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    Social Media for Development: An exploratory study of social media use in development activities by Dutch development NGOs

    Sheombar, Sattianandsing (2019) Social Media for Development: An exploratory study of social media use in development activities by Dutch development NGOs. Doctoral thesis (PhD), MMU Business School in collaboration with HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.


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    This PhD research project is about how Dutch development NGOs use social media for their development projects. For this, the following research question has been investigated: how do Dutch development NGOs use social media to further the development activities of their organisations? The purpose of this study is to understand how development NGOs are trying to get to grips with social media. Given the exploratory nature of this research, a qualitative research approach was adopted. Both case studies and the grounded theory method were used for this study. This combination is ideal because with a case study one tries to understand, or explore a phenomenon, whereas, in grounded theory studies, one tries to build theory. Given that this study is concerned with how Dutch development NGOs perceive social media for their development projects, an interpretive paradigm seems appropriate. The grounded theory methodology for this research is consistent with the epistemology of interpretivism. The combination of case study research and grounded theory works well for theory building and has been applied in Information Systems and ICT for Development studies before. As the use of theory before data collection is in opposition to the principle idea of the grounded theory methodology, in which theory emerges from the data, this needs to be addressed when combining case studies and grounded theory. This issue was resolved by using an initial high-level conceptual framework as a guiding instrument for both the noncommittal literature research and for the conceptualisation of the research problem, whilst not distorting the emergence of theory from the data. This study focuses on formally organised development NGOs who receive funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their development projects. From the approximately 100 organisations, fourteen NGOs were selected for this study. The choice of fourteen NGOs was driven by a theoretical sampling strategy. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews with 18 respondents and field-notes of meetings or events of 14 development NGOs. The data was analysed using the Glaserian coding procedure of grounded theory, starting with open coding, followed by selective coding, and ending with theoretical coding. Three major themes (or core categories as they are called in the grounded theory method), were identified. This study's first contribution is captured in the theme ‘NGO Enacting Values in Development’. This is about how an organisation’s values are enacted in the context of international development. The organisational mixture of development mind-sets influences organisational activities in development. The ideological trends that are stimulated by societal and technological changes have an impact on the organisation’s development strategy and the strategic collaboration network of development NGOs. The second contribution of this study is captured in the theme ‘NGO’s Views on Social Media Use’. This core category discusses the organisation’s view on the meaning of social media and includes the four following categories: technological, individual, collective and contextual views attributed to organisational social media. The four categories empirically demonstrate the concept of affordance clusters and the connections between them. 4 The study’s third contribution is captured in the theme ‘NGO’s Use of Social Media in Development’, encompassing the social media activities of the studied development NGOs in their development projects. This has led to an assessment framework of organisational social media use by development NGOs, constructed by cross-referencing the organisational goals of development NGOs to the social media activity areas in the context of development. These themes represented by three core categories are inter-related. Feedback loops between NGO’s values in development, views on social media, and the actual uses of social media for development purposes have been discerned. This grounded theory study aims to build an initial theory of how NGOs might approach the use of social media in a development context. This qualitative study has produced some new concepts. This study has led to a substantive theory in the context of international development. Furthermore, this substantive theory is compared with three theory lenses, when applied on the data collected for this PhD research, in their ability to identify similar concepts as reached with the substantive theory following the grounded theory method. Finally, the thesis presents some avenues for future research that may help expand the substantive theory that has been developed under this research to formal theory.

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