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Digital anthropology for NGOs: a new opportunity?

This branch of human relations studies how the digital world influences the daily lives of people, and also of social organisations.

Digital anthropology studies how digital media and the Internet influence our social relations, culture, identities and much more. In this sense, the use of social networks, the influence of smartphones and our own interaction with websites is important for digital anthropology. Anthropology, therefore, recognises that "digital life" has become a fundamental part of contemporary societies and of the Third Sector.

However, what is the best way to make use of digital anthropology and these ideas in order to benefit the work of NGOs? Basically, digital anthropology in the service of NGOs puts the emphasis on the knowledge, strengthening and integration of digital communities.

In the following paragraphs, we offer some ideas for non-profit organisations.

1. Analyse the audience and digital communities

The starting point is analysing the audience, that is, to continually investigate how people interact in the digital world with the social mission that an NGO defends and pursues. It also refers to how our audience interacts with our online premises—our website. Analysing audiences can be done in many ways: entering the communities, interviewing participants and even analysing our visitors (using Google analytics and Search Console). This gives us very valuable knowledge so that the people who are wondering if they should support us, in fact do so.

2. Knowing the user content

To consolidate a digital community, it is of vital importance to know what its participants are saying and doing. Let's take the following social mission as an example: the defence of the urban gardens in Barcelona. Investigating the virtual groups or tribes, digital communities, pages and web content related to the urban gardens in Barcelona would help an NGO to better understand the values, culture, objectives and needs expressed online. Knowing what content and comments the users are creating or making also allows NGOs to identify important content that is missing.

3. A field of interaction and knowledge

For anthropology, cyberspace and the digital world present a field of interaction between people and technology. Look on digital media to see what messages, symbols and lifestyles are being broadcasted to understanding our behaviour and creation of networks of support and communication. In the same line of thinking, it is essential for a foundation or an NGO to understand what knowledge is being shared, reproduced and 're-created' on the Internet. Often, the mission of a non-profit organisation is misunderstood or comments are generated which, although well-intentioned, do not express the real objectives of a foundation.

4. Social publicity

The relation of organisations with information technologies, digital content and digital publicity is complex and shouldn't be blocked. But these tools aren't being used in the same way by everyone. Clearly, the way in which NGOs can use digital publicity has to adapt to the logic and context of the Third Sector. Carrying out campaigns on Google Adwords or adverts on Facebook has specific considerations for NGOs. For this reason, digital publicity has to be used to strengthen a community, find new members and give them strong reasons to participate and follow a cause. 


Julián Bueno
Translation by Bistra Bogdanova, Anna Dixon
on 05/10/2016
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