What role will technology take in building the ‘Big Society’?

February 17th, 2011 by NearInteraction

Over the last week, I have been participating with great interest this topic discussion via the Linkedin group Big Society. It also happens to be, of course, the main topic in our NearLab series of ‘Decoding Participation, Engagement and Interaction with Technology’ workshops happening in London in February.

It was opened with the question, ‘Increasing participation, seeding collaboration, fostering partnership are all concepts and ideas that are prevalent in our current discussions of the ‘Big Society’ ideal. Yet, there has been very little discussion of the role of technology in bringing these to fruition….In my experience, the one thing that can bring about this … is leveraging (yuk) technology… so again, the lack of discussion of technology is puzzling.’

With comments starting at the basics, suggesting backend service design systems, for example, ‘I see technology supporting individual voluntary organisations to make them more efficient – systems in areas such as: cost control, project management, resource evaluation and allocation, virtual office etc. in addition to the usual accounting systems.’ to a fairly similar strain of comment, ‘I think that technology will probably play a fairly limited to be honest. It’s very useful for organising groups, advertising, skills banking and the like but the Big Society will be about people not technology.’

The conversation begins to slowly move forward beyond these primary-thinking ideas, building upon the following statement, ‘Technology still gets seen as a component input into a tinkered with version of the old systems, rather than an enabler for different ways of doing and achieving things.’ and, ‘I think that technology is an essential part of any positive vision of the Big Society, it is a crucial component for (creating) something more, to enable innovative, communal wisdom and activity to overcome intractable social, economic, and political problems.’ and begins to focus on the pro’s of ‘technology’ as represented by the basic elements of a online social media campaign, discussing the design thinking strategy behind one.

‘The first question we have to ask, is how best to create participation within these communities? and then, how to keep them there, and fuel the engagement…’, the most obvious, to rephrase David Barrie, is ‘incentive and reward… a service that both invites curiosity and facilitates altrusim -as we might like to think that people rise up spontaneously in support of a local cause, is there a way in which participation can be rewarded and that reward match the interests, schedules and lives of people, rather than simply call upon the scare resource of goodwill? Consider a rewards system that would address the fact that people want recognition, achievement, personal benefit and early evidence of outcomes in return for getting involved in local affairs…’

I would suggest that we also need to begin to consider how to take the idea of ‘technology’ forward, beyond online social media, (by implementation means an easy interaction design solution…) At the most recent NearLab workshop, Urban Apps: when meaningful ideas connect communities with interactive technology, 3 groups of 5 multi-disciplinary professional practitioners from fields as diverse as urban planning, policy, art, community and advertising R&D worked together with a real life case study of an area in the British Isles that needed urban regeneration to create proposals that included using technology solutions provided by NearInteraction’s portfolio of solutions …(to be continued)

Join us! We will be discussing this and more, in 2 weeks time in a one-day mini-workshop and series of talks in London, 5 March.
Bookings here