I can’t do a social media toolkit, but Obama can! (Sort of…)

Growl, possibly the only reason he is President of the US and I am not… apart from… (no OK)

Oh this is so hard to say, but Twitter has come up trumps again. The truly remarkable Oli Barrett found this gem.

It is a very wordy document, but do read it, just the headings will do if you know what you are talking about. I am interested most in how this success story can be moved into all online public engagement.

There is a very small but growing bunch of people who work in the public sector over here who have been trying to harness and do exactly what Obama has done: not for campaigning purposes, but for online engagement, digital democracy (although it is often for free and in our own time to be honest).

Hopefully very soon Government here in the UK will step up to the plate and put some serious time, money and resource into utilising the opportunity offered by social media, which I know has become a swear word, even amongst my most beloved. (And by time money and resource, I don’t mean taxing the public purse further, I mean re-directing the bleed).

I am not a geek, nor am I particularly talented at policy-making – but what I do know is how government works, big G government: as in the governing party, as well as the mighty civil service. And what I am so sure of, is that the three powers that run this country:

  • citizens
  • the Labour Party (do I need to date this post?)
  • the civil service

… must pay serious heed to how everyone is learning now. Behaviour is being influenced in a way never before seen; it is simple, it is the power of community.

I have no real idea how best to harness this, but I will give it a damn good try, but I know for certain that it does not depend on the right content management system.

The digital ‘me’ culture is not such a bad thing, you know: we start to think in Facebook/twitter updates, but it is exactly this that enables us to share our lives, and to say ‘I am willing to reduce my hours/days of work to ensure that my neighbour can bring in an income to support their family’. This is something referred to in Obama’s speech:

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

I know that I have become far more conscious of my societal obligations since I started engaging in online communities. Why? Because it is real. Reality plays a huge part in this online revolution, I am not going to go down the path of fictitious reality as we can generally spot and ignore those, but each of our friends are more real to us – and so we feel an affinity and turn towards our governers to see what they are doing, how are they responding to our concerns?

Let’s see how this plays out, what worries me is that the opportunity here will be swallowed up by a fear of the unknown, and a need to be ‘stakeholder managed’ through change, which is ridiculous – we can all keep up, but can someone have the guts to show the way? Because to be honest, if someone doesn’t I can see the potential for digital civil war – and the senior civil servants, the Ministers and departments will have no idea how to address or indeed manage it; and they won’t have the time to write the project initiation document (PID).

10 responses

  1. Top post Em! Brief late night comment – (sorry for the ramble ahead…!)
    Saw the toolkit myself earlier too and read eagerly. (and am so glad you posted about this, so not my place to post about such things!) The whole process of the campaign worked, and worked well, and enabled many citizens to feel part of the ‘change’ that will (hopefully!) come, and it worked.

    I could ramble on much more, but alas won’t. In short, it was a good campaign that embraced social media in the true sense of the wordage, that may have had some quibbles, and was carefully crafted (which it rightly should be to enable the voice and language of what it was working for and creating) but it worked. And worked well.

    The joy of social media and what it brings, is that we can build on the good parts (and discard the parts of what it doesn’t reflect and relate to) and grow it to work for the benefit of all.

  2. Excellent post. There’s no doubt that technology has the potential to engage people. As Clay Shirky points out there’s a massive ‘cognitive surplus’ out there waiting to be used and there’s a strong case for re-engaging people with the future of their communities.

    The problem I struggle with is whether the political system in the UK is capable of allowing citizens more influence over how the country works.

    Politicians of all parties pretty much agree on the ends of government: we should all wealthier, healthier, better educated, safer. So, in order to differentiate themselves, they have to differ on the means: how things are done. Its not the job of Joe public to come up with the means/hows themselves: if they did, politicians, at least in our system, would be pretty much redundant.

    The system in the US is very different – it’s much more open to consensus involvement. Obama is clearly committed to this and, even better, seems to know how to go about it.

    Meanwhile, our politicians are forced by the system to operate in attack mode. If they want to retain or gain power they have to maintain that ‘We know best, our opponents are fools – trust us to deliver what you want’.

    They might ask us what we want, from time to time, but that’s got little to do with proper engagement. Engagement, to my mind, means taking back some of the power we’ve handed to politicians. Perhaps we really do need a revolution.

    (Sorry about the length of this – but one final thought: a fourth group to add to your list of those who run the country is big business. We need to follow Obama’s lead on this by limiting severely the influence of lobbyists. Lopping of the heads of some of their Lordships would also help.)

  3. Great post. My reaction to the Social Obamedia phenomenon has been one of contradictions: pride that the campaigns application of key social media principles has been successful, optimism that it has generated such an avalanche of interest from the mainstream, and frustration

    Perhaps my greatest frustration, to echo some of your sentiments, is that things have not advanced more rapidly here in the UK. As an American living here and devoted to the Govt Social Media realm, I can’t help but point out that for a while, the UK was further ahead . Given the size of the country, the centralised nature of its government, and the reasonably collegial nature of regional governments (so I am lead to believe), I believe that the UK has, and is, particularly well placed to innovate and scale approaches to Govt 2.0/eParticipation/etc. The eDemocracy movement has been strong here for some time. Folks like you and Jeremy have been doing this stuff for ages and have insights aplenty. And for some time now, we have a spectacular minister at the cabinet level intensely devoted to this subject. The US has no such thing (although given the way that the West Wing operates, Macon Phillips is well positioned to play one). When I started the idea of polyWonk a year ago, I had the naive notion that I’d be able to easily arrange to get 20K out of some department to develop and run a pilot project around ‘open-sourcing policy’ (as we called it then). The government would get a tangible product and demonstration of its democratic agenda, and a strong start-up in a growing space, to boot. Alas, despite the rhetoric within government, this proved significantly harder than I had predicted, and I have had to turn to private individuals for development capital.

    Let me finish on a note of optimism, however. Based upon my recent investigations across the pond, the US hasn’t cracked this nut yet. At all. As you can tell by this report, much of the discussion re: social media and govt is still focused on the political side – i.e. running campaigns, mobilising people, and communications. They still need to make the same leap to incorporating not just the tools, but the *principles* of social media into government: active collaboration and engagement, and user-contributed/generated content. The same goes for Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. There are many experiments and a growing hunger, creating great opportunity for innovation and the sharing of ideas. There are still no household names in this realm, no trade magazines for govt 2.0, no simple primer for the vast number of civil servants out there who are struggling to understand social media and their implcations. The social and commercial potential are still great. But we must act, once again allow the US to take lead in an area in which the UK has no shortage whatsoever of great ideas, and great people.

  4. Pingback: Social Obamedia

  5. Thank you Laura. Andrew, you raise a brilliant point, you are so right and I am not nearly familiar enough (should I be?) with the political system in the States. Thank you for this great response, food for thought.

    Mitch, I feel your pain, we all need to keep pushing, and the paltry few of us who do this either AS a part of our jobs – or in addition to, need to maintain the pace and the pressure to break into a full sprint.

  6. I’m sure Mitch could say more about whether the US system is more suited to enabling engagement/involvement. My guess is that, with the right, President, it is. The separation of the executive and legislative branches enables the President to be much more inclusive than the Prime Minister could ever think of being here.

    I think it’s likely that the underlying political systems are the problem. No matter how good the technology is, if politicians are unable to let go of some of their power then nothing will move. From what I’ve seen at a local level, politicians love the idea of engagement. But the reality, when they figure out its implications, frightens them. As Shirky suggests in the subtitle of Here Comes Everybody, we can now organise without having organisations. If you’re a politician – or a Whitehall civil servant – this can be a scary thought. For a control freak with a Treasury mindset, it’s very scary indeed!

    There’s an excellent Peter Day interview with Richard Florida here – http://tinyurl.com/dayflorida – which touches on some of this.

    Worth noting that the Scandinavians have had

  7. oops, apologies for the cliff hanger: that last sentence ends ‘…systems of government based on involvement and engagement, particularly at a local level, for many years’. And there shouldn’t be a comma after ‘with the right’, obviously.

  8. 🙂 Thanks Andrew, I am not sure that it is up to the politicians, or civil servants/departments… I think that the online conversation will become so loud and insistant that unless they are listened to, the only thing government will look is belligerent. I don’t know, I am tired after another battling day! Great link, thanks for that.

  9. Pingback: Cognitive surplus and government policy « Mindworks’ Weblog

  10. Pingback: Social Obamedia | mitchsava.com

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