Informatization in the Non-governmental Sector

In September 2008, IVO has finalized a project Launching e-Governance in Slovakia: Empowering Citizens to Participate, Influence and Exercise Democratic Control, which ran for two years with support of Trust for Civil Society in Central & Eastern Europe. The final leg of the project was titled Informatization in the Non-governmental Sector and it set out to map out the extent to which NGOs employ information technologies with focus on their technical preparedness, human resources and electronic services. IVO launched this project with an aim of contributing to better understanding of the needs of NGOs in Slovakia. The study itself is divided into two parts. The first part looks at the overall state of affairs in the NGO sector based on a selection method within the internet realm (i.e. Internet based data); the second part focuses specifically on research among the select group of NGOs which are already to date capable of electronic communication. The latter part of the research was conducted by a way of an electronic questionnaire which was sent out at the beginning of July 2008 to select NGOs via e-mail.

As there is no relevant statistical data about information technologies in the NGO sector, the results presented have the ambition to serve as a foundation for the discussion between the NGOs, the government and the corporate sector – in order to develop further the level of informatization of the NGO sector.

Based on the overall share of key information technologies utilized in the NGO sector and looking at the usage of equipment available, including the utilization of electronic services and human resources, we cannot by any means make the generalization and conclude that informatization is a common mainstay in this sector. This statement is further supported by the finding that only 16% of NGOs are operating a website or an internet portal. Needless to say, these tools are absolutely crucial from a institutional point of view because they not only serves for purposes of presentation of the NGOs' mission and activities, but also for posting research results and outputs of their activities, for organizing activities, campaigns, lobbying, advocacy activities, as well as communication with other NGOs.

The Non-governmental sector lags significantly behind the corporate one in the comparative perspective. This is illustrated by the finding that by the end of 2007, upwards of 70% of companies and 36% of towns and municipalities had their own website.

What is more, yet another key communication tool – the e-mail was found to have a lower-than-expected penetration in the NGO sector. The findings revealed that a mere 17% of NGOs are using an e-mail, the rest – 83% – is "offline" when it comes to their potential clients and partners. In practice, however, even this shockingly low statistic does not adequately reflect on the actual state of affairs as it was often encountered that even the officially listed e-mails were often not functioning.

The research also found that as far as the share of "online" NGOs – it is higher in the category of those who readily apply for the 2% contribution from private and legal entities' tax contribution. While the estimated share of NGOs operating a website is at 16%, among the organizations competing for the 2% allocation, it rises to 23%. Similarly, this number nearly doubles in comparison with the average, reaching 31% when it comes to the usage of e-mail.

One of the key pre-requisites for the use of electronic communication is the availability of technical equipment and the accessibility of infrastructure – at the very basic level. This in essence means availability of PCs (with software and internet access). Unfortunately, the data concerning the overall level of penetration of PCs and internet in the NGO sector is not available. However, we can make certain conjectures based on the available data on the number of websites and e-mail addresses and can estimate that one copies the other.

The second part of the study focused on mapping of the extent of informatization among a group of over 4,000 organizations which are at present capable of electronic communication. The study revealed that in 37% of the cases the employees use solely their own PCs and/or laptops and in 23% of the cases they used internet connection at home.

Human resources – namely their ability to use ICT are yet another problematic aspects with regard to the NGO sector. Only a handful of organizations can afford to employ an IT professional full-time – this share stands at approximately 13%. Every other NGO that took part in the research (45%) claims that there is no one specifically designated for taking care of the PC hardware and software and that the problems that arise are addressed on an ad-hoc basis.

An overwhelming share of employees (74%) have said that they utilize a standard office software with basic functions, such as word-processing, graphics, e-mail administration, internet browsers, multimedia, and others. Only one-third of respondents stated that they use software with more advanced functions; and only one-fifth of respondents using highly specialized software for graphics, multimedia, web-sites, statistics, programming, etc.

As a relatively non-problematic was the issue of usage of PCs and PC-based software. The level of digital literacy among the NGO community was found to be at a very good level – upwards of 90% of respondents from the NGO sector have confirmed that their employees are at least proficient when it comes to using ICT technologies. As for the negative news, it was revealed that only every tenth NGO has a systematic approach when it comes to (increasing the level of) digital literacy and actually organizes various trainings. The overwhelming trend was uncovered whereby any kind of application of ICT, improvements or maintenance are left to some designated person(s) within the organization, or is handled through self-improvement methods.

It is undisputable that finances play a very important role in the processes of informatization – from the issue of procurement of technical equipment through to skill of human resources. This view is espoused by majority of the respondents, listing among the key obstacles to a broader use of information technologies – the scarcity of grant sources for the purposes of IT development (54% of respondents), high cost of IT services, which the NGOs cannot afford (39% of respondents), and the disinterest on part of the state to support this aspect of the NGO sector (32% of respondents).

Download: Informatizácia v neziskovom sektore [PDF document available in Slovak language, 1.1 MB]

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