It's the people who matter

Steve Dale - who blogs at Dissident - is highly experienced in the field of social media and online communities. He's clearly feeling some frustration with people who think that just installing the right tool or improving their site will help communication flow. In It's not the (social networking) technology - it's the people that matter he writes:

This is getting to sound a bit like my hobby-horse. In response to a query from someone working in local government who wanted to know how they could use social networking sites to engage with their citizens, I felt compelled once again to remind them that technology by itself was not the answer.

I know this is a very contentious thing to say, but you don't need online social networking tools to engage with citizens. You could - for example - talk and listen to them (an ancient craft, dating back several millennia, but rapidly falling into disrepute). I don't want to knock the advantages now available through social networking, which provides enormous opportunities for connecting people we wouldn't otherwise know existed, but let's not lose sight of the fact that technology is an enabler and not in itself a solution. It doesn't necessarily follow that building the best website with all the latest social media widgets will deliver better/more effective engagement with citizens.

The blinding light of Web 2.0 hype seems to be obscuring the fact that the most important aspect in building any community (of interest or practice or whatever) is the people and NOT the technology. Though I do appear to be an increasingly isolated voice on this point. And just in case I'm accused of having Luddite tendencies, I did design and develop the (very successful) Web 2.0 community platform

being used across local government (almost 9000 registered users and growing). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it's continued success is very much a factor of the considerable investment in the people that support and facilitate the communities within it and not the fact that they have access to the latest social media tools. Surely I can't be the only one who thinks this way? I'm deeply troubled if I am :(

I'll invite Steve over and see if he can give us some tips on how best to engage with people and help a community grow

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I am beginning to wonder if 'engagement' isn't a personality type and a certain mindset.  Some people seem prepared to engage to a ridiculous degree and seem to find almost everything fascinating (I include myself) and 'others' who are hardly interested in replying to an email, much less leave comments on other people's blogs (what could possibly be the point of that?)..or write blog posts (what could possibly be the point of that?).

Someone I saw speak recently, talked about the high degree of ADHD being diagnosed in the US at the moment - and raised the idea that kids just weren't allowed to 'lose interest' anymore.

 I agree so much with Steve - it is hard to lose interest in people and easy to lose interest in online brochures.  So it is only the sites which are alive with people that hold any real interest.... 



Re It's the people that matter

David - thanks for the reference to my blog. You're right - I was feeling somewhat frustrated when I wrote this. I attended the Internatioanl eParticipation Symposium the day before, which is probably what tipped me over the edge! We've gone fiull circle since 1995 where every word is again being prefixed with the letter 'e' to denote we're using exciting technolgy (e-Engagement, e-Participation, e-Procurement, etc.). I think Web 2.0 technologies are great, but there's a danger that some pople are losing perspective. Email was exciting 20 years ago, but that didn't improve the public sector's engagement with citizens. The communities we're growing across local authorities are mainly successful because of the human effort that is devoted to supporting and facilitating them. This includes (dare I say it) real-life (not virtual) meetings!

Anyway, only just joined this community , but will be happy to share any experiences.


oh e-no!

Am rather regretting the title of this wiki now, though it is at least just a working title!