Social Media & Governance - Crowdsourcing Can Help

Social Media & Governance - Crowdsourcing Can Help

Marcia Forbes PhD

September 20, 2011

Written by Marcia Forbes, Ph.D.

When The University of the West Indies, Department of Government asked me to lecture technocrats on social media and governance I thought, “Hmmnnn, does it mean they’re getting it?  Do they now realize that social media isn’t about to disappear and can actually serve useful purposes?”  Technology take-up lags even when use of that technology has proven benefits. 

My one year as a Permanent Secretary in the public sector gave first-hand knowledge of the plethora of work-in-progress policies.  Public consultation is an integral aspect of the process of policy formulation.  So, in preparing to talk with the technocrats I decided to poll my Twitter followers regarding social media and governance.  This technique is called crowdsourcing.  While crowdsourcing via social networks should not replace face to face consultations, using this approach to engage and involve citizens in policy decisions has merit.

As the conversation got going after the first tweet, my question was subtly modified from what those who govern should know about social media to how this technology could be used to improve how they serve the people and later to specifically mention my lecture.  Use of the hashtags (# signs) was intended to widen the conversation to include technocrats and those involved in social media outside of my base of followers.  While they did not join in, during that Twitter conversation I noticed new followers from the Philippines, UK and USA whose Twitter profiles indicated their interest in social media.

1st Tweet - “What should those who govern us know about social media?” (addressed to six followers to get the conversation going, priming the pump as it were).

2nd Tweet  -  “Polling your views re what those who govern should know about social media. Plz share your opinion on this. Thanks.” (open to all followers)

Later Tweet – “Polling views re how those who govern could use social media to better serve the governed. Your views plz.”

Later Tweet “Giving lecture to senior #technocrats. Polling views re HOW they can use #socialmediato improve governance. Your views appreciated.” (In attempt at full disclosure I always try to give my reasons for crowdsourcing and later to share the ‘findings’).

This crowdsourcing activity generated responses from twenty one (21 persons).  All, except one, responded within about an hour.  Some persons posted several tweets.  Here are some of the responses with the twitter handle of those who posted.

@ToniToneTonz“it can be revolutionary and if they refuse to engage, they will soon face more probs than they already av”

@ToniToneTonz“eg.Twitter tho smaller,has a core of concentrated active users who if they make decision to start something can b influential”

@yaadinfo “Know ONE thing - don't come thinking u can push ur stories/agendas. These are 2-way fora. Come prepared to listen/adapt.” (note how this tweet taken out of the context of my invitation to yaadinfo for comment could quite easily be misconstrued).

@Miikeyology “monitoring & analytics can help Gov to make faster & more informed decisions”

@Miikeyology “which leads to cost savings & better deployment of resources throughout the country”

@stannyha “Mixed views on this. A huge dwnside? Instant gratification we get frm Tw, FB, instnt msgs etc is non-trnsfrbl 2 rl life (cntd)

@stannyha “We want gvrnmt 2 solve issues immdtly after we raise it on FB & Tw. The + side? (cntd)

@stannyha “Hpflly scl media can prssre govt 2 turn eg a 12 mnth reform process into 8 mnths….” 

@drewonline “actually they really need to know how to disseminate critical information tailored to the individual needs to citizens”

@utenjm “can also use sm to get views on policies and drum up votes for elections etc”

@utenjm  “if govt doesn't listen to sm though it won't enhance anything ….”

@estherbeck “socialmedia could be a good move to maintain transparency through timely and thorough communication”

@therealnickmack “They need to know it's an incredibly versatile tool that can be used to glean info abt REAL issues, and not politicians'.”

@sajclarke “As a means for updating the public regularly and also responding quickly to the public's concerns”

@dalveyG “social media is a useful tool for MP's to use in their constituencies to determine needs and get project feedback”

@allanpollock “Re Gov & Socmed a good socmed progrm includes a good public ed progrm whch is wy open data/info is so imprtant.”

@girlfrombim “def c scope 4 it. Esp. in disaster preparedness &/response. But doubt the powers that b even vaguely understand the potential.”

@doyenwilliams “SM is way too focused on personalities and the personification of brands for J'can govt at this point for it to be healthy IMO” (IMO –in my opinion).

Too often youths are criticized for not showing interest in governance issues. A part of this has to do with how we engage them. Meeting them where they hang is important. Many of our most educated and vocal youths hang on Twitter.  One tweep, @Theblaquewidow, went as far as to email me the link to a September 7, 2011 article, White House Creates Crowdsourcing Site.  Without her kind response I’d have missed this.

The US government’s crowdsourcing site allows ‘Americans’ to petition their government directly.  As Dietrich who wrote the article noted, “You share your petition on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, your blog, etc., and get other people to sign it. When 5,000 signatures are acquired (has to be within 30 days), White House staff will review it, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.”  One online comment on the article was that election was in the air and this was a cheap political ploy by President Obama.  Jamaica too has elections looming.  Watch out for a deluge of politicians and their supporters on social media sites.