I am a strong believer that science is for the people, not to be locked in ivory towers. Hence, over the coming months I will be publishing a series of blogs documenting research progress in my PhD dissertation, which, roughly, aims to survey and analyze how social movements are using new information and communication tools (think new media - blogs, twitter, wikis, etc.). This analysis should also show the wider public why such research is actually useful :)
To this date, while individual use of some of those tools in organizations was studied, nobody has tried to do a comprehensive analysis of how Internet-era ICT are affecting the social movements. This seems to be to be a major omission on the part of social movement researchers, and I believe that deeper understanding of this issue will be of much use both to the scholars, and to the movement activists themselves.
The first stage of my research involves surveying movements local to my region, which is Pittsburgh. Later stages should provide data on national and international levels.
The Pittsburgh survey takes advantage of the existence of a local social movement coordination organization, the Thomas Merton Center. A downside to this is that TMC has a left wing bias, and thus this survey is likely missing some right wing movements. This should not be an issue with the latter surveys, which will be based on more neutral sampling schemes. TMC list of "justice groups" has approximately 200 entries (193 to be exact), out of which, 125 seem to have or had online presence (i.e. I was able to find their contact info in form of an email (112) or web-based contact form (13)). I should note here that the TMC list has online contact info only for ~15% of the movements, the other 50% I googled myself.
This yields the first interesting statistic: in Pittsburgh region, we can say ~65% of movements have online presence. In other words, a decade into the 21st century, ~35% of local movements have never entered the Internet - an interesting comment on a digital divide, and a contradiction to an existing statistic by Surman (2001) who estimated, nearly a decade ago, that in the developed world, ~90% of voluntary organizations have internet presence. I am already wondering what will be the findings of my larger scale surveys.
Out of 125 online contact addresses, 2 have opted out before from being ever contact for future surveys (according to surveymonkey - the tool I use - database), and 21 have bounced, which indicates to me that that movement is no longer active. Thus the real sample size is 102. Out of those, I have gotten, two weeks and two mailings into the survey, 11 replies (10.7% response rate).
Here I want to heartily thank all the people who have taken time to complete the survey so far, and I should note that the survey is still open (and will be for several weeks), so if you would like to improve our understanding of the ICTs in movements in Pittsburgh, please consider taking the survey :) (please use a personalized email invitation link instead of this one if I have got a survey invitation from me before)
Now, onto the preliminary results. 11 is a relatively low respononse rate, and this does impact the validity of the results somewhat (just a few more responses would do wonders here). If and when I get more responses, I will post an updated analysis. Still, with 11 responses there is enough data to see some interesting patterns. I am bolding those that I found most surprising/interesting:
* all surveyed movements concentrate on local or regional issues
* 80% of surveyed movements are 20 or more years old, all are 5 or more years old
* more responses are need to reliably judge areas of interest, currently, environment, health and social services are the leading areas, but I think this may change if and when more movements reply to my survey
* most movement who replied have few hundreds members
* on average, organizations which replied have ~16 computes connected to the Internet
** Those two may indicate that primarily representatives of larger movements have responded to my survey so far... although it's hard to be sure, as there is no data on size of local movements (maybe most or nearly all movements are that large? Yet somehow I have my doubts here)
* all movements indicate that they have non-members (supporters) who participate in their organization activities, about half have non-members who recruit others for the organization
* member's age distribution seems to be concentrated in the 31-50 range
* majority of respondents think that Internet is very important to the organization (~60% declared it is very important, ~30% as important, only ~10% (=1...) as very unimportant
The second part of the survey, due to its matrix build, needs more replies to be valid; still, here are current highlights:
* face to face communication seems to be the single most important when it comes to management, recruitment, and fund raising, but ICTs become more important when it comes to interacting with other organizations. Usage of traditional mail, websites and emails is popular as well, but there a minority (10-20% = 1-2) of respondents indicate that their movements use new innovative technologies (blogs, internet foras, social tagging, social networking, Twitter, etc.).
* about half of the respondents agree that younger members are much more likely to use the Internet; only 15% disagree
* Internet seems to be used equally by all members, no matter what their rank in the organization
* Usage of tools is dependent on their recentness, more or less as we would expect, although interestingly, texting is used by three organizations - but only in since about a year
* There is strong correlation between ICTs - whether pre-Internet or post-Internet - and a feeling that they give both the individual and the organization more of a say. I would like to say that the the new ICTs are slightly more correlated with that then the old ones, but validity is really an issue here (more replies are needed for me to be able to discuss that)
* there seems to be a general interest in the ICTs, and several respondents indicated that their organization may use the newer, more innovative ones in the future
* at least two of the surveyed organizations are familiar with and are using wikis
That's it for the preeliminary analysis. Once again, I'd like to thank all who have taken (and will take...) their time to fill the survey. If you have not done so, I hope that the analysis above does show how valuable even one answer can be.
I will make a new update when the survey closes with more than 20 respondents, or as soon as that number is reached (and I will make further updates for each 10 more respondents). In theory, past studies suggest I should eventually get about 30 responses, since online survey response rate is about 30%. I will let you know if this holds true in my case :)
PS. The full dataset, minus any potentially confidential information (like emails and such) will be make available online once the survey is completed. Science is for the people...
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