I’ve summarised my thoughts so far on thinking about how the concept of the gift economy can help us understand giving activities, such as volunteering and participation, in the context of the social web. I’ve done this ahead of the Volunteering Counts Conference March 1st-2nd in Manchester organised by the Institute of Volunteering Research where I’ll be presenting.
The rise of social media and digital networks is contributing to the return to prominence of the gift economy. As the web has enabled social networks and online communities to grow, so values such as sharing, openness and collaboration associated with the gift economy, are increasingly influencing the relationships and connections between us. From business strategies through to public policy, giving relationships are seen as offering credible and valuable contributions.
This revolution in values offers volunteerism and other forms of giving such as participation, civic engagement and professional-amateurism, an opportunity to play an even greater role in a ever more networked Britain.
This article attempts to unpick the increasing number of connections between these different modes of giving, rendered both possible and visible by a more networked Britain and world beyond. Focusing our attention on how these different giving activities are interconnected, rather than separated, opens up a new way of understanding participation, professional-amateurism, civic engagement and volunteering. The connecting thread between these activities played out on the social web, are the twin components of positive personal freedom and beneficial social impact. Understanding giving activities in terms of the intention behind the giving and extent to which they are driven by personal freedom and social impact, provides the basis for a new framework to understand how the web is changing the way we give today.
Two patterns of how these different giving activities are connected should be noted:
First, social media has meant giving activities can take place on a much bigger scale than before the digital revolution. There are a growing number of examples that point to how different modes of giving can scale. Added to this is the new visibility of giving activities increasingly mediated by the web, as more users take up social media. As givers share what they are doing with others, so it becomes increasingly possible to assess the range of giving activities taking place. This new sense of range and scale is what offers us a new opportunity to establish a framework that makes sense of how we give today.
Second, as giving activities are reconfigured across brand new networks of people and groups, the role of the state, institutions, corporations and organisations in promoting, sponsoring and facilitating giving activities is changing. Whether givers are participating, volunteering, engaging or “Pro-Am’ing” the increased scale and visibility of giving opportunities means more and more are taking place out of the direct control of the state, institutions, corporations and organisations, bodies that shaped the giving activities of the last century.