Co-creating the Arab Spring

skalen_webOn December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire as a protest against the autocratic regimes in his Arab country. Bouazizi’s act was captured on film and quickly spread throughout the world. The images and film clips of Bouazizi triggered protests and demonstrations against regimes in other Arab countries. Bouazizi set in motion an uprising against Arab regimes that is known as the Arab Spring.

In a study of the Arab Spring, our team spotlights how activists transformed service systems to protest against the autocratic regimes. In many Arab countries press was censored. Through the use of social media platforms, such as Facebook, activists were able to freely share information with each other and with the public. The international media used this information to report on the uprisings that were taking place in the Arab countries. By transforming the media service system, the activists were able to bypass the censorship and report in real time about the acts of oppression by the autocratic regimes and injustice experienced by the greater Arab population.

In addition to the reform of the media service system, the activists also created a service system for the social movement. They used this system to coordinate and organize demonstrations and other protests against the autocratic regimes. When the protests escalated to armed conflict, the activists used the social media channels to arrange access to healthcare therefore transforming the health care service system. The activists transformed these three service systems by co-creating value in advancing democratic ambitions. This was in sharp contrast to the service systems established by incumbents in support of the oppressive regimes.

Value co-creation has become a key focus for service research in the last decade. Previous service research primarily focused on economic value co-creation (i.e., firm profit), but service research can also examine social and cultural value co-creation (i.e., connecting people and educating people about democracy). Our team’s project illustrates how these three types of value co-creation are not only interconnected but also enhance one another. For example, during the Arab Spring the activists informed each other by sharing information about protests and demonstrations via social media. Their main intention was to increase participation and the impact of the protests (social value co-creation). At the same time, the international media was able to use this information as a part of their operations (economic value co-creation) to report about the uprisings in Arab countries capturing the historic event, informing public (cultural value co-creation) and generating social support for the activists.

Value co-creation takes place in service systems constructed by different types of actors and resources. In the Arab Spring case, the actors of service systems are activists, journalists, doctors, etc. The resources they use are smart-phones, social media platforms and knowledge about technology. But it was the conflict between the activists and the regime that triggered the transformation of the service systems. Conflict and contention have not been in the center of either business research or service research, which adopts a more harmonious view of the world. We use social movement theory to argue that the transformation of service systems is always driven by a latent or overt conflict between incumbents who want to preserve status quo and challengers who want change.

The Arab Spring teaches us how service systems, including business systems, transform and work. Although conflicts appear to be negative, the Arab Spring proves that conflict may spark positive transformation. For instance, Tunisia has embarked on a democratic path since the Arab Spring of 2011. The actors behind this positive development, the so-called National Dialogue Quartet, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. However, it also needs to be acknowledged that conflicts may have severe negative effects, best exemplified by the current situation in Syria.

The transformation of the music industry and service systems for distributing music is an example of how conflicts between incumbents and challengers can play out in the business world. The conflict between record companies that wanted to keep distributing music in traditional ways and so-called web-pirates that distributed music for free, but illegally, through the Internet lead to the creation of legal music streaming service firms such as Spotify. By studying what appears as negative events we can learn more about the positive transformation these negative events can lead to.

The research paper “Cocreating the Arab Spring Understanding Transformation of Service Systems in Contention” discussed in the post was published in Journal of Service Research August issue of 2015,   vol. 18 no. 3 250-264. It was the winner of the Best Paper Award for the Special Issue on Transformative Service Research.

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