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Social Media & Government 2.0 “Book” Lessons


February 23, 2011

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Social media is enabling social change. Some experts believe that social media isn’t changing the dynamic of government to citizen relationships. Despite some recent evidence to the contrary.

Of course, makes perfect sense to contemplate the future of Government by reading books. Irony by Marshall McLuhan standards: resorting to a linear arguments in the mechanical typography world to consider the emerging non-linear digital world.

Understanding Media: The extensions of man, first published in 1964 articulates the clash of media that we see today. The use of the television medium by dictators while citizens leverage Twitter and Facebook demonstrates these effects. Social media represents a “speed up”, is more integral and more participatory than television. It is counter-hierarchical. It reacts faster and in a more organic fashion. McLuhan describes how movable type led to the nation state. How it created the individual and point-of-view. How it created the notion of privacy. So, it’s no wonder that moving to a more integrated “re-tribalized” world will run across privacy concerns.

Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in Macrowikinomics dedicate some chapters to the public sector. Umair Haque in New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Better Business is concerned about the sustainable capitalism but has lessons for government. (See my book review.) Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy and Clay Shirky in Foreign Affairs criticize the American State Department policy of internet freedom.

Takeaways for Government

  1. Failure to perceive the effects, or governing in denial: McLuhan suggested that the changes in media create anxiety but also can dull the senses so the “electric media is also the age of unconscious and apathy.” He pointed out that “a new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace.” Many observers fail to see the impact of social media in social media. Perhaps they should contemplate how television has “evolved” in response: cable news 24/7 opining, reality programming and Idiocracy-level stunts. Of course, those people whose livelihood is based on old media are more likely to see social media as having negative values. McLuhan pointed out the problem of making “value judgments with fixed reference to the fragmentary perspective of literary culture.”Future: Governments who think that social media will not change the nature of governing have had a recent wake-up call. Governments will evolve from using media as public relations to engagement. This will give governments more credibility.
  2. Fragmentation and specialization crumble: McLuhan described how specialization draws people away from fundamental solutions. Tapscott and Williams provide examples such as in disaster recovery and comment about the “dismantling the culture of the policy expert.” Future: Public servants will engage social networks to solve problems quicker.
  3. Citizen scrutiny and transparency: McLuhan described how the photocopier turns anyone in a publisher. More so with social media. Tapscott and Williams describes the “rise of the citizen regulator. Future: There is no holding back the transparency movement. Transparency will become a competitive differentiator. Politics will be fundamentally changed through data and visualization.
  4. Participatory government enabled: Tapscott and Williams describe how “most governments still reflect industrial age organizational thinking.” McLuhan provides insight in the differences between the industrial and electronic ages, particularly in participation. Haque suggests that “voting is the most brittle kind of democracy, build on the tiniest kind of conversations because it limits a voice to a vote.” Future: Participatory budgeting and participatory policy-making will become commonplace. As will idea hubs.
  5. Sustainability and performance: Tapsott and Williams describes a principle of networked intelligence as “interdependence”. Haque is vocal about the lack of sustainable businesses that draw more resources than value presented. Open data can be used to determine government positive and negative impacts. Future: Government performance management will mature to measure sustainability and the network effect of government actions.
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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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