Feb 14, 2009

2009 update - Community Social Capital - Web 2.0

As a WCC Councillor, I met many people who contributed to our community in various ways, such as sports, service clubs, scouts, guides etc. Three interesting people whom I met who contributed differently, were Brian Martin and Stephen Hill from UOW, as well as Les Robinson. Today such contributions are recognised as contributing to a community's social capital.

About 20 years ago activists saw the potential for communities facing crises to utilise the then expensive computer technologies. Schweik Action formed in Wollongong, in 1986, to promote nonviolent responses to aggression and repression. Members, such as Brian Martin, saw a role for ICT, but recognised its then limitations. Although social tools, such as Web 2.0, hadn't emerged at that stage. His later work in 2000 reviews the late 1990's application of the use of Web 1.0 technologies - internet and global email networks with the MAI. Interestingly to date there does not appear to have been a similar large scale interconnected global network formed in the wake of the current Global Financial Crisis.

Later, crisis events such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans generated highly emotive community civil society collapsing stories. However in July 2008 Wikinomics reported that Web 2.0 Social Networking tools were used by citizens, to ensure that rebuilding of their city was done in ways that made sense. Gurus such as Alan Gutierrez ran crash courses in social networking. They used tools such as Flickr, WordPress, Yahoo Groups, and Google Maps to prioritise rebuilding, ie occurred in the right areas soonest. Governments do not always have the right knowledge at hand in such crises to get the prioritisation right. In fact this was recognised in the 1980's, when the concepts of community empowerment & development were being explored. Gartner also observed similar community use of social networking with Hurricane Gustav .. "For example, as Gustav approached, Ning created a hosted wiki. Within 24 hours, volunteers copied useful emergency management information, such as links and feeds from Katrina Web sites, and updated them. These citizens also provided neighborhood and regional updates."

Professor Stephen Hill, former Jakarta-based UNESCO Director, made similar observations of respecting locals' needs in rebuilding Bandar Aceh, Indonesia after the 2004 Tsunami. Huge international aid was unleashed. Despite locals being traumatized, their input was necessary , to ensure the aid efforts were not focused on solutions irrelevant to the local context. Looking to the future, electronic communications - initially radio, but also ICT are considered vital for future tsunami type catastrophes.

And as reported in Geoff Brown's yes!andspace blog, even prior to the tragic February 2009 Victorian Bushfires, an enthusiastic volunteer has directed the Victorian Country Fire Authority's Incident Summary RSS's feeds to a Twitterfeed - saving Bandwidth for the CFA's website. Others are retweeting the message, to provide an even wider contact list. It seems like the 21st Century version of the "phone tree" approach, which communities have used for years to get out urgent messages. The enthusiastic volunteer is hoping that the CFA will set up their own Twitterfeed. There have been suggestions of using phone systems to spread emergency warning messages. Twitterfeed via mobile phones might be one way to spread disaster alert messages as more people become users.

According to Les Robinson, of Social Change Media, it is not just technology that counts in social capital. Les sees the important role of social entrepreneurs in change process- refer his 7 Doors Model & social marketing. He comments on the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, which treats change as a wave passing through society. An example would be changed community perceptions of Climate Change & Global Warming, which former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard failed to recognise. In the wake of the 2008 global economic meltdown and the renewed thoughts of increased governance, Wikinomics February 2009 Blog postings suggesting how communities can use Web 2.0 to engage in participatory regulation echoes the earlier views of Brian Martin and Les Robinson.

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