Headlines: October 1st, 2007

The public sector needs to do more to break down the barriers that prevent creativity and innovation from taking place. More should be done to explore the benefits of social computing. This was the message delivered by leading academics and experts at a major public sector conference in Leeds.

Delegates heard that there is still a long way to go before the public sector achieves parity with the private sector in ICT innovation, but some local councils are out in front, particularly in developing social computing. Euan Semple, former Head of Knowledge Management at the BBC said: “The feeling within the public sector is often that it will be difficult, time consuming and costly to implement social computing when in fact used in the right way it can help to create efficiencies and improve lives.”

Social computing has become more widely known because of its relationship to a number of recent trends. These include the growing popularity of social software, increased academic interest in social network analysis and a growing conviction that all of this can have a profound impact on daily life.

In the digital world individuals are socially blind, and attempts to communicate can be awkward and labor-intensive. Moving from face to face interaction to digitally interaction results in everything changing. The subtle social cues used to guide and structure real world interactions are mostly absent. Although the web is used by millions of people, reading a web page is primarily a solitary experience. Social information can help to overcome this barrier by providing a basis for inferences, planning, and coordinating activity.

Easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources are having a profound impact on social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of social computing, organizations must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric.

Doug Sutherland, Head of Innovation at Innovation Leeds said: “Many of the ideas that Innovation Leeds explores do not bear fruit, but that is the very nature of innovation. By casting our net wide we can find uses for technologies that had hitherto been consigned to the waste basket.”