar organisations, maybe smaller and less media savvy but also doing good work. However, information about the work those smaller organisations do are either limited or not visible to me. I also do not know how I can help. As a result, I will end up supporting what I know. While it is true that these NGOs may be getting new supporters through the social web and these may be people who may otherwise never be involved in a cause, it is also true that they may overshadow others.

Information is both power and money and while these two things can be used to do good, it may also result in complacency. On the whole I think being able to manage a wide range of information online with tools for aggregation is a good thing but for every organisation we see online compiling their resources, there are many more out there who don’t and maybe as information professionals, a service we can provide for the community in our free time is to help some of these organizations, who are clearly doing good work, manage their information.

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