The dilemma of social media

Having debated the pro’s and con’s of social media in government before on this blog, I was pleased to discover, courtesy of Lisa Nelson (GSA New Media Manager) through e-democracy.org,  a new Canadian report entitled “Social Media and Public Sector Policy Dilemmas” by Toby Fyfe and Paul Crookall. The 52 page 2.5 Mb PDF is a very useful addition to the debate, despite being rather too celebratory of the limited success (IMHO) in the UK since it does come up with some conclusions and next steps that are well worth considering.

In the same mail Lisa also publicises a UK report from the Development Research Centre called “Citizenship, Participation and Accountability – So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement” by John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett, which comes in at a healthy 60 pages but only 0.5 Mb.

In parallel, these papers are positive about citizen participation (using whatever media) but recognize such caveats that communications from several thousand citizens do not necessarily mean whole-hearted support but might indicate the presence of a strong lobby group, a not-unknown occurrence in politics. There is, therefore, when employing citzen participation  a need to be clear about the risks and examine the qualitative data, along with the quantitative. One of the arguments for participative democracy being that the politicians carry out the checks and balances and so are less susceptible to the presence of lobbies – if only we could trust that to be the case.

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