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Abstract

Virtual organizations (also called virtual communities) are entities that use information technology to adapt to changing project, information, or marketplace demands. In this paper, we use fantasy theme analysis to identify dramas created in a virtual community or organization composed of individuals and organizations involved in giving policy-making advice to developing countries. We extend a particular kind of dramatism (fantasy theme analysis) into the realm of policy makers who create and enact dramas in their virtual communities. Fantasy theme analysis as envisioned by Bormann (1972, 1980, 1982, and 1983) is a departure from other types of dramatism in that it does not rely on the costumes, props, and physical settings to identify dramas. Our analysis found that the heroes were not the benefactors who donated money for the information technology, nor the adopters of the technology, nor even the practitioners who facilitated the implementation of information and communications technology (ICTs). Rather, the hero, surprisingly, turned out to be the ICT policy researchers. These are the people who analyze, compare and debate ICT policies, and how best to measure ICT impacts, in a free exchange within their virtual community. In our analysis of the virtual community’s exchanges, the villain emerged as people within developing countries who suppressed or warped the use of ICTs. The group does not equate villainy with government, but equates it more closely with ruling authorities who pervert the use of ICTs who want to hinder their introduction. We conclude that the script created by a virtual organization via an Internet forum discussion is usefully examined taking a fantasy theme analysis approach, and that the resulting analysis is useful in helping policy makers identify the heroes, villains, plots and subplots of their policy discussions in their virtual community. We recommend three actions: 1) for ICT researchers we would urge them to recognize the dramas they and their colleagues are creating through their group interactions, 2) for policy advisors we encourage them to reflect on the power they possess to participate in ongoing discussions on a positive, symbolic and creative level, and 3) for researchers we recommend taking up the challenge of examining virtual communities by developing research methods that can capture the full panoply of interactions not readily available through traditional approaches. Fantasy theme analysis is one such method.

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