HARNESSING THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION
REPORT FROM AN ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP WORKSHOP
June 19, 1995 Washington, D.C.
OPPORTUNITY AND CHALLENGE
The rapid evolution of communications technology creates significant
challenges, as well as tremendous opportunities, for organizations
in the not-for-profit sector working to advance environmental
protection. The central challenge is how the scarce resources
of this community can be applied so as to remain competitive in
the marketplace for ideas and advocacy. The opportunity is the
unparalleled increase in communications reach that can be achieved
if the community makes effective use of existing and emerging
technologies and tools.
Motivated by these concerns, four foundations
convened a workshop on June 19, 1995, involving over 100 leaders
from national environmental organizations, environmental grantmakers,
and technical assistance groups. The meeting, organized by the
Telecommunications Cooperative Network
and the Center for Strategic Communications,
examined the following issues:
- What are the current resources of the community and how are
- What is being done by other organized constituencies who are
opposed to our efforts and engaged in public advocacy?
- Given current and near-term changes in communications technology,
what are feasible goals for the environmental community immediately,
near-term and long-range?
CONCLUSIONS OF THE SPONSORING FOUNDATIONS
1. Rethinking How We Invest in Communications and Information
- Foundations must develop new grantmaking criteria in the area
of communications and information technology. Simply put, investments
in state-of-the-art technology must be viewed as more than "capital
expenditures." They are integral to program.
- With more than $50 million in annual communications expenditures,
environmental NGOs could generate millions of dollars worth of
savings through effective use of existing communications technology
and through group purchasing of equipment and services essential
to building and implementing more advanced communications capacity.
- Current investments in communications and information technology
by environmental NGOs are grossly underutilized, largely due to
a lack of investment in training and technical assistance.
2. Rethinking How We Reach Our Constituents
- With the unprecedented growth of low cost, interactive online
systems, continued reliance on costly print publications and direct
mail undermines the competitiveness of environmental NGOs in the
emerging electronic marketplace of ideas.
- The core demographic groups that support environmental causes
are the fastest growing segment of users of new online services,
offering unique opportunities to develop new electronic publications
and services to meet their needs and interests.
- Mobilizing grassroots support for environmental causes requires
investment in new information systems that can help individuals
in different local communities understand how broad national and
global environmental issues uniquely impact their lives.
- Environmental organizations also need to leverage their investments
in information production by promoting cooperative "electronic
gateways" that guide individuals to the information they
need, regardless of who produced it.
3. Rethinking How We Approach the New Technology Culture
- Internet-addressable electronic mail, easily accessible from
the desktop of every staff member and activist volunteer, has
become as much a necessity for doing business as the telephone
and fax machine.
- Environmental NGOs must work toward a cultural shift within
institutions to take technology out of the "backroom"
and apply it to achieving mission critical goals. Part of this
culture shift will involve a much greater commitment to cooperation
among organizations with shared goals. The funding that is required
to achieve this culture shift is greater than that likely to be
available from the philanthropic community. NGOs must shift budget
priorities toward developing internal capacities to compete in
the modern communications marketplace.
- Foundation staff and boards should shift institutional priorities
to more effectively integrate modern communications technology
within daily operations. This will increase foundations' effectiveness
and also heighten their awareness of the ways that new technologies
can be applied to achieve program goals. Moreover it will improve
communication among foundations and grantees.
W. Alton Jones Foundation,
the Brainerd Foundation, the Bullitt Foundation, and the John
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For more information, please contact:
W. Alton Jones Foundation, Inc.
232 East High Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
Telephone: (804) 295-2134
Fax: (804) 295-1648