Reflections on what might have been
Did you get very wet this weekend? I stayed in and did stuff, however, it was an opportunity to catch up with this and that. I took time out to go Euro and spent some time on the ePractice site. The view of eInclusion is very different 20 miles over the channel and beyond. I’m not sure what inspired me – probably the lack of articles about social capital and communities and real people – so I penned a few words, borrowing from things I’d already done and posted it.
For the record it got 75 reads, one vote and 3/5 – but no comments.
Then, to my surprise it came back to haunt me in my RSS feeds as an article in e-Gov Monitor. So, I thought I would share for the record. You can read the actual article or you can read it below, for what it’s worth. As a point of interest I think I might add in some other Euro bits that I’ve come accross to see what people think.
Social Capital and Innovation in Public Service Delivery
By Paul Nash
Published Monday, 8 June, 2009 – 22:02
Some people would say I’m sure, that ideas about Social Capital have never gone away. Personally, I think that Social Capital has been unfashionable for a while now in the face of big projects and big initiatives at a national level.
So what has changed? Well, I think it’s because Empowerment is on the agenda. There is a desire to see re-engagement of communities in the political process and in decision making at the local level. E-inclusion has a role to play in that.
There will, no doubt, be a cynical few who point out that all you need to do is to have a political scandal at the highest level to get people engaged –well perhaps that’s right – but what we need is a sustained engagement. We all know that public services are in for hard times over the coming years and as a consequence local communities will have to take an increasing responsibility for the services that they receive. Communities will need to decide what is important, what they will pay for and what they can deliver for themselves and if the whole community is to be involved in decision making then they must feel empowered to do that. That will involve a considerable investment in Social Capital building at the local level.
There is a focus on how ICTs can deliver public services to create efficiencies and to benefit society. There is a case for thinking about the design of services to meet the needs of individuals. We have reached the point where we have to face up to the “too-hard-to-do” pile and to think about the 29% of citizens who are disengaged and are also e-excluded, these are sometimes our biggest consumers of public services, people whose lives are most chaotic and are therefore, potentially, our greatest beneficiaries. Given the need for whole communities to be involved in the process of decisions about public services in the locality the 29% are also the people who potentially will be disempowered. There is a holy trinity of service design which involves the public sector, the third sector and empowered communities and there is a role for ICTs and e-inclusion in bringing the trinity together and building Social Capital.
Within a community there are individuals who are accepted as being “in the know” either because of their social standing or because of some function they perform either as an employee or as a volunteer. The person(s) at the centre function as brokers in a social network by providing the connections between the client, the service provider and the location for a service transaction to take place. These are Clay Shirky’s “connectors”.
What we’re looking to do is to support the development of appropriate social capital. I say appropriate because social capital can, in the wrong hands, simply reinforce the status quo, and make people happy with their lot to the benefit of the hierarchy. This is the bridging capital between communities and between sections of a community and the linking capital that brings individuals together in support of each other. Thinking about this led me to dig out a think piece by John Field who was, at the time (2006), Deputy Principal of the University of Stirling, called “Social Networks, Innovation and Learning: Can Policies for Social Capital Promote both Economic Dynamism and Social Justice?” It attempts to look at where innovation arises from social capital which in turn arises from learning communities and how this might be different, or similar, to innovation in a knowledge driven economy. This is the social capital of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” where the power of the group can achieve things that the single person cannot and the “We Think” of Charles Leadbeater where innovation arises from participation of users in the development process – small pebbles looking outwards. I’ve recently revisited Eric Von Hippel’s piece “Democratizing Innovation”. This was written in 2005 but still holds true today. Hippel attempts to look not only at how collaborative approaches lead to better innovation but also how innovation arising from social capital can cross over into the commercial world – a more holistic view of a knowledge society. There is a very good 15 minute video where he goes through this on the Nesta site.
The Vienna Study on “Inclusive Innovation for Growth and Cohesion: Modelling and demonstrating the impact of eInclusion” also reflects on the importance of innovation through what it calls The I2 paradigm “Inclusive technological Innovation and Innovative Inclusive policies…” and puts this into the wider context of “broad based growth”
“the idea that ‘broad based growth’ is the only way to real and solid prosperity is now much more widely accepted. The expression ‘broad-based growth’ resonates in many of the writings and speeches of new US President Barack Obama, where it is often associated also to the need of increasing digital inclusion in society. Including more individuals is no longer exclusively seen as a moral imperative, a remedial policy, or a matter of showing the ‘charitable face’ of market economies, rather it is pragmatically recognised as being an economic opportunity tightly connected to sustainable and durable economic growth”
There is, then, within the realms of broad based growth, a strong link between social capital and innovation. This arises from the empowerment of individuals within communities by providing them with the tools not only for accessing information and for accessing services but also for self expression, for contributing to a community voice and building social capital.
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