Identity


This is the follow up post on the Master of Networks event I wrote about here. The objective of the event was to bring together policy makers and network scientists to examine how network thinking might play a role in the policy making process.  As I am supposed to be editing chapter 3 at the moment I am going to just bullet point some observations and then describe in more detail the session we ran on democratic conversations.

1.  Not all networks are created equal: Networks are being used in very different ways in different academic disciplines and if we are going to do this kind of multi-disciplinary working then we need to be mindful of this. Two areas of tension of this point are firstly in the description of the nature of the connections between nodes. Broadly,  those of us from a more sociological background were keen to understand the types of relationships being described, while the  Economists were more interested in the overall behaviour of the network. And this is the second point of tension; where those from a more quantitative background are looking at the overall properties of a network, putting forward quite rightly that one of the interesting things about networks is that they can survive the removal of a single node the social scientists ‘knew’ that some nodes are more significant than others to the networks nature. Neither answer is ‘right’ but a better appreciation of this might have made a few of the sessions less tense. We were each frustrated by a perceived lack of precision from the others with respect to definition of terms and concepts and a bit of time spent clearing this up would really have helped

2.  Why does this matter? It was clear that policy makers and academics use the term ‘evidence’ in different ways – we knew that already (excellent piece from Martin Reeves on this on the Guardian has week). In using a relatively new evidence base then we need to make sure that policy makers are clear on the methodological considerations and the differences described above. The cautious route – and the one adopted below – is to consider network analysis as a tool for discover and exploration rather than normative measurement.

3.  Multidisciplinary working needs some rules: We perhaps fell between the conference and unconference formats a little too much – I think next time I participate in something like this (and I hope I do – it was great!) then I think that some ground rules need to be established in advance to make sure that basic differences in approaches don’t take up too much time.

 

4.  Was I mansplained? It was unfortunate that the methodological divide I described above broadly fell along gender lines – but the experience really outlined for me the different ways in which men and women work in groups. I don’t want to call gender on this kind of thing as its often not relevant and also doesn’t accurately representative the personal views of any of the individuals participating. However we did seem to get sucked into breaking the group up along gender lines more acutely than I have experienced before and I still can’t work out how we failed to fix that when we all wanted to. I wondered about whether or not to blog this point but as this is essentially my action research diary I wanted to note it as it had a notable effect on the group dynamics and perhaps did lead to us having a fairly polarised qualitative vs quantitative methodological debate than I think we might have done otherwise

5.  Millie Begovic is doing some fascinating things at the UN – recommend you take a look when the presentation is available.

6.  Twitter is not the network – there is a HUGE temptation to do ‘big data’ analysis of behaviour on Twitter because we can. However this is very dangerous when considering democratic questions – and by implication policy making – as we can be fairly sure it is not an audience which is demographically balanced. Just because its easier doesn’t make it representative and if we want to be looking at networks online in this context then we need to develop better approaches.

7.  Big brother may or may not be watching you:  With respect to Social Media we need to be clear on the differences between monitoring and participation and make appropriate judgements about both the research ethics of using content in the public domain in this way and also its validity with respect to informing policy. This was an interesting discussion from both an academic and policy making point of view

Related to both these final points is something which I tweeted and got RT’d a fair amount:

@curiousc: Participatory democracy is not representative democracy but we need representativeness to be participatory to make sure these don’t diverge

And this is perhaps the elephant in the room – talked around and not about – Why are we not turning our representatives into more effective nodes? I have an increasingly urgent feeling that we need to start bringing politicians into these kinds of discussions and the previous model of developing policy and presenting it to policy makers is not fit for purpose in an increasingly agile fast moving context.

Democratic Networks
The session was based on the earlier blog post but also on this initial proposition:

  • We want more participation in our representative democracy
  • There are Policy Makers who are prepared to change their process to achieve this
  • We can find relevant – if informal – civic participation online
  • A network analysis of relevant communities via social media – digital networks – are an appropriate starting point for this

These points all withstood some debate with the most contested being the usefulness of looking at digital as a starting point. This is reflected in where we ended up as we decided to test this point. We then went on to debate these questions:

  • What are the practical difficulties with generating a network analysis across multiple social networks?
  • How can we connect this to offline networks?
  • What do policy makers need to know about ‘nodes’ in order to include them in the process?
  • What do we need about the network as a whole to include it in the process?

It was this discussion (and the one from the preceding day) which highlighted the methodological differences in approach to ‘nodes’ with the social scientists developing the idea of the ‘Doris’ as the person in a community network who everyone knows / is most central. We then talked about the different qualities of ‘Doris’ who might function either as a Gatekeeper or a Connector and might be active or passive within either of those two designations.

This highlighted another distinction in the group between the creation of a participatory process – where the objective was described as seeking to turn collective complaint into collective action – and those looking for an effective information gathering approach.

In both cases it was clearly important to understand the actions of these nodes and not just their connections and our final observation was that there was as yet no generalisable learning with respect to these individuals – we might actively look for a ‘Doris’ but each individual will be unique in their position within that specific network.

When asking policy makers what they felt they needed to know about both the networks as a whole and also specific nodes there were a number of points:

  • It was felt important that we could understand any bias or political values – and this discussion contributed to the point about participation/monitoring above
  • There was a need to establish authenticity – is this a ‘real’ person – however different people have different views on the degree to which this needed to be authenticated. Generally those of us more comfortable online where happy with the idea of identity being a social construct that we could judge though social signals – others wanted to hold identity to a higher standard of evidence
  • This led into a discussion of anonymity with no clear consensus as to whether it was or wasn’t appropriate in a policy making context. The introduction of the Slashdot example was extremely useful in this (thanks Matteo). I can’t find an article on this which isn’t beyond the paywall but the wikipedia article is useful  as is the FAQ page for the site.
  • There was an agreed for an understanding of the reach of messages and discussion as a counter to what was felt as the imperfect feedback offered by the traditional media

This led onto a debate about how we might increase democratic participation and what were almost two opposing views:

  • People will come where you give them feedback and where you are willing to listen
  • We need to go to the places where the discussion is already happening and participate there

This was interesting with respect to different cultural contexts as in the UK the debate has clearly moved to position two and it was useful to realise that this is not universally agreed with (there is a real language tyranny at these things with native speakers having an unfair advantage in debate – apologies to those participants who were frustrated by this).

However there was consensus with respect to an unmet demand from the Public for increased opportunities for participation and a needed for government to increase supply in a way which actually meeting the actual demand rather than a simple increase in volume and efficiency of traditional participation methods.

We then moved on to debate whether there a relevant experiment which we could design to test some of these ideas:

  • How do we create a baseline in order to understand what we mean by ‘increase’?
  • Testing ‘better ‘information’
  • Testing better ‘participation’

We came up with two ideas which we would like to move forward:

Information experiment
We need to do some basic analysis and comparison of some ‘policy relevant’ networks in order to understand what is easily knowable and useful to policy makers. While the underlying tenants discussed here were agree to be useful the policy makers felt that they needed a more concrete sense of what could be demonstrated with respect to information rather than participation.

Participation experiment
Rather than a community engagement experiment (some examples of this here) we decided to look at how network analysis might effect a more formal deliberative tool. We selected Citizen Juries as being something where the selection of participants was important but also where the extent that the experience of the participants was communicated within the community was also of interest (You can read some background on Citizen Juries in this UK Parliament briefing paper). We want to look at three cases:

  • Jury selected on the usual basis of random selection from a pool of volunteers
  • Jury selected based on high levels of centrality based on network analysis
  • Jury selected based on low levels of centrality based on network analysis

In each case the network analysis would look at online and offline networks in a geographical area and we would then track the ‘reach’ of the experience of participants through the network after the event. Our objective is to look at:

  • How do the results of the Jury differ based on selection methods
  • How does the impact of the Jury in the wider population differ based on selection methods.

Volunteers now come forward!!!  Form an orderly queue!

Conclusion
I had a really fascinating and thought provoking couple of days so many thanks to all concerned and particularly to Alberto Cottica who did an outstanding job of bringing a diverse bunch of interesting people together to discuss something that I think will have major significance to government as we acknowledge the social shift towards a more networked society.

I think that these kinds of events are really important.  If one of the effects of a more networked world is the blurring of boundaries between roles and disciplines then we all need to become better at this kind of multi-disciplinary working.  To do this we don’t just need the social media skills (thought their lack in government was repeatedly mentioned) we need to have collaboration skills that make us quick to understand the difference between semantic and fundamental disagreements and the ability to quickly understand the value of a contribution from a field you don’t know anything about in the same way as we can smell out a troll on twitter.  I’ve written about the need for networked leadership before but perhaps we also need to be considering the skills we need for networked collaboration.

Thanks everyone for a fascinating couple of days – comments, disagreements and corrections are all welcome below!

This post is partially a write up of the identity session I curated at #UKGovCamp and partially a framing piece to help take forwards our discussions about how we handle the question of identity within the We Live Here Project and Citizenscape development more generally.

Huge thanks to everyone who participated in the session. The UKGovCamp covered a lot of ground and was fascinating for me – not the least because it challenged one of my working assumptions which had been that the closer we get to actual decision making the more likely it is that we need to know – authoritatively – who is participating. The discussion focused on a discussion of identity in the context of deliberative processes rather than more transactional processes such as voting or ePetitions and really looked at the importance of quality as a measure over quantity. I must note however that I am not making an attempt to define what ‘quality’ means in this context – that is for another day!

Before we talk about democratic debate there are some practical considerations with respect to online debate or community of any kind that we need to surface. The first point is that identity nearly always improves the quality of the debate – you get more considered views when there is some kind of social capital or standing involved in how these views will be received and people undoubtedly behave differently when they are anonymous. At the same time this has to be balanced with the fact that registration / identity creation is a barrier to participation and so you may get fewer people involved. Put crudely it’s a quality vs quantity question.

These are not ‘democratic’ findings but represent the experience of online community designers and practitioners over time – imagine how much harder this stuff might be when the content focus is democratic.

Identity clearly matters however, given that most people who work around engagement and democracy are concerned about how little people do participate, we have to ask if we are we making things unnecessarily hard for ourselves by saying we need to know who people are.

The immediate anxiety about not wanting to create barriers aside, when we consider democratic values rather than the practical problem of how to make it most likely that people will participate there is a need to distinguish between bystanders, stakeholders and citizens at some point because some decisions are made at the ballot box where authenticated identity is an intrinsic element of the experience. The question under debate is what that point is. The UKGC12 discussion explored whether or not we should be interested in the validity of the individual or the quality of the debate – which is more significant? These are not mutually exclusive objectives but as we are designing the user experience there is a need to understand their relative merits and importance.

One of the points that emerged was the importance of making a distinction between a discussion and a deliberative discussion – the latter have greater requirement for understanding of identity that the former. I think it’s interesting to ponder as to how often people know which of these they are participating in.

Identity as social
We discussed whether or not you could examine social and informational signals from content in order to create a level of confidence around the fact that you have the ‘right’ people in the discussion. The general consensus was that this was possible – if you participate in these kinds of discussions in physical meeting then you do develop a sense as to whether or not people are genuinely stakeholders and citizens.

This becomes a very different set of skills online and this fact, combined with the fact that it easier to collect identity information online that in a physical meeting (who brings their gas bill to the village hall??) and the fact that the practical barriers to participation are lower (you don’t need a babysitter and can ‘attend’ from a great distance) means that we perhaps put higher priority and focus on digital identity management compared to the way in which we consider this in offline processes.

One question that designers of these online spaces need to consider is the level of online social sophistication that we assume of our users. Appropriate behaviour for one group may be outlandish to others.  Commercial platforms have the luxury of focusing on the early adopters which is not always open to civic platforms.

In some ways deliberation works better offline than online – the sense of coming together to focus on a debate is easier to achieve in a physical space. Offline debates – formal and informal – are happening all the time even if they are not accessible to a wider audience. However, many people find the meeting setting intimidating and it’s a format which favours experience and confidence. Offline debates break down more barriers that just those of time and place.

I think there is an additional consideration with respect to local democratic participation which is the fact that it is far more difficult to keep your online and offline personas separate when compared to participation at a national level – and this means that most people will be ‘known’ within the debate. The result of this might be that in the medium we term we do need to be more stringent about identity because not doing so would create a lot more distrust in the system with absence of identity being the exception and in no way a norm.

I the many
Identity is more complex online, particularly when it collides with your offline existence. We deliberatively manage multiple, sometimes contradictory, personas and the social norms are shifting with respect to separation between our public and private selves. However with respect to debate this is not a question isolated to the individual. Where we are asking people to participate we also need to understand what the individual needs to know about other participants in order to be comfortable and able to participate.

Discussion is a social experience not a transactional one and that means we need a degree of reciprocity and social sharing to support it. Online we perhaps need to think more actively about the architecture and experience we build in order to support ‘quality’ discussions. With respect to identity, we may not need to know who the person is but we probably do need to know that they really are a persona and also that they have a legitimate voice in the discussion.

To a great extent this debate is happening around government – Google and Facebook are facing off with respect to becoming your primary online identity and so at present we are drifting towards using the dominant model by default rather than actually thinking about the specific needs of democratic discussion and connection.

Who needs to know?
It’s the changing nature of participation and the potential for mass participation which means we need to be more robust about identity that we are in the offline world. In unpicking this subject it is clear that different actors have different needs with respect to identity. As an individual I need to have control over my identity, as a participant I need to feel confident that the other participants are authentic, as an officer I need to be confident that I am seeing an accurate evidence base, but as a politician actually all I need is to feel that my opinion is being usefully informed.

Tom Steinburg nicely described identity with respect to three tiers of authentication; totally invalidated, slightly validated with claims, completely validated. At present we manage no more that the second tier within government (though interestingly there are South American projects which got 3rd tier authentication active in a democratic context).

Officers have the concern about creating an evidence base and for some the debate about identity is actually about asking whether or not it is possible to create a robust set of observations that cannot be rejected by politicians. Officers who are more familiar with the social web might be more comfortable with the second tier of authentication however with respect to deliberation Government perhaps has a greater need for identity management than politicians do.

Conclusion and on-going questions
The final analysis focused on the priority actually being the creation of the opportunity for good quality debate – not just a numbers focus of getting ‘more participation’. In doing this it was actually felt that information makes a bigger impact than identity – both in terms of legitimising an individual’s contribution but also with respect to the overall quality.

My research centres around civic space online and I am still of the view that a digital civic space needs some particular qualities:

  • Publicity- you can’t do democracy in private
  • Identity – you need some certainty that you are dealing with actual citizens and acknowledges the fact that democracy is a social activity
  • Agility – there needs to be some kind of decision making process embedded and it needs to be fit for purpose in a networked world.
  • Curation – there is a need for some kind of management which will ensure that decisions are taken
  • Information – looking forward these civic spaces need to feed off the data of government as a decision support tool – and should also provide context for the outputs of previous decisions.
  • Co-production – this needs to be a shared space though different people can and will have different roles within it – some as representatives

The session at UKGC12 added some nuance to this in terms of the exact nature of identity and has made me reflect more seriously about the information we glean from social signalling online in these shared spaces.

With respect to Citizenscape and the We Live Here sites however we are left with some choices still to make. As we start to establish these civic spaces they are not intended to be destinations for the community conversation – instead they are intended to network the networks and provide a window onto the whole community conversation which means that participants better connected. The distinction between discussion and deliberation is important as we would expect some kind of deliberation to take place in the shared space where supporting discussion would perhaps take place in the supporting network spaces. This leaves us with some dilemmas:

  • We are not trying to create social networks in the sense of Facebook – but we do want to create a social experience.
  • We want to capture identity for deliberative debate but we don’t want this to be a barrier to participation
  • Do we want to facilitate people contributing anonymously at any stage or do we always want to design for tier two with some level of confidence that we know who people are?

We will take these questions forward and start to discuss them with participants over the next few weeks – no doubt I will have more to say about it then!

Thanks again to the #ukgc12 folks

I’m not going to try and comment on what has been happening in London and beyond over the last few nights – I don’t feel qualified apart from to express the outrage and sympathy that so many people thankfully share – I do want to add my view though as I think the wider the debate about the causes and solutions the better.  The first step to a good solution is a good analysis of the problem – and the idea that social media is part of the problem that seems to be the implication from the debate in the Commons yesterday is very flawed – I want to explore that here.

There is no single answer to a situation like this and one of the things that strikes me about the news coverage is the way in which commentators are grasping at ideas in order to try and create some kind of understandable narrative – each expert being convinced that its their field that has the answer but not being able to fit their story neatly on the situation.  I think what is being revealed is a narrative of two completely distinct cultures within the same society.  The point is the fundamental lack of understanding between the two groups – and if you listen to the youth and community  workers who are being interviewed this is the most important point they are trying to get across – we can’t possibly solve anything without a more real understanding of the other group’s position.

If we are going to use the frankly insulting metaphor of a sick society then lets at least use it properly.  These riots have been a symptom and not a cause and medicine moved on from just treating symptoms a 100 years ago – you would hope that politics could reflect a similar modernity.  People need to be punished, symptoms need to be treated, but we also need to change the context and remove the causes.

You always view these events through the lens of your own preoccupations and experience and so hopefully its not surprising that I am looking at this with respect to the networks and the network behaviours that it reflects.  This analysis is one contribution as to how we address the issues that the last few days have revealed.  That’s right – revealed and not created – these issues were there already but have been made unavoidable with the speed and violence with which they erupted.

I think what is needed at this point is not for all of use to speak from our individual perspectives but that different experts and people with real knowledge of real communities can come together and create some solutions that don’t just work well when we say them in the media but work well on the messy, difficult human ground within communities.

Network one of two:  Technology

Its been much quoted in the media that the rioters and looters have been using the Blackberry instant message network – BBM – to communicate and organise.  This is significant because the BBM is a technologically closed space.  The security on the network is excellent and has been built with an assumption of security and privacy which is a marked contrast social media tools like twitter which have a diametrically opposite set of design assumptions.  It was built with enterprise business use in mind – bankers with secrets – and so its designed to keep messages within the audience you send them to.  This has been of major concern to governments in the middle east and you may recall the reports about Saudi Arabia and India wanting some assurances that they could extract messages and intercept messages before Blackberry’s owner RIM got permission to trade there.

Blackberrys have been the dominant handset in the 16-24 demographic for a while now with 96% of 16-24 year olds having a mobile, half of them having a smartphone and 37% of those smartphones users having a Blackberry (Source:  Ofcom 2011 Marketing report).  Overall take up of mobiles is similar in the 25-34 and 35-54 groups but with a lower percentage of smartphones.

There are a number of reasons for this and the main one is probably the fact that the Blackberry was one of the first smartphones to offer a pay as you go option – but its difficult to imagine that  RIM expected this to be the outcome – its an odd brand situation to say the least with the devices being used at the top and the bottom of the market (in terms of spend).  The thing to note however is that its unlikely that, given phone replacement cycles, this will change over the next few years without intervention.  And the implication of those same phone replacement cycles will be that parents and grandparents will then get these handsets handed on.

The fact that these message exchanges are free at point of use means that they are obviously going to be a channel of choice for a young and low income group.  We know this is also a demographic that is less likely to have access to the internet in other ways and so we have to accept that this closed communication circuit may be in place for some time.

Network two of two:  Social

Why does this matter?  Apart from the obvious implications of an anti-social crowd being able to mobilise quickly and secretly which is probably enough of a concern to anyone trying to police increasingly agile crowds of course….lets not forget there is a practical problem here as well and acknowledge this difficulty.

All of the work by practitioners around the use of social media for community engagement- and much of the optimism that many of us feel – is really predicated on the open and collaborative culture of the social web.  Where we talk about the use of mobiles it around the use of mobiles for internet access and SMS.  We know that young people engage with Facebook and other tools from their phones and we see this as a route to engage with them in turn.

The use of BBM explodes this paradigm – the culture is not the same and the network is closed and not open – the optimism that many of us feel with respect to the possibilities of the social web to engage people in constructive and deliberative debate is less founded with this technology.

The strength of weak ties

Cultures will always form sub-cultures and groups need and should have some degree of privacy.  I think the issue here is more that there is no connection with the BBM using younger demographic and a great portion of society.  We really have no idea of how this sub-culture functions online and we have few points of connection to it – to the extent that it was notable that a Guardian journalist actually made any connections at all.

Contrast this with way in which twitter was being used to organise the cleanup and to dispel rumours.  Even when you step out of the cosy intellectual, middle class bubble that many of us live in online there was outrage and anger about the rioting.  We can’t forget about the idiots who posted their loot on their Facebook pages – but we can note that this is also perhaps a cultural stupidity with them being more used to the closed systems of the BBM and text messages.

The problem here is so obviously not the technology – to say so is to take a technological determinist view of the world that ignores the fact that we have been on a path to a more networked society every since the telegraph enabled us to reach across the planet.  You can no more remove the networked behaviour at this point than you can stop people talking on street corners (or are we planning that?).  Yes – shutting down technologies will slow the spread of information – but that means good and bad information.  It would of course make us new friends in the form of all kinds of oppressive regimes who we have been criticising for just these reasons.  The revolution in the middle east has not been tweeted but it has surely been helped (read Gladwell and Shirky on this).

We need a culture of openness and we need to make connections across all of the networks in our society if we are going to build communities to live in that we can trust and feel safe in.  Networks are not the only analysis here but one small way forward could be to consider how we become part, or at least known to, the networks and groups that have been organising violence and looting over the last few nights.

This isn’t an online issue – the technology is not the problem – but the underlying lack of connection between two segments of society which is illuminated by the technology is I think a root cause and could give us an entry point to try and make things better.

This is a write up of a session that I facilitated at the excellent LocalGovCamp yesterday. I wanted to run the session as an extension of some work I am doing around identity that you can read about here – and luckily a bunch of people where also interested in discussing the topic and provided some real insights. As ever its a huge pleasure at these things to talk with knowledgeable and informed people who can challenge your own thinking. No real conclusions but that’s fine – its going to be a while before we can possibility understand what it means to have a digital wrapper around our lives.

The session really focused on two key themes:

  • Can we control our online identity?
  • What are the requirements of identity with respect to civic and democratic participation possible

There were a couple of overarching thoughts however, one was the importance of trust and reputation with respect to being effective online and the other was the need for audiences and organisations to reconcile with the fact that it is perfectly possible for your personal opinions to differ from that of your employer and for you still to be effective in your job. This last point is perhaps the greatest tension resulting from the fact that the different parts of our lives tend to blend into one online.

Who am I anyway?

There was a general agreement that online identity creation is a conscious act with us producing a more polished version of ourselves. However there was also agreement that it is extremely difficult boarding on the impossible to keep personal and professional identities separate online. One participant who is recently redundant talked about the need to consciously clean up and re-manage his online identity to reflect his new state and a number of people in the room agreed that they would need to do the same

The place where this seems to be most difficult is twitter where only one person was successfully managing more than one identity (and no suprises that @reinikainen also may or may not engage in some mischievous trolling as well). Its possibly not surprising – twitter is the most conversational of the social media spaces and for many people the effort of conversing in two different styles was too much bother. Its different to something like blogging where people spend more time considering tone and audience (this is reflected in my survey data so far as well). However the consequence of this was a hastening the the ‘life leak’ that has people answering work queries from personal accounts.

My own view on this that its a reflection of the fact that these tools are not yet mainstream in many organisations and in many cases corporate accounts become the responsibility of a single user. If we had more effective cover and clearer responsibilities then people would not feel so compelled to answer in their own time – but that’s perhaps for debate. This will also be an issue as organisations start to take account of the social capital value of twitter and other networks – but again possibly a 2012 rather than 2011 problem.

Facebook was another environment where people have just one presence but with greater attention to privacy settings – however this is a problem when using Facebook for work purposes. Blogging was seen as a much easier space to control online identity – again echoing what people are telling me in the questionnaire.

Carrie Bishop brought up the excellent point that we also need to think about the ‘secret data’ that organisations such as Amazon, Tesco and even the NHS have on us. At some point we may need to consider what these data sets say about is when we consider that digital wrapper.

Overall the conclusion here is not surprising – we all felt that we need to be more sophisticated in the way in which we manage online identity – the problem perhaps is that we are not yet sure what that means as we need to do so in the context of huge amounts of social change around this issue. As people who are probably already more sophisticated than most about this as a group this probably means that when we train and evangelise about the social web we need to include a section on digital identity and teach awareness of some of the risks as well as the opportunities. There are clearly shifting norms of behaviour around what is acceptable but we still need to be aware that the blending of the different parts of your life online means some that it needs some degree of awareness and active management.

We talked for a while about the important of context and also the way in which we judge the provenance – these are also skills that need teaching as we encourage more people online.

Who are you and why should I listen to you?

We moved on to talk about what this means in a democratic and civic context – what do you need to know about someone in order for them to be an active participant is online debate about local (or national) issues.

The thing I took away from the session (again thanks to an insight from Carrie Bishop) was the fact that debate and decision making need thinking about separately with decision making processes (such as voting) being legitimately anonymous at times where debate and more general participation benefiting from having knowledge of who you are talking to.

The conclusion was that for any kind of decision making, or to support a decision making process, the important fact is that you are able to apply a test of representativeness to the opinions that you are seeing.

There was again a discussion of how, when you live and work within the same local authority of any part of government, you reconcile your citizenship with your professional role. The conclusion here was that we need to see a shift in public (and media) perceptions to accept firstly that people are more than just their job and secondly that organisations are made up of people and not a single faceless entity. This is a peculiarly public sector problem – until we link it to a social capital evaluation of brand and realise that once we are in a social and conversational sphere then we are all the custodians of brand value.

I started the session with a bias towards a need for accountability and transparency around identity – as well as a recognition that this will be a challenge until we have a better cultural understanding of the implications of the ‘publicness’ online. Carrie again brought up an important counter to that position which we formed as follows: How do we allow space and discussion of more extreme positions in an environment where we need to show a polished and perhaps more bland overall self?

Intriguing – its another sense of the word open and also a counter to what can be a tendency to homogeneity online. Can we be open and exploratory with debate online when even our whimsical or transitional views become part of our identity?

Context matters

Identity online is about content – its meritocratic – this means we make conscious decisions about what we create. At the same time we are unguarded in the face of the publicness of the social web and we do not yet understand the consequences of this.

However if we can’t separate our different personas online what we can do is to create an appropriate context for our comments that allow people to see that we are – and we can help to develop context clues that will help readers and viewers form accurate pictures of who we are and what we mean. Who knew the future was all about better emoticons?

I hope this reflects the session for everyone else – very happy to update / correct if people remember it differently or if I have missed something. Thanks to all for their contributions.

PS  Would also be very grateful for more survey responses – if you have a moment…..