Digital Transformation

Democracy 2.0: Bringing Innovation and the Social Web to the heart of Governance

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By The Drum Team | Staff Writer

October 10, 2008 | 4 min read

Greig Tosh, managing director of Civic writes about the growth in social media techniques and the lack of credible data that currently exists in Scottish user behaviour.

Such successful engagement relies on a good understanding of the digital landscape, but currently, there is a lack of credible data available about user behaviour across Scotland. There are a number of knowledge gaps in the data that exists. Although 66% of households have internet access, there are interesting variances across the country. For example, uptake in rural areas has been higher than in urban areas, 59% and 52% respectively; even a distance of less than 50 miles can make a difference – with Edinburgh’s social network activity being above the UK average, while Glasgow’s well below the UK average. Social deprivation is the most significant barrier to social networking in this case.

In any democratic society, democracy must flourish and the emergence of digital platforms can be an effective support tool. Democratic engagement is becoming increasingly important and achievable, with the rollout of digital broadcasting, which will pave the way to IPTV, which blurs the traditional lines between television and the web. Although Scotland’s broadband footprint is below the UK average (53%), our television viewing habits are well above the UK average. Also, 30% of internet users in Scotland currently watch TV or videos online, and this statistic is likely to increase, boosted by platforms such as the successful BBC iPlayer. Then there’s mobile. Broadcasters and advertising experts are divided over when and how mobile TV will reach its tipping point, but are united in their agreement that it is the broadcasting medium of tomorrow. Recent research shows that 50% of the ‘tech-savvy’ population, regularly go online while they are watching TV, enabling instant online response to TV ads. Using TV and online combined also delivered up to 50% increase in positive brand perception. So as well as internet use and television viewing, marketers need to consider uptake and use of mobiles. For example, in terms of usage, 17 million people in the UK accessed the internet on their phone last December.

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From a government perspective, communications need to be audience centric, and so, audience profiles and behaviours will need to be better understood for effective digital campaigns and audience engagement. This will particularly be the case with hard-to-reach groups and the litmus test will be when audiences respond and try to engage government, rather than just the other way round. To achieve this, web-based and digital communications must be able to empower audiences, to inform and to engage them and, perhaps most importantly, to be responsive to them and their natural inquisitiveness and information demands. Genuine e-democracy will test this two-way paradigm to the limit, and trust will be crucial, as will innovation and an element of risk taking. This is the potential that social media offers in a democracy. According to Sarah Davidson, Director of Communications, Scottish Government, speaking at the seminar, “Web 2.0 is about encouraging and having genuine, two-way conversations and discussions with the public.”

It is only reasonable to expect large organisations to carefully assess and consider the boundaries of risk and mitigation in this area, and this is to be welcomed, as it can also contribute towards better understanding and standards across the industry.

The government has a real opportunity to facilitate a broader, multi-lateral debate on the potential for digital in Scotland, with broadcasters, with enterprise bodies, with the sector skills industry and with the creative industries. It is timely to hold this national conversation now and the future of our creative digital industries might just depend on it.

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