This morning a colleague of mine forwarded me Nancy Scola’s Personal Democracy Forum post Are Congressional “New Media” Clubs Missing the Point? In short, Nancy challenges whether Congressional new media caucuses are “simply self-serving clubs dedicated to winning the YouTube-Facebook-Twitter arms race.” (Just perfectly articulated, I think.) If so, she explains, they are missing the point and losing an opportunity. Indeed!
As I’ve said many times before, “Web 2.0 is not about the tools and technologies; it’s about the cultural shift that they are catalyzing.” It sounds like the new Congressional Caucus on Blogging and New Media, and the Republican New Media Caucus that Nancy mentions in her post get this a little bit and should be commended for venturing into this area. However, her point is well taken that there isn’t an Openness and Participation Caucus… right now it’s all about understanding and utilizing the tools and technologies.
Congress’ participation in social media mirrors the phenomenon that I’ve seen over and over again: when individuals or organizations are at the beginning of the Social Media Adoption Curve, they focus on the tools and believe that the Web 2.0 Holy Grail is mastery of these technologies. Once they’ve reached a point of general technology proficiency and comfort, though, they realize that understanding the tools is just a stepping stone and that the path is about communicating and working differently — more collaboratively. Where the path of collaboration takes an individual…a corporation…a government agency…Congress…is for them to create.
I’ve been noticing rumblings atop the Hill. With some terrific early leadership (small “l”) in the Gov 2.0 discourse and grassroots events by early evangelists such as Rob Pierson, Congress is starting up the Curve. Perhaps they’re starting to notice the Gov 2.0 innovation and leadership so prevalent in the Executive Branch (even despite Agencies’ bureaucratic structures).
Congress has the unique challenge of fragmentation: each Congressional office operates as a separate “small business,” for lack of a better analogy. Each Representative and Senator has his/her own budget to allocate as he/she sees fit: more staffers, higher salaries, etc. So, though we lump them all together as “Congress” it’s a bit like thinking of the businesses in a local town as a single entity. The reality is that there are many, many nodes with unique constituents and key issues. Each office is at a different point of awareness, education, participation, relationships and collaboration.
Coming up October 12 & 13 is the inaugural Congress Camp unconference. As one of the organizers of Government 2.0 Campback in March, I, of course, am a biased proponent of unconferences as an ideal way to introduce participation and collaboration to public and private sector organizations and interest groups, by SHOWING — as opposed to telling — them what this whole Web 2.0 (for an ongoing lack of a better term) movement is all about. It is certainly my hope that Congress Camp exposes the Hill to new, more collaborative ways of thinking about citizen engagement.
As Nancy so succinctly states at the end of her post, “An Openness Caucus would be a recognition that, from the public’s perspective, the issue isn’t new media. The issue is new politics, whether it happens through the web or telephone or carrier pigeon.”
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