This is just a segue from the research proposal work of the weekend…….

Manuel Castells talks about the fact that institutions will evolve to accomodate new power structures.  I think he’s right – very few institutions are foolish enough not to change and one thing that a universal media age has done is to form institutions in such a way that they are constantly considering how they are percieved by the outside world.  This analysis also supports the idea that institutions will react to social change around them which I also agree with.

The risk with accepting this idea is that it does not encourage you to think deeply about the process of change and, more concerningly, it does assume that these institutions know what changes are needed in order to fit in with a networked society.  My observation when working with Local Government is that very few people within these institutions have a clear idea of how to address the social web and where they need to think about changes to process or to principles.  It is concerning that council’s are currently more likely to block facebook access than to try and figure out what to do with it.

But the big concern is the speed of change online.  Government generally tends to move at a slower pace than the commercial world and this is massively exacerbated when it comes into contact with the internet.  The internet moves in dog years with seven passing online for every one in real time.  Without some fairly bold action from government the internet could evolve past a point where government can catch it up – and then what?  The internet, social websites and mass media are growing in power and influence.  If government wants to have a  part in its own evolution I believe it needs to step up and take part in the debate.

We do live in an information age where change can happen astonishingly quickly.  But I want democracy and government to have a much more active part in shaping how our society functions within this new age.  I find the idea of a culture where the underpinning design principles are those of something like facebook profoundly troubling and I want to see democratic processes and collaborative decision making taking a far more central role in the way in which we build our online spaces.

Without more active involvement from non-commercial interests the social web will be built on foundations which need an ROI to support them.  If we rely on commerce to build our online spaces they will look like shopping centres and not like town halls.