Scottish broadcaster says public services could be transformed by embracing social media

By Hamish Mackay

January 4, 2012 | 4 min read

Leading Scottish broadcaster and journalist, Lesley Riddoch, has called for 2012 to be the year Scotland’s management class transforms services by embracing social media.

In her weekly column in The Scotsman, Riddoch admits she “can feel curiosity levels and hackles rising instantly – in equal measure” but asserts “Yet not a single ‘top priority’ problem can be solved without a radically new approach to the potential for mass collaboration and personalisation of service offered by the internet and social media.”

Riddoch points out:”Already, the way we search for travel information has changed. It’s no longer a one-way street where authorities give and the public passively receives – it’s a collaborative effort based on our innate impulse to share and the rational belief that people on the spot probably know some things better than official websites updated last week.

“Imagine if all mobile phone users agreed to tweet urgent travel updates about accidents, ice, floods and snow using a hashtag formula like #A9accident.

“We could all have innovation, collaboration and better information free – overnight. If we all used twitter. If some body like the government decided to lead the way.”

However, says Riddoch, the area for revolutionary improvement is health.

“A country with bad housing, low educational attainment and poor social engagement will have upwardly-spiralling health costs. Awareness of that inter-relationship has prompted the creation of professional umbrella groups, departmental reorganisations and billboard poster campaigns. “Why hasn’t it prompted direct collaboration with the public?”

She cites the website which makes money through large online patient user groups who post regular updates on their condition, symptoms and treatments and suggest new research areas.

“Yes, this site is run by a private, profit-making company based in the US. It could just as easily be run by NHS Fife.

“The challenge posed by online communities like these is simple. If findings like these are useful and reliable how much more might we know if first-hand experience on health, educational, transport and social problems was carefully gathered by the public bodies we finance to run Scotland?

“The obstacles to expanding collaborative knowledge are not technical – they are human. Elitists judge the value of information by the social status, age (and usually gender) of its source.

“So do we believe five million equally motivated heads must be better than one? The problem now is not so much the elitist boss as the unplayful one – the manager who believes there must be an inverse relationship between fun and knowledge, the educationist who talks about outdoor play for kids and then finds all sorts of “caring” reasons why it can’t be done. The worried few who rarely use their full holiday entitlement.

“This group presents a serious obstacle to the empowerment of society in part because they don’t know who they are. I do. They are overly earnest people like me – on a bad day.

“They are the folk running grim, non-interactive government and health service websites. They are professionals who think the ‘communication’ box is ticked by leaving piles of leaflets in libraries.

“They are the worried managers whose own children could make more amusing, accessible videos on every aspect of public information – how to change bicycle tyres, bake bread, fill in “complicated” STV voting forms or remember your physiotherapy exercises.

“We need a new outlook that presumes well-mediated online public user groups produce wisdom not gossip.

“The ‘wilful failure to share vital data’ must become as serious a professional and academic offence as breaching patient confidentiality.

“What’s the upside of all this for Scotland? Just as the best players don’t necessarily make the best managers, digital natives don’t necessarily devise the best social media platforms for the general public. “Digital doubters are needed to “proof” every plan – and we have them in spades. The much-viewed Hurricane Bawbag and Big Man videos also prove the Scots capacity to find world-sharing moments of humour in everyday situations.

“Connect that popular creativity and un-tapped public expertise with IT wizardry and professional excellence in most of the areas that pull Scotland down and Scots could make the world of collaborative problem-solving our own.”


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