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Change in the Social Movement Ecosystem

Change in the Social Movement Ecosystem,

How digital communications has altered the social cause ecosystem

The communication field has been advancing at a rapid rate over the last few decades. This rapid change can be attributed to the human desire for freedom and betterment, closely tied to social causes and non-profits (Wk. 2 Lecture, Val).

There have been many evolutions in the field of social cause communication that has allowed international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) to communicate their cause more effectively and efficiently to their target audience. These evolutions include virtual reality and data visualization.

Evolutions in the Field of Social Cause Communications

Virtual Reality

According to the oxford dictionary, Virtual Reality (VR) is: “a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment using electronic devices, such as special goggles with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors” (Oxford). While this technology has been around for decades, in the philanthropic world, it is a new phenomenon being used by marketers to elicit empathy and compassion for their cause. By allowing donors, volunteers, and staff access to a new world or a normally accessible place, they can have a visual and first-hand account of anything from homelessness in America to a day in the life of a refugee in Syria (Schneider,2020). Additionally, according to an article written on NonProfitPro, this data advancement can also be used to convey the magnitude of an organization’s impact or the importance of every dollar (Schneider,2020). Both benefits, being able to visualize the magnitude of the problem and being able to visualize how you can help, elicit a compassionate response that will likely lead to increased donations and an increased awareness of the cause.

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Data Visualization

Data Visualization Timeline

Data visualization has been on the rise in the communications field for many years. While people have been visualizing data seemingly forever, the ability to analyze Big Data has only recently become of importance. According to, “data visualization simply refers to the organization of data into a visual format” (Anderson,2018). It allows non-technical people to easily digest complex data using pictures and graphs. Considering that 65% of individuals are visual learners, images are more memorable, while wordy reports take more time to decipher (Anderson,2018). With non-profits having so much data, they need to be able to present that to potential donors and staff in a way that is easily digested and understood. If the information is easily understood, the mission will be clear, and the donors will be able to relate to the cause more instead of being overwhelmed by lines of text and numbers.

Changes that have Impacted the Relevance, Effectiveness, and Success of an INGO

In addition to the use of VR and data visualization, INGOs’ success can be attributed to the rise in digital social humanitarianism. According to an article by Benedictine University, “digital humanitarians are volunteers from all over the world who support research and relief efforts through online work, regardless of their geographic location. With the ability to work remotely, digital humanitarianism can make vital information available faster — sometimes days or weeks faster — than the slow and sometimes conflicting trickle of information available on the ground” (Mantel,2014). This is very important because it allows employees of an international non-governmental organization, like Doctors without Borders, to work together using the same data and information in real-time. One example of digital humanitarianism is crisis mapping. “Crisis mapping is when information that has been gathered is curated and compiled online to help disaster-response organizations determine when and where to deliver aid. Crisis mappers layer social media-generated data with satellite imagery when available to evaluate road conditions in crisis areas, providing up-to-the-minute maps for aid organizations” (Mantel,2014). This crisis mapping is essentially compiling Big Data that an organization or multiple organizations have collected and using it to effectively allocate aid with unprecedented speed. Any INGO would benefit from this rise in social humanitarianism because it transcends borders, reduces time spent analyzing data, and speeds up the response time in a crisis.

How Doctors Without Borders is Leading in Their Approach to Communications

Doctors Without Borders (DWB) has implemented both strategies mentioned above to improve their communication with their target audience. By using VR, DWB launched an interactive exhibition called “Forced from Home.”

Forced Home Tour, Doctors Without Borders Website

This was a free, interactive, global exhibition to bring awareness to “raise public awareness about the experiences of the world’s more than 68.5 million refugees and internally displaced people” (Doctors Without Borders). In a statement from their website, “Forced From Home is a one-hour guided tour through an interactive exhibition designed to educate the public about the global refugee crisis. With experienced Doctors Without Borders aid workers leading the tour, visitors can engage with stories and materials gathered from refugee camps, sea rescue missions, and emergency medical projects around the world. This immersive tour will bring visitors closer to the real experiences of people displaced by violence and extreme hardship worldwide” (Doctors Without Borders).

Additionally, DWB has utilized data visualization techniques to display data to their audience in a way that is coherent yet effective. On their homepage, they include a circle graph to represent how the organization uses the money they receive in donations. They also include many videos and pictures throughout their website to articulate ideas, conditions, and emotions in a way words cannot.

While they still have ways in which they need to improve, they are leading the way in transparency as an organization by visually showing their audience valuable information about what they are doing and how their money will help.


Anderson, B. (2018, September 4). Why Nonprofits Should Use Data Visualization and How. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

Doctors Without Borders. (n.d.). Founding. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

The Guardian. (2015, December 31). Six communications trends NGOs should follow in 2016. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

Hillery, A. (2020, October 19). The Evolution of Data Visualization. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

Mantel, M. (2014, August 17). The Rise of the Digital Humanitarian: How Social Media is Changing Crisis Situations, and What Any Leader Can Learn from It. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

Oxford. (n.d.). Virtual Reality: Definition of Virtual Reality by Oxford Dictionary on also meaning of Virtual Reality. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from

Schneider, L. (2020, March 03). Using Virtual Reality to Evoke Greater Empathy. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from,world%20or%20an%20inaccessible%20place.

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Change in the Social Movement Ecosystem was originally published in AR/VR Journey: Augmented & Virtual Reality Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Author: Kayla Shawver

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