The Social Media Revolution Will Hit Government

4 March 2010

A new wave of democratic engagement will be the ultimate legacy of social media

Governments around the world will have to rethink and reinvent themselves from the perspective of the citizen as the direct result of the social media revolution currently taking place. This was the key message in a speech made this week by Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada Emeritus, made on behalf of Open Text, lead sponsor of the Kable ‘Managing Public Sector Information’ event held in London.

“How data is created and maintained, and how it is stored and shared across the various branches of government is set for radical change thanks to the ongoing social media revolution,” he stated.

“Today we are looking at an explosion of digital content – some 32 million books, 100,000 films, 2 million songs, 10 billion web pages and 1 million newspapers and that content is doubling every three months.”

In his speech he made clear that effective collaboration is being held back by issues such as protecting privacy, ongoing silo mentality, the issues of risk and trust and a traditional culture that has surrounded information since the dawn of time – who owns it. In other words human nature.

“But the drive to collaborate is equally strong driven in part by the financial imperatives as a result of the global economic crisis, as well as political demands and the increased need for compliance.”

He went on to add: “Social media is one of the greatest challenges confronting government today. There is an entire generation used to developed patterns of social media use and a higher expectation for integration of mobile social media in day-to-day working life,”

“So this means new ways of participation and collaboration with working colleagues, which cross traditional organisational lines, where trust is no longer associated with risk but based on knowledge and ability. Access to all relevant information past and present from within the organisation or externally is a ‘must’, and this leads us directly to the social media revolution that could rapidly engulf Government unless it responds,” he added.

“I would argue that government is set to be transformed in the information-rich, technology-enabled society. With it will come an end to its hierarchy, its closed walls, expert internal knowledge and vertical information flow and its secrecy,” he continued.

“In its place will come a new horizontal team approach and information flow. Government will engage with experts, lobbyists, trade organisations, and service partners and with that will come continuous discussions and interaction. Policy will therefore evolve and the citizen will become more engaged in the political process. To my mind social media will deliver one of the greatest leaps forward in democratic participation seen yet in our world. Government had better be ready,” he concluded.

Ian has recently accepted a new challenge as founding director of the Stratford Institute, an initiative of the University of Waterloo, Open Text Corporation and many other partners to develop graduate studies and advanced research in digital media. The intent is to bring together the arts disciplines with government, the universities and the private sector to foster innovation and creative use of the new media.

Become a bobsguide member to access the following

1. Unrestricted access to bobsguide
2. Send a proposal request
3. Insights delivered daily to your inbox
4. Career development