8 uses for social media in aid work
As a follow up to my previous post “the future of (aid) work is social”, I wanted to elaborate a little on some of the specific areas where social media and social technologies are being or could be applied in development work. I’ve identified 8 different purposes for which these could be used, some of which are widely applied already, and others where there is much less experience but which I believe have tremendous potential.
It’s worth enumerating these since attention is often focussed on a few of these, especially the first three where there is a lot of information and expertise – but the other uses also important and should be considered by aid organizations who are developing their social media strategy. It is also important to think about these uses when developing social media policy in order to ensure that the policy allows and fosters the greatest possible benefit can be made of these.
So here’s my list:
1. External communication – getting the word out about what your organization does:, what are the issues you are working on, why are they important, what are you doing, and what are you achieving.
2. Campaigning – taking it to the next level, raising public awareness and engaging them in taking action about a particular issue whether it be HIV/AIDS, homophobia or child abuse. Many examples of this look at advocacy in the developed world, but there are also notable examples in the developing world too.
3. Fundraising – social media s being used increasingly as a means to raise funds, or as a means to drive people to contribute in more traditional ways.
There are lots of examples of these three uses that are well documented and shared, and there are a large number of consultants, experts and boutique firms (and a few charlatans) that specialize in these, so I don’t have anything intelligent to add to what’s already been said by others on these. They are “bread and butter”.
4. Civic engagement this goes beyond advocacy to engage people to work collaboratively using social media to take action to improve their lives. This is not just mobilizing people to a cause but also facilitating real participation such that the direction taken and actions pursued are the work of the group, not done at the direction of an outside campaigner. Here the role of aid organizations is to empower, provide tools, training and support rather than to persuade and direct. Examples of this are projects such as Map Kibera a community mapping project or Sharek961 (election monitoring in Lebanon).
5. Real time data collection and response in crisis – this is an emerging field which includes some notable examples such as Ushahidi, but which also has been the subject of some controversy. The UN Global Pulse project has been set up to develop ways of doing this effectively – there was a good discussion on this at the recent OpenUN panel during social media week.
6. Knowledge sharing and collaboration – this takes place within organizations and between them. This is the bit I work on. It’s important to note that this collaboration is between individuals within organizations, not between organizations or organizational units themselves. This is what is often referred to in the private sector as Enterprise 2.0 or social business. Doing this requires a combination of development of single agency or cross agency platforms to support communities and networks, and use of public tools such as Twitter and Facebook. There are numerous challenges including cultural change in getting seasoned aid workers to move from e-mail into using these more open and realtime tools. There are also tensions between wanting to keep discussions internal to an organization in order to allow people to talk more freely and be less worried on how what they say reflects on the organization, and the benefits of being more open and being able to tap into the much wider and deeper pool of knowledge beyond the organizational boundaries. The aim of this work is to facilitate aid work by giving people access to data, knowledge, expertise and advice in real time to support them to do their work. This part is often overlooked in social media strategies which concentrate on bringing in money and keeping the message under control.
7. Creating online markets for common production – using social media to connect together people who can work together, or providing ways to share data, ideas, code towards the common good. Examples of this might be support for open source software development, hackathons, open data, open publishing, open innovation. This is, in a way, an extension of the use for knowledge sharing, but much less directed. Here the results of the collaboration are not just the support of existing business processes and priorities but creation of new opportunities and tools which go beyond the contribution or intent of any individual or organizational contributor but create a common good to development that others can later adapt and use.
8. Accountability and beneficiary feedback – this is a really exciting, but also challenging application of social media. Many private companies, and also increasingly governments are using social media to get feedback on the quality and relevance of their offerings, to respond to complaints and to crowdsource ideas about how to improve them. But in the aid business this tends to focus on providing feedback and accountability to donors, or the media and to crowdsource ideas from academia or business startups based in the developed world – probably because that’s where the technology is, and where the money is. But what is good for donors and innovators might not be what is needed or what will work for beneficiaries. To ensure true accountability, as well as increasing the likelihood that projects will be practical and respond to real needs, there is a need to find ways to make our work more accountable in programme countries both to beneficiaries and the local partners we work with. This is an area where experience is limited – but where approaches and lessons from civic engagement and real-time response could be highly useful. This can also be politically challenging as so far the pressures to be accountable to donors are much greater than those to be accountable to those who we are trying to help.
Examples in this area are few – something I plan to research more in the coming months. Do any of you know of any good examples of organizations who do this, or tools and approaches that have been used successfully whether for an organization as a whole, or for specific projects?
I’d be interested to get your feedback on these uses, and whether you think there are any important uses I’ve overlooked.