Multiple interests or unified voice? Online communities as intermediary spaces for development
While the uptake of online communities toward development purposes continues to grow, many are characterized by an unresolved tension. On the one hand, they benefit from participation of heterogeneous stakeholders in their efforts to strengthen their expertise. On the other hand, these stakeholders represent highly diverging interests, which makes collective strategic action very challenging. To understand how online communities cope with this tension, we conducted a longitudinal, mixed method case study of an online community focused on development transportation. We argue that online communities are uniquely equipped, through their fluidity and open-endedness, to enable knowledge creation and agenda-setting. In so doing, online communities afford an ‘intermediary space’ that simultaneously accommodates both convergence and divergence of interests. Our study strengthens the bridge between information systems research and development studies, by highlighting the potential of ICT uptake toward ‘remaking participation’ in development debate, while including the perspectives of heterogeneous interest groups.
Keywordsonline communities development intermediary spaces interests ICT4D strategic framing
The authors gratefully acknowledge Marleen Huysman, Ed Sleebos, Wouter van Atteveldt, Tim Unwin, Shirin Madon and three anonymous reviewers, and of course, the research participants and ‘GRIT’ online community.
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