Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a critical role in public life: understanding citizens’ daily challenges, providing services to address those challenges in the short-term, and pursuing long-term policy solutions. In Cambodia, there are hundreds of CSOs, but a wide variability in management capacity, technical capability, and staffing has given rise to domestic and international organizations that exist to help these CSOs carry out their important social role more effectively.

1small.JPG Interviewing the director of a Cambodian CSO for Member Insights.

Domestically, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) functions as a membership association for Cambodian civil society organizations, and provides training, research, and technical assistance to roughly 170 member organizations. From the international community, there is a wide range of donors, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that support Cambodian CSOs, including USAID’s Development Innovations (DI) project. DI helps local CSOs, technology companies, and social enterprises design and use new technologies to address Cambodia’s development challenges.

I was in Phnom Penh for most of May, working with CCC and the DI project to build a stronger understanding of how Cambodian CSOs operate through a process we’re calling Member Insights. What is Member Insights? It’s a modified version of our Digital Insights design research method that focuses on member CSOs in the CCC network. Just as Digital Insights is the first step in a process to design digital tools and engagement methods for individuals, Member Insights is the first step in a process to design improved engagement and training programs for organizations. It is a rapid, inexpensive research method designed to highlight how organizations use technology and communicate, exploring communications as an organizational practice, focusing on which platforms are most common for internal information flows and how organizations engage external audiences such as beneficiaries, prospective beneficiaries, and the general public. In this case, the focus was Cambodian CSOs, but as a methodology, Member Insights can be applied to businesses, governmental units, and even families. So, what did we find?

#1 Facebook Messenger is the Alpha and Omega

All 48 CSO staffers we interviewed (across 20 CSOs) have FB Messenger installed on their phones (see graph below). Among messaging apps, Skype and Line are also both popular, while WhatsApp is surprisingly unpopular. Interestingly, in most places where we’ve done Digital Insights research, WhatsApp was far and away the market leader among messaging apps.

But having an app installed doesn’t necessarily correlate to actual usage. We also asked CSO staffers how many messages they send on each app (and via text) every day. FB Messenger really separates itself from the pack when measured this way, and based on direct observation, I’m willing to bet that the 15 messages per day average is a stark underestimate of actual usage. This might be the result of the presence of work colleagues in the focus groups.

We also asked CSO staffers if they use any chat apps for informal internal group messaging. Sixteen out of 20 say they use FB Messenger. The next most popular choice is Skype, whose new version more resembles a chat app than the staid VOIP tool of old.

#2 Facebook is Primary for Public Comms

All 20 organizations have a website, while only 90 percent have a Facebook page. Despite that, updates to Facebook pages happen with far more regularity than websites. Most organizations say they update their Facebook pages every week or every day, while most update their websites rarely or once per quarter. See the graphic below.

We also asked who updates each, when they are updated. Both are most commonly updated by CSO executive directors, but IT, program, and administrative staff are also commonly involved, as per the graphics below. Surprisingly, only 15 percent of the organizations interviewed have their communications staff involved in updating their public presences.

#3 Tech for Operations is More Basic

From an operational standpoint, the Cambodian CSOs we interviewed use very basic technology tools in support of their operations. Eighty percent say QuickBooks is their accounting software of choice, while 70 percent use Outlook for email (others used personal email or Gmail). Eighty percent say they use Excel to manage their beneficiary database, instead of a more customized client relationship management software. The same number, eighty percent, say they use paper as their primary data collection tool as opposed to a digital data collection tool.

Over the coming months, I’ll be working with the DI project and CCC to figure out how the results of the Member Insights process can inform the design of improved outreach to member CSOs, as well as new and individually tailored training programs.

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