Social Media vs. the Public Sector: Irresistible Force, Immovable Object

Social Media vs. the Public Sector: Irresistible Force, Immovable Object

Toby Fyfe (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Paul Crookall (Trent University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0071-3.ch003
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What happens when the forces of social media—collaboration, open information, participation—collide with the entrenched patterns of public sector bureaucracy such as public servant anonymity, information hoarding, risk aversion, privacy, secrecy, and organizational silos? Different public service organizations, subject to the same rules, vary widely in response: from engagement to acceptance to resistance. This chapter provides a selective survey of the literature and some guidance for those who want to fast-track social media in the public sector.
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The Public Sector Opportunity

Social media have great potential as tools for organizational change in the public sector. They can improve collaboration and networking across government, improve citizen input into policy making, increase productivity, and increase transparency. They can also be used to fight budget cuts: In 2010, the Greater Manchester Police Department logged every case it answered over a 24 hour period on Twitter. In response to proposed budget cuts, the experiment’s objective was to raise public awareness of the 3,000 incidents reported. During that period the number of people following the police on Twitter jumped from 3,000 to 17,000. They learned that a significant number of the calls wasted resources, such as multiple 999 calls from kids playing with cell phones. Feedback suggested that followers acquired a greater appreciation of the role that the police were playing in their community.

While social media offer benefits, their use presents multiple challenges to governments, raising issues about the ownership and management of government information, the changing definitions of privacy and security, and how hierarchical government organizations will adapt.

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