The complexity of virtual accountability: A case study of a virtual NGO

Detta är en D-uppsats från Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för redovisning och finansiering

Sammanfattning: Virtual worlds give rise to a new form of organizing that is not physical, lacks significant operational costs and is democratic between individuals who need not meet in person in order to establish an organization. The virtual dimension adds a layer of complexity to the concept of accountability: it is difficult to trust someone you only know via technology - and even more difficult is the attempt of holding this person accountable in the absence of a physical relationship. Nevertheless, despite this perceived deficiency, many virtual organizations have been created and are continuously being created today. Seemingly, individuals have found a way of handling accountability in a virtual context as to make virtual organizations function. Through the conduction of an in-depth case study of the company Peace Train, which is a virtual non-governmental organization (NGO), we investigate (1) how the virtuality of the platform Second Life shapes the stakeholder landscape and characteristics of a born virtual NGO and (2) how and which accountability mechanisms are established. We find that the virtual organization is characterized by fluid boundaries, a non-hierarchical structure with a lack of formal reporting and control. The stakeholders identified are similar to real world NGOs, with the exception of a government-like role taken on by a privately held company as the provider of the virtual platform. Due to the lacking operational cost base, formal accountability mechanisms are very difficult to establish and are successfully being substituted by various strong informal ones. The low costs imply that it is easy to establish a virtual organization, but due to the lack of formal accountability mechanisms it is hard to experience growth in terms of members, donations and visitors to events.

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