Social media to improve public decision-making? Yes and no (and yes)

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: crowdsourcing, Open Government | No Comments »

In his estimable blog, Tim Bonnemann asks “Can Social Media Be Utilized to Involve the Public in Making Better Decisions?”

My first four, increasingly accurate approximations to the right answer:
1. Yes.

2. No, if the underlying question is “Can I get the ‘public participation’ checkbox checked off by turning on a Twitter account?” (Not Tim’s underlying question, of course, but some people will read it this way.)

There is a lot of approach/avoidance ambivalence about social media: people see that one can set up an account or a fan page in an afternoon, but they also glimpse, more dimly, that a lot of work is required to make that useful. (Excel will help you estimate a project budget, but it won’t make the process fun or easy.)

3. No, if the real question is “Can I use social media for public involvement and still stay comfortably in control?” See Obama asking for questions via Google Moderator, only to be forced to discuss marijuana legalization . See Digg and the DVD encryption hack issue.

(Of course, social media processes can be shaped.)

4. Yes, once you understand that social media technology is a small part of the overall effort and you’ve rethought how much or little control you need over the whole process.

Bonus points for recognizing that the technology of social media is only the fourth most important concern, after you’ve identified the specific Public you want to involve, your Objectives in involving them, and your Strategy for doing so.