A Long Look Ahead

NGOs, Networks, and Future Social Evolution

by David Ronfeldt

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This paper — written in 2002 and now a chapter in a new book — speculates about the future of the environmental movement as a function of its increasing use of network forms of organization and related strategies and technologies attuned to the information age. The paper does so by nesting the movement’s potential in a theoretical framework about social evolution. This framework holds that people have developed four major forms for organizing their societies: first tribes, then hierarchical institutions, then markets, and now networks. The emergence of a new, network-based realm augurs a major rebalancing in relations among government, market, and civil-society actors. In the near term (years), there will be continuing episodes of social conflict as some environmental groups press their case, often by using netwar and swarming strategies. Over the long term (decades), new policymaking mechanisms will evolve for joint communication, coordination, and collaboration among government, business, and civil-society actors. Today, it is often said that “government” or “the market” is the solution. In time, it may well be said that “the network” is the solution. Excerpted from Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow: Shaping the Next Industrial Revolution by Robert Olson and David Rejeski, eds. Copyright © 2005 Island Press. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C. For additional background, see David Ronfeldt Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks — A Framework About Societal Evolution, Santa Monica, CA: RAND, P-7967, 1996; and David Ronfeldt, Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare?, First Monday, March 2005.

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Originally published in: Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow, Robert Olson and David Rejeskin, eds., Washington : Russell Sage, 2005, Chapter 9, pp. 89-98.

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