Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Government Use of Social Media and the Management of Control

Government Use of Social Media and the Management of Control

By Dennis D. McDonald

Over on GovLoop, David Tallan posted a thoughtful piece titled Barriers to Gov 2.0. Here’s one of his paragraphs:

Part of the whole Gov 2.0 movement is a push to greater and greater transparency. With this greater transparency comes greater accountability. Ultimately, I fear, the more successful we are in our push for greater transparency and accountability (good things!) the harder it may be to get people to give up control.

The use of social media and social networking technologies in government is increasing, both as a way to make more government process information openly available, but also as a way to involve more people in government processes. As Tallan points out, though, there is still a great deal of concern about “loss of control.”

This is a complex topic. Here’s how I responded to Tallan’s piece:

Some resistance to social media is based on a lack of understanding, some is based on a fear of loss of control, and some resistance makes perfect sense. Regarding the latter, there are some transactions where concepts of collaboration and community are inappropriate or irrelevant. It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

In the private sector, some people approach using social media as a way to increase involvement of customers in the process of developing and delivering products and services. They are willing to modify traditional forms of control by adopting more open and collaborative methods. Other private sector companies approach social media primarily as another way to advertise and broadcast commercial messages that will ultimately impact the buying decision without really any consideration given to increasing openness or transparency.

An interesting thing about social media and social networking is that they can be support either view of customer or user transactions and decision-making. Depending on one’s business goals, either approach can be valid.

I don’t see the situation being any different with how the Federal government manages programs and interacts with its different interest groups. Some programs benefit from processes being made more open and collaborative, others don’t. A major challenge is understanding the difference, since there is always “… more than one way to skin a cat.” But the distinction is one that should be made based on knowledge and understanding, not on ignorance or fear.

What do you think? Please post your comment below.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald

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