Very good piece by Emer Coleman on the GDS blog. Sometimes, she says, social media’s results aren’t measurable, and we should just accept that it has softer benefits (or is, increasingly, an indispensable route for communications).
It’s an argument I’ve often contemplated in relation to democratic engagement as well – is it not just morally right to provide democratic information and discussion opportunities? Shouldn’t we think that people having access to information is as important as people voting? Isn’t the provision of the democratic space enough to satisfy the requirement for participation, even if it isn’t well-used?
I think it isn’t (though it would make my life easier if it were).
Sometimes, as with a focus group or a technical consultation, a small intense engagement is what you want – but democracy is ultimately a set of trade-offs made by society or its representatives, and broad participation rather than passive acceptance is what we need. I take a civic republican view that says that the citizen’s participation in a decision is as important as the correctness of that decision – and that means, I think, that democracy has to measure even if social media doesn’t.
The act of engaging in the social sphere shifts the dynamic in other ways. Even where there is disagreement about a particular government policy or decision, being visible and taking part in dialogue builds trust in our ability to at least have a robust conversation.
In my experience, (trolling aside) most people have a strong sense of fair play. Though they may never agree with you they do respect you for stepping out of the shadows and making yourself visible to them. That’s really important in building trust with our users, something we hold dear at GDS. […] There’s still a lot of work to be done in showing people how engaging with social can yield substantial benefits, even though they can’t always result in traditional metrics. We are not yet in a space where reporting can become standardised (if it ever can). Not everyone is on the same page, and that’s something we need to acknowledge in a future iteration of our social media guidance.