Investigation of Organizational Interaction and Support in an NGO through Computer-Mediated Discussions

By Chang, Yao-Jen; Chang, Yao-Sheng | Educational Technology & Society, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Investigation of Organizational Interaction and Support in an NGO through Computer-Mediated Discussions


Chang, Yao-Jen, Chang, Yao-Sheng, Educational Technology & Society


Introduction

Information technology definitely changes the whole world, but not everyone has a fair access to it. "Poor service for the poor" is a well-known saying in the area of social welfare. We now can rephrase it to say "Poor technology for the poor". The information technology used by Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) serving the underprivileged is far less advanced than that of profit-oriented organizations (Currion, 2006). It is true that many online services are for free nowadays and considered by many people easy to use. However, it is not always the case for NGOs. First of all, different demographic groups acquiring a new IT skill often go through a different learning curve than in business or academia. Although technology is there, it is in general necessary to help the NGOs and humanitarian agencies adapt technology to their needs (Chang et al., 2010). For this and other reasons, the online behaviors of NGOs have been less addressed in the literature compared to other sectors (Kay 2006; Hall & Davison 2007; da Cunha & Orlikowski 2008). We were interested in understanding how virtual communication spaces can be used within an NGO to address potential opportunities and threats to the success to its programs.

Discussion forums are widely available computer-supported communication technologies that facilitate virtual interaction on the Internet. The number of discussion forums continues to increase powered by the growth of the World Wide Web. For example, Google alone hosted 4.3 millions of discussion forums as of August 2009 in almost every language, region, and category. In this paper, we examined how the social workers used a discussion forum to help themselves deal with organizational communications that they perceived as essential to their job functions. We conducted a three year project and participated in supported employment programs for people with mental impairments. Supported Employment is a well-defined approach to helping people with mental illnesses find and keeping competitive employment within their communities. Supported employment programs are staffed by employment specialists who have frequent meetings with treatment providers to integrate supported employment with mental health services. Crucial needs of online communication among the participating NGO were identified as follows:

1. Job opportunity sharing and paperwork reduction: The legacy database was designed for regulating job coaches (job titles for the social workers in our research). Therefore, data contributed from job coaches is isolated from access by each other. A data sharing mechanism is needed to enable job coaches to benefit from the information sharing. A platform for job coaches to share job opportunity and improve the matching process is desired.

2. Mutual support among job coaches: Most supported employment programs for the mentally ill persons are operated under rehabilitation hospitals. As non-medical professionals and contract workers in medical settings, job coaches often find themselves isolated in the organizations they serve. Low job recognition of the mentally impaired trainees on the competitive workplace is constant frustration job coaches have to live with, which creates tension, insecurity, and emotional burden. Information technology can facilitate support mechanism by establishing a platform for information exchange, knowledge sharing and social support. 3. De-stigmatization of mental illness: The major barrier toward employment of mentally impaired persons is the stigma for mental illness which devalues them and thus deprives them from contributing to the society. Supported employment enables the public to witness the fact that mentally impaired persons can work and be useful to others. Such narratives need to be told, recorded, and circulated to debunk deconstruct the myth about mental impairment. In fact, the success or failure of the NGO depends on such public awareness of social inclusion programs. …

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