Okay, I started prep for this post by looking at the quotes from this weeks course reading… and far out. Check out this choice quote:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” – Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
We all like to believe in great conspiracies. Boogie-men in suits that are surveilling you all the time and making your life a misery because they love to make you suffer. That’s what public servants are right? Sadists in suits armed with killer red-tape? ‘Cos all business peeps are Trumpites but with better hair and more realistic tans. Sorry to burst your hate bubble for you. There are no magical adults adulting all over the place, pulling the wool over your eyes and running the world. Just a bunch of individuals looking out for themselves and a bunch of people trying to help out others where they can. That’s it really. Government is no different to any other large organisation and it isn’t into ‘bamboozlement’ any more or less than business. Seriously, who need 5 effing blades on a razor? Who needs a god-damn ‘engineered’ toothbrush?
Most people are just trying to get along and do some good things with their time on the earth. But everyone’s idea of what constitutes a good idea is different. Enter stage right: socio-technical theory, analysis tool of choice for our current technical ecology. In reality, the majority of public servants take the ‘servant’ part of public service pretty damn seriously. I say this as an utterly biased public servant for life. Some of us really are committed to all the magic-fairy-dust and equitable-and-open-access-for-all malarkey that came with the business narratives of web 2.0 at the beginning of this course.
Here’s an inconvenient truth; governance is hard. It’s almost unfeasibly complicated. People from all walks of life think they can simplify governance, get themselves elected and then they find out the reality. Government has a lot of complexity that means it’s generally slower than business to adapt to change.
This is usually due to regulatory frameworks set in place to guide decision making, make decisions legally compliant and transparent to auditors and watchdogs. But now, everyone can be a watchdog.
Drivers and inhibitors of social media implementation and adoption are largely the same for governments as they are for the private sector, it’s just that the ramifications of failure are a little scarier. Social media has tremendous potential to provide transparency, accountability, participation and collaboration in government just as it does for business. There has therefore been a concomitant burgeoning of government social media properties just as there was for businesses world wide. There are Facebook pages, groups and identities for political parties to government departments and affiliate agencies.
Social media inevitably cuts people out of the loop at some point. Let’s use an example of a community sub-sector poorly catered for by social media platforms – people who have accessibility issues. ‘Accessibility’ is a catch-all term that contains people who need special software to read out where they are on a webpage to help them navigate around, to people whose infrastructure needs don’t allow access (broadband connection and cost, mobile data access) all the way to literacy poverty, which itself could take the form of dyslexia or other learning difficulties, technology literacy or even general understanding of the message being conveyed. (Plenty of people do not understand how or why local or national governance works, or why and how the banking system is as it is). Businesses don’t often need to think about this – they only need to think as far and as deeply as they predict their market to be. Governments do not have this luxury. Disenfranchising an entire section of the community because you didn’t plan your social media strategy carefully enough is a lot worse for the whole community than missing out on a market.
This is a problem for governments when they target the admittedly huge audiences available to them on social media – it leaves out so, so many it can not afford to leave behind and so the message must be conveyed in other ways too. Social media can therefore never be a massive cost saver, it cannot replace huge chunks of government machinery at a stroke. It is just another tool. Shall I talk about privacy laws versus access to data under open government commitments? Or the cost and impact of security implementation for digital files, archiving and legal compliance? Best not. This is only supposed to be 750 words long.
How about we end on a positive note, eh? Who wants to see an example of a government department getting social media right? Ladies and gentlemen and people of all genders, sexuality, ages and social strata – I give you, the Waikato Civil Defence twitter feed
They get humour. They get personality and authenticity. They manage to be both aloof and authoritative. Their purpose is clear – grow their following so it becomes second nature for people to check in there if there is a disaster or they’re looking for official information. It’s not their only communication channel – it doesn’t replace tsunami sirens, radio broadcasts or other emergency management procedures – it complements them.
So let’s not all be down on the governments trying to implement the best of web 2.0, eh? Chur.