I have just been to the Social Media Club / Gov2Gov event hosted by the Canadian High Commission
Its purpose was “to bring together leaders from the Canadian High Commission in London, UK Central Government, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the United States Department of State with Social Media leaders to discuss the changing nature of civic engagement and the relationships between citizens and their government.”
I took three things from it.
First, it was a very geeky event, which in some ways was a shame. Not because there is anything wrong with geeks, but the fact that it is still only geeks talking about this thing is slightly disappointing. As Clay Shirky has said – it is only when things becoming technically boring that they become socially interesting. Hence the discussion was perhaps a little too focused on detail and practice with not enough attention (for my liking) on the bigger picture stuff.
Second, and perhaps linked to the above, all of the conversation seemed to be based on a single, and in my view, misplaced assumption. This assumption was that the relevance of social media to government lies in the ways it could help government reach out and engage with The People, or allow The People to engage with government. Admirable stuff, but the idea was not really entertained that ultimately the effect of social media is that people will stop engaging with government, because they have worked out better ways to do amongst themselves what government used to do for them.
Social media is a de-institutionalising and disintermediating force. It gets rid of institutionalised functions. This is the lesson from every sector it has touched. In music it has got rid of the music business (and the creation and sharing of music has flourished). In news it is getting rid of the news business (and the creation and sharing of information is flourishing). In government, logically therefore, it will get rid of the government business.
Now, clearly some elements of centralised, institutionalised government will always be necessary. Therefore, should not the debate at these events focus on what that bits these should be and how to organise an orderly transference of power (and possibly maintenance of stewardship) in those areas where people can do it better for themselves?
The idea that bits of government could become irrelevant is clearly an idea too challenging for those in government and a concept too social for most geeks to see as interesting.
Third – and perhaps more interesting for the future #g2g process – the most stimulating part of the evening for me was the conversations I had after the formal session once the ‘grandstanding’ inherent in these events – especially the ‘grandstanding on steriods’ facilitated by a twitter wall of Twitterfall – is put to one side. This hints at the importance of creating a defined digital space to continue this debate rather than just off(ish)-line places for discussion.