Forced Digitalization Period of Local Civil Society Organizations under COVID Reign: The Three E’s

The historical shift of living in a modern pandemic term can be defined in two words, accessibility of technology. This accessibility points out certain undividable features altogether: easiness, eagerness, and efficiency; the three E’s.

After March 2020, like many other countries, Turkey got in a national lockdown. This lockdown, as expected, consists of the cancellation of events, gatherings, any action which can posit any possibility to violate the social distancing, closed down the businesses, and interdicted the activities of civil society organizations (CSOs). High-tier companies like consultation, IT, and banking firms continued their services because they were developed enough to use technology as a tool to integrate daily working life. However, the local civil society organizations, such as the grassroots organizations or provincial associations, were not prepared to shift as organic as the notable companies due to a lack of financial and human resources. These two very chronic problems of local CSOs, were tried to be overcome by national and international funding. International funding such as the European Union (EU) IPA funds are helping CSOs in need to improve their internal quality and support them to produce good outputs. 

Considering that adding pandemic to these structural issues makes it even harder for CSOs to operate according to their initial work plans. In the lack of necessary funds and human resources, it is nearly impossible for them to reach or understand the code of conduct of digital tools and their practical usage. Luckily, EU-funded programs such as Etkiniz EU Programme and SivilDüşün kept working with rights-based CSOs throughout the pandemic, mainly supporting digitalization. 

The primary budget item was membership expenses to digital tools such as Zoom, MailChimp, or Kahoot. The sudden appearance of Zoom in our lives proves that even the lesser-known digital tools started to get mainstream because it was easy and cheap. Herewith, the first E of technological accessibility is the easiness of usage. Most of the local CSOs do not have the profession of using complex digital tools. However, these new tools that gain more audience in the pandemic are easy to use and understand. So, when a request reached us from local representatives, the project managers could assist them through these tools without assigning human resources to them. It is easier for both parties because it is costlier to mobilize experts than only paying for membership expenses. Therefore, as many CSOs as possible use this essential and cheap support without causing more budget expenditure. 

On the other hand, the CSOs were eager to use these digital tools because they were aware that, at some point, they would have to learn it to catch the time, which brings us the second E, the eagerness. Since the enhancement of internet usage, most local CSOs were troubled to find correct ways to reach that technology to do their research and work easily. Suddenly and forcibly, pandemic causes them to adapt it, which they accept with such great eagerness. This accelerated process was helpful at the end since this was a necessary attempt for the last ten years for them to adapt. 

It needs to be understood that digitalization is not taking place only to catch the time, but it is getting a more significant requirement to conduct successful human rights research. A decade ago, every CSO was trying to print hard copies of their reports, leaflets, or flyers, but nowadays, people are following everything on social media, and you do not need paper, but rather you need a social media feed. Therefore, the CSOs can disseminate their outputs via social channels through social media campaigns or use online advertisement to reach their targeted audience.

On another aspect, the necessity of printing the human rights reports to submit them to international mechanisms has started to disappear with digitalization. For example, civil society organizations were to submit reports to essential international mechanisms such as the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights. They used to have various costs such as printing and shipping. However, currently, it is sufficient to submit reports only through online systems. This is very pleasing for all organizations who are with or without funds. In addition to this, as can be expected, it is also a very environmentally friendly method.

As we mentioned above, submitting human rights reports easily via the internet is more cost-efficient than using human resources for a person who will print and ship, which online methods can make it more attractive CSOs to report. However, they still need someone to write the report and translate it, if required. This naturally increases the eagerness of associations, foundations, or networks for digitalization opportunities. This positive disposition brings us to efficiency, which is the last E. As it will be noticed, this whole process, which can be quite costly, such as report submission, minimizes the cost with a single click, such as a design application that can only be purchased online, or a Zoom membership required to hold a meeting related to report producing or submission periods. This increases the resource efficiency of local organizations, which are already in tight quarters in terms of human and financial resources. In addition, it continues to create more opportunities and budget items to spend on the other CSOs, as it allows funds to reach more people.

Thus, we mentioned three essential features of accessing the technology in digitalization processes. When these features are evaluated together, we can understand the technical steps of organizations exposed to forced digitalization due to the pandemic.

Understanding this situation is vital for consultancy firms and donor organizations which provide technical assistance. Because the categorization of the supports and the efficient distribution of the budget depend on understanding the basics of how CSOs perceive and act towards these shifts. In the same way, necessary studies should be carried out to identify the organizations that resist this digitalization or have difficulties reaching even the most straightforward tools and including them in this process. In this way, resources are efficiently directed to parties that need to be transferred.

To summarize, the digitalization process of local organizations, albeit forced, is of great importance in terms of efficient use of resources, development of civil society, and increasing international reporting. This situation will develop further with increased access to advanced technology through voluntary structuring, grants, and in-kind supports. This situation will lead to developing human rights by Non-Governmental or civil society organizations catching the time, whether local or national.

Author: Gülçe Başkaya, WEglobal Project Manager

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