New Hansard Society report on participatory media

I didn’t see an awful lot of coverage of the report issued by the Hansard Society last week, on consultation and campaigning in the age of participatory media. It’s a free PDF download of 30-odd pages, which ‘explains key technological, political and social trends, highlights current innovative practice in the use of ICTs and discusses both risks and opportunities for the third sector.’

You might expect to get a list of cooool things like podcasts and wikis, with a lot of talk about better stakeholder engagement and disintermediation. And indeed you do:

Of the technologies now available, it is perhaps blogs that offer the best potential. Where websites provide an information source, blogs now also provide commenting features that enable visitors to compose their own statements of support for a campaign, rather than passively signing up to a prescripted statement. Many bloggers have their own sites: bloggers linking to or supporting the campaign websites of bigger, less-trusted institutions might lend a credibility and authenticity that is difficult to get in other ways. In addition, a web of linkages helps build the campaign’s network traffic and exposure.

But to their great credit, the authors strike a welcome note of realism:

Where voluntary and community organisations seek to use such tools, there clearly needs to be a readiness to accept the cultural changes they bring. The strategic application of such tools necessitates that they are integrated into ways and means of working, rather than simply bolted onto organisations as a way of communicating with younger or more media-savvy supporters. The emphasis on participation and dialogue will, in turn, have implications for transparency and accountability.

It would be easy to conclude that the seemingly revolutionary characteristics of participatory media will reconnect politicians with the public, or that they will increasingly engage an often cynical, disenchanted electorate. In themselves they will not; moreover, if the new technologies simply repeat the old mistakes of consultation and dialogue with decision-makers, they will harden and reinforce disaffection.

Well worth a read, even if you think you’ve heard all this stuff before.

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