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Global Development Institute

Information Management Strategy Formation in Northern Development NGOs

Michael Schueber


For Northern Development NGOs (NNGOs) information is such an important resource that the management of information is of strategic concern. This research explores how Information Management (IM) strategies are formed in NNGOs. The methodological approach taken aims to understand IM strategy formation in NNGOs from a theoretical perspective through the study of three relevant bodies of theory (information management, NGO management, strategy formation), and from an empirical perspective by exploring the reality of IM strategy formation in the Swiss NGO Helvetas.

Contemporary theories on information management, -systems, -technologies, and related concepts provide a notion of their complex interrelationships, their strategic importance for organisations and the crucial role of ICTs. Critical analysis of the literature on NGO management and strategy in development cooperation then reveals the strategic significance of IM for NNGOs and results in the identification of seven Strategic Information Management Themes of NNGOs (SIMToNs). The theoretical examination of strategy concepts provides an understanding that IM strategy formation in NNGOs is likely to be the product of planned as well as emergent aspects, and of learning as well as planning at the core and the periphery. These conceptual findings form the framework for guiding the exploration of IM strategy formation in Helvetas, at the core, the Head Office in Zurich and at the periphery, the Country Programme in Nepal.

The research findings, analysis and interpretations explain that IM strategy formation in Helvetas is a process of organisational transformation, which is fuelled by considerations related to the SIMToNs and reflects an interplay of planned and emergent strategies. The analysis sheds light on the cause-effect relationship of IM strategy formation and organisational culture and eventually draws attention to seven Conceptual Tensions that seem to influence IM strategy formation as well as to reflect the status of the organisation. Having revealed the importance and complexity of IM strategy formation processes in Helvetas as a means to becoming a true learning organisation, the research finally introduces a model suggesting it could be developed into a framework for guiding not only Helvetas but possibly also other NNGOs in their unique transformation processes.

Note : This is a long paper (c.200 pages in all). It has been broken down into three files: the main body of text plus Appendices 1-5; Appendix 6 (Helvetas' strategy for knowledge sharing); and Appendix 7 (summary of answers to initially-posed questions plus recommendations for Helvetas). All files are provided in PDF and zip formats.

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