Social Media for Capacity Building

I’ve never been much of a technologists, but communicating about government reform using network tools has quickly translated into a certain level of thought leadership in gov new-tech circles. However, as a City of San Francisco friend reminded me over lunch today, innovation ≠ technology. My driving interest in Gov 2.0 centers on flattened hierarchies, use of modern tools for a modern government, and adoption of the collaboration mindset of the digital natives who are beginning to pour into government ranks.
My colleague, who runs San Francisco’s Neighborhood Empowerment Network, and I discussed using social media for post-emergency capacity building, or fostering a civil society that can survive and recover from disaster. In the Bay Area, where the next major earthquake will be the defining moment for future administrations and thousands of public employees and neighborhood leaders, the most valuable innovation is around strategies for citizen networks that can survive and rebuild through major disruption.
In the near term, these networks can be used to improve neighborhood cohesion, link volunteers, and tie taxpayers, public employees and elected officials more closely in purpose and vision.
I’m very interested in how social media and grassroots networks like Ning can be used in capacity building. Can the scalability of social media unite and empower civic doers along the traditionally observed 90-9-1 model, putting together key leaders in the hundreds of San Francisco neighborhood groups with more passive community members who are informed and empowered by openness and collaborative processes? Could scores of prominent neighborhood and issue-oriented blogs and static Web sites contribute to such a network, cross-pollinating their local readerships, supplementing and expanding real-world communities through social media? Could elected officials find value in citizen networks that help provide organic solutions and policy direction?
I think so.

~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and co-founder of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast.

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