A response to Douglas Alexander on the new media

There are lots of people thinking about social media. How can we make it work better, how can we make it become the tool that we need it to be. It is a big issue with those who know about it, and we would like to think it can spread further, to some of those who currently don’t know and don’t care.

There are two points from Douglas Alexander’s article that I would like to pick up on. Firstly:

The Obama campaign showed that politicians no longer own politics.

I believe that we have to really accept this. It is hard for people who have been involved in politics for years to deal with the idea that there are so many people who have switched off. People who don’t take the trouble of forming opinions, because they believe they can have no hope of influence.

This may have been just about OK when problems were trickling in, it is not OK when the problems come in floods. Working out the priorities and planning how to do the things that need to be done needs to be happening everywhere, from the ground up in every town. That is only going to happen if we can find the ways to engage with people who “don’t do politics”.

My own belief is that the new media does offer us some real hope of getting there. When I go into Twitter I feel surrounded by young energetic creative people, across the world who are buzzing with good ideas. – sharing without barriers ideas about new technologies, new social structures and much more. I also see the speed with which ideas are picked up and spread across the world. If you are not there you miss that. By being there, making the effort of listening and tuning in, we can make it clear that their ideas are wanted and welcome, and help to find the channels for those that can make a difference.

I have also seen a number of instances where the new technology is being used with some effect to bring communities closer together.

Secondly: Douglas Alexander is calling upon us

“to go further. To capitalise on this opportunity, we need to drive through a cultural change in the way government and the civil service operates – we need to listen more, become more transparent and be more responsive to feedback.”

The cultural change is probably beyond my reach, all I can do is encourage it to happen. So at the moment I am simply concentrating on seeing what we need in the way of tools to engage with people.

At present I keep finding wonderful little bits of software, and thinking – that’s great we need that! There are dangers in getting too complicated or too smart. Perhaps the major thing is to try and keep it simple and clear enough for people to follow, so this is my short shopping list.

We need easy ways for people to find good quality information about issues, so that they are able to develop well informed opinions.
We need a clear one stop shop for people to find out what issues are being considered, what consulations are taking place and how they can contribute to them
We need politicians to be present in the new media, listening to what people have to say, and inviting people to take a view.
we need people to feel that there is some point in expressing a view, that someone is listening.

At a town level, we need comprehensive hubs. The place that people will go to find out anything about the town, for what’s on to how to get a street light fixed. If you have an effective hub at this level it is then possible to add in a place where you can give the stories behind the news, start to bring people together on projects, raise the issues, have your forums and blogs and twitter exchanges.

I am not a technician, but I am aware that there is more and more stuff out there that makes all this possible. If we can just make them happen on a widespread basis there is the possibility of beginning involve those who “don’t do politics”.

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