Conversation starters on social action

David Wilcox's picture
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Hannah Beardon recently challenged us to focus some of our discussion on people, power and how technology makes a difference ... rather than just talking about tools:

"So my question for the group is... are we here to experiment, develop, share and find appropriate tools for social activists; or are we also a group willing to think and talk about how choices are made, how the control and use of technology can be made more accesible and equal, how people with technological expertise can work in synergy with other processes, so that collaboration and networking of our knowledge and skills can happen in a way that transforms power and society? If so, then perhaps we need to take a step back and change the nature of our discussions, or at least integrate a new thread into the heart of our work?"

That gave me a nudge to dig back into my blog on Designing for Civil Society to see what might be useful conversation starters, and I found this, appropriately enough, in a Post about Participation as culture not tools ... though new ones help . The focus is on participation, and it would be interested to reframe more directly on social action.

  • Successful participation is more about developing a culture, than using a set of tools. That applies to democracy, workplace collaboration, citizen engagement in public programmes, user-involvement in product and service design, and anything where doing things together is important.
  • The main barriers to effective participation lie both in personal attitudes and institutions, and mainly revolve around desires for power and control. The institutional barriers are embedded in hierarchical systems, the personal ones in beliefs that we only succeed by competing. Changing these and getting things done is doubly challenging.
  • After several decades of policy consensus on the importance of greater participation, accompanied by hundreds of toolkits and scores of organisations promoting the idea, it doesn't feel as if we are much more participative on many fronts. Participation is more often an exercise in ticking boxes for tools used, than making cultural change.
  • The social web and social media are profoundly important because they enable individuals to mix greater collaboration (we) with higher personal profile and influence (me). This immerses people in a new type of participative culture, with attitudes, tools and behaviours to match.
  • The inter-mix of we and me in the new social web is shifting organising models from groups and hierarchies towards networks, within which teams, groups, organisations will continue to operate. However, to be successful they will have to be more participative because citizens and consumers won't stand for the old ways.
  • Participation is not always the answer. Good leadership involves knowing when to enlist and direct, when to facilitate and support ... and how to mix them all.

Here's some other posts that I tagged under the Engagement category on my blog. There's lots on Web 2.0 under socialtech.

E-Consultation and E-Democracy guides
Steven Clift links to Local Council e-Consultation Guide (Australia) and E-Democracy in Bristol (UK) that give details of techniques and processes.

How can MPs best spend £10,000 on communications with their constituents
Report of a discussion, with links to earlier pieces.

How far people engage online
Ross Mayfield on different levels of engagement online

MySpace or YouSpace: which is more involving?
Report of seminar on social media and engagement

Voter apathy? Try TheirSpaces
Report of Hansard Society event on politicans using social media

How to design engagement
A new handbook and online guide to designing engagement processes

Evaluating participation, amidst political realities
Guide to evaluation of public engagement from Involve.

Digital dialogues report offers guidance for online engagement
Report from Hansard Society

Steward, bring me another web tool please
The role technology stewards in online communities

Local activists - take to your blogs
How activists are using blogs in their community in Lewisham

Participation culture
Do activists and techies mean the same thing

Participation as culture not tools
Why web 2.0 is important in changing culture and power relationships

Relationship-based engagement ... obviously
Presentation at a seminar on engagement and online tools

Web 2.0, participation and e-democracy
Links to a book chapter on these issues by Lee Bryant and David Wilcox

Paula Graham's picture

Thanks David!

Very very useful indeed! I'll start chewing through and get back back to you when I catch up a bit . . .

Paula Graham's picture

Can we start structuring this?

Now that we can create content at will, maybe we should create a project area for this which can be structured by some kind of non-linear nav as we go along? I hate having to scroll miles down blogs to find stuff?

David Wilcox's picture


Here's how I've done stuff on a wiki

Books in Drupal aren't great ...

Anthing else?

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