Giving Compass’ Take:
• Lucy Bernholz discusses how the digital space owned or monitored by commercial firms and the government influences civil society.
• Are we putting power into the right hands? How can funders work to protect civil society?
• Read about the need for collective action to build up civil society.
The language of the social economy helps us describe a diverse system of institutions and financial flows. The language of civil society helps us articulate the purpose of the social economy and its role in democratic systems. Digital civil society encompasses all the ways we voluntarily use private resources for public benefit in the digital age.
Civil society is meant to be a “third space” where we voluntarily come together on the proverbial (or literal) park bench to take action as private citizens for the public good. Our use of digital data and infrastructure blurs these distinctions and complicates these relationships for a simple reason: Most of “digital space” is owned or monitored by commercial firms and government.
A small number of big donors have been shown to shape political campaigns, legislative and legal strategies, and the charitable nonprofit landscape. While crowdfunding gets press attention, the other end of the scale is shaped by large concentrations of money from a few interests
Today we must attempt to understand both the analog and digital relationships between these actors. We must examine how these relationships shift when organizations and individuals become dependent on digital tools, data, and infrastructure. These dependencies do much more than accelerate and expand the reach of individuals and organizations. They introduce new forms of activism such as hacking and raise new questions about authority and control between individuals and the companies that run the digital platforms. Most important, these dependencies bind traditionally independent civil society organizations and activities closely to marketplaces and governments in complex and problematic ways.
These digital dependencies significantly challenge civil society’s independence. This matters to how individuals and organizations work within the sector. And it matters to democracies that have long relied on the“immune response” provided by a diverse and fractious space where minority demands, rights, and ideas could thrive with some degree of independence.
Read the full article about a digital and civil society framework by Lucy Bernholz at Philanthropy 2173.
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