Posts Tagged ‘social media’

I spent an interesting evening last night in the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall, listening to a debate on whether technology or policy would determine the outcome of this year’s general election.  The debate was organised by Delib and the panel of speakers including Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC, Bruce Anderson (The Independent), Rishi Saha (Conservatives), Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour) and Julie Meyer.

For me it was Rory Cellan-Jones whose contribution to the debate was the most telling.  While pointing out that this year’s election would be the first in which twitter, facebook et al would be a feature, he said that the televised debates between the party leaders was the innovation which would have the greater impact.  This point chimed with a later one by Rishi Saha who pointed out that most of the money which the Obama campaign raised through on-line donations was used to fund TV adverts.  TV remains the crucial medium for getting your message across as a politician.  The political bloggers and tweeters are merely new players in a minority sport, so far at least, virtual settlers in the Westminster village, Rory Cellan-Jones suggested.

Bruce Anderson questioned the significance of election campaigns on the outcome.  True, he said, Barak Obama ran an effective campaign but would the Democrats have won anyway?  He suggested that 1992 aside, all of the UK election results since 1979 were not determined by the parties’ election campaigns.  The Tories big advantage in 2010, he argued, was that there was a pervasive public feeling that it is ‘time for a change’.

Rishi Saha emphasised how the barriers to entry in the political debate have been lowered by new technology.  We can all be Nick Robinsons now and for the political parties, social media enables them to mobilise their supporters much more cheaply.

In a contribution from the floor, Lord Harris, suggested that the key issue was how will politicians respond to social media, to the speed of response, which is something new.  Citizen journalists have changed the accountability framework – it’s a change in the way the game is played, he said, but not a change in the game.

It was an interesting discussion but less interesting to me than a debate about real policy issues.  It is easy to become wide-eyed about new technology and the way it is changing how we lead our lives.  But we shouldn’t forget it’s a tool with which to make something.  You have to know what it is you’re trying to build and why.


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‘Ungeeking’ is news to me.  It’s a term that Rohan Gunatillake of NESTA has coined and he defines it as what happens when behaviours developed online make their way into areas of our lives independent of the technology through which we learnt them.

He suggests that this is happening in two main ways:

1. Through the widespread adoption of trends and tools, which previously have been the domain of the more digitally literate few.  Facebook and Twitter would be cases in point.

2.  Our digital lives are encouraging us and training us in behaviours that naturally leak into our wider lives, online or offline.  An example of this is the development of conference formats where the participants dictate what sessions are held, with every attendee is expected to actively participate in some way.  This approach seems to have grown out of open source software models and Web 2.0 principles.  Unconferences, Gunatillake suggests, are the social web ungeeked into events.

Putting this into the context of many councils’ ambition to foster vibrant communities and build social capital, I agree with Gunatillake when he suggests that the great prize is the ungeeking of social networking – in other words to translate some of the on line connectivity between individuals and the communities of shared interest into the off-line world of our towns and cities.

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Social media is playing a real and surprising role in complementing traditional methods of communications to help people develop and retain their contacts at work.  That is the conclusion of a Work Foundation report, The Changing World of Work, published last month. The report, produced in association with BT, is based upon a survey of 1,240 employees in businesses employing more than 500 people,

Its five headline findings are:

1. Working relationships matter (strong social relationships mean people feel trusted and that builds job satisfaction)

2. New technologies are not supplanted traditional ways of communicating but creating new ways to interact with people

3. People prefer to work for places characterised by strong working relationships and a focus on outputs rather than processes

4. People with access to new technologies are more likely to characterise their organisations as having a culture of mutual trust

5. Managers need to think innovatively about what tools to use to develop and sustain different relationships.

While 85% of those surveyed say their organisation is based on formal rules and policies, only 6% say they prefer to work in this type of organisation.  It’s an interesting conondrum and a challenge for public sector organisations like councils.  For very sound reasons, we tend to be rule-bound organisations but it’s a culture that perhaps doesn’t chime with encouraging innovation and risk taking.

People who have access to newer technologies like instant messaging, wikis, professional networking (IDeA communities of practice being a shining example), social networking, blogs and integrated voicemail/email, are more likely to characterise their organisations as being committed to innovation and development and focused on achievement.

The report found that the older you are, the more likely you are to dislike technology.  That doesn’t mean older people don’t use it but from this survey at least, older people are more likely to feel uncomfortable or wary about using technology than those who are younger.

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