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Getting ready for Reboot Britain

June 29, 2009

It's only a week away and, at rather short notice, I was asked to take part in the 'The Future of Policy Making' session. 

I've thought of some hooks for this – and I may as well share them in case anyone has ideas to add.

1. Market Research faces certain issues when it gets involved with studying or using Social Media. I'm going to look at some of these, and our responses to them, and then I'm going to examine what the parallels are with something like 'deliberative e-Democracy' or whatever the newer names for this are.

2. One of these issues is the inequality of participation online. A little of this is about access to the channels, but much much more is about personality types and motivation. So let's look at the 1-9-90 of research and the 1-9-90 of policy making on-and-off line.

3. A key element in understanding inequality of participation, and wider issues of 'representativeness', is the crudely worded meta-question… 'who are these people?'. To what extent can we treat every 'input' as having come from a uniform and rational agent, or to what extent must it be contextualised by knowing who it comes from? To be clear, I don't think this is about good old demographics, or even values/lifestyles, any more. I argue it's about personality types, and therefore about what such people will also do in the world, in their lives. I will illustrate this by talking about 'who am I?' and showing how my background contextualises the reception to my presentation.

4. Is about emotion. Market Researchers are becoming more and more at home with, and attuned to exploring, the role of emotion, the subconscious, the group effect, etc in making what might otherwise be isolated as rational judgements and decisions. This goes hand in hand with what Social Media can give us access to – such as images as well as text – or to moments of personal experience. Yet the temptation for 'Social Media Policy Making' will be to make the process more rational, more structured, more prone to cleaning up the evidence. How does this stack up?

5. Is about three modes of 'getting communal' that Market Research has to contemplate… a) creating, and recruiting, artificial social spaces (and 'just for Christmas?') or b) striking up relationships with (and or recruting from) existing online communities, or c) eavesdropping on publicly conducted conversations on the web, often at scale and using automated crawling, harvesting and analysis.

6. Is maybe about the 'short circuit'. I've been thinking about the parallels here, between online adjuncts to policy making, and Market Research. But of course one way that the former can happen is when the policy makers employ Market Researchers to do 'online and social' with citizens in order to inform policy making. The main point I want to make here is that the 'client' in these scenarios is most often an official. Does this create competition with elected representatives and with political activists or pressure groups etc? This is probably a good place to briefly consider whether all this Policy Making stuff is about service design and civic consumerism, or whether it's about governance per se. In short – who sets the original agenda – another question, perhaps surprisingly, that some of our clients are waking up to.

Throughout, just to make it easy, I want to keep glancing across to the practical questions posed for Social Media usability, features, functions, architecture and 'marketing' by all of the above.

And the final afterthought. Crowdsourcing is often part of a recognition that a few people can't get their heads around the definition, status of and solution for some kind of problem. However, most models still (paradoxically?) work on the premise that the crowdsourced wisdom can then be condensed down to 'insights', followed by plans, that a small number of people can get their heads around. Can this be correct/right? What does the alternative look like – i.e. where the application of the 'distributed crowd insight' is also devolved to the crowd, where the elite representatives and officials 'let go'? Is it possible? Does Social Media make it more possible, conceivable or acceptable….? That, to me, seems like a good question to leave with Reboot Britain.

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