Recently I blogged about how development institutions are not making effective use of social media for development. But what can be done about it? In this blog I suggest three specific actions that development institutions can take to proactively include social media in their projects, and discuss some sectors where Web 2.0 could make a real difference. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the terms interchangeably, however for inquiring minds, Web 2.0 and social media have slightly different meanings.
1. Communication 2.0 (Strategy level) - Web 2.0 can help development organizations with the engagement process at a macro-level. Social media allows development organizations to communicate directly with citizens and stay informed of their concerns. In fact, the World Bank Post-Crisis Directions paper includes “promote global collective action” as one of the strategic priorities, saying that “the recent wave of crisis and the resulting need for comprehensive, coordinated and global responses highlights the importance of developing cooperative models for dealing with existing and emerging challenges”. Development organizations should harness communication 2.0 to support their strategies.
As an example, organizations could consider the potential use for social media for communication as a part of the strategy setting process. This Web 2.0 communication strategy would potentially address the perceived disconnect between large development organizations and ordinary citizenry. As Sina Odugbemi, program head of the Communication for Governance & Accountability Program (CommGAP), mentioned in his blog, donors are often perceived as being less than supportive to citizens who wish to engage in collective action. One of the reasons for this is that development organizations work primarily with governments and not citizens and citizen concerns are often not perceived to be at the core of their work. Some view development organizations as elitist and serving the interests of governments that are disconnected from their citizens, and large corporations, rather than the nurturing of vibrant local economies in an inclusive manner. These issues can be addressed to some extent by recognizing the role that social media could play to change this view.
2. Branding 2.0: Development organizations, much like the private sector, have to be selective and choose what they do (and what they don’t). Creating a development brand means specifying what you do as a development organization and then making that visible to the outside world. For example, a development organization could choose to specialize in health and education. Once it does this, it can use social media to establish that brand.
3. Outcomes 2.0 (Project level): The use of social media can improve the project outcomes in some sectors. As an example, Zimicki et al. found that when countries meet certain conditions--a high level of access to the media, sufficient expertise and funds available to develop and produce high-quality radio and television advertisements, and a routine system that is able to serve the increased demand--a mass communication campaign can significantly improve vaccination coverage. This was as per a 1994 study, and before the ubiquity of social media, however much the same could be true today - that is a mass communication campaign involving social media and SMS could significantly improve vaccination coverage (and perhaps even more so than just radio/TV ads). While Twitter and Facebook may not be as prevalent in countries where, say, vaccination is an issue, SMSs could be. Therefore one might say that when there is sufficient access to cell phones and SMSs are common, a high quality SMS campaign could improve vaccination coverage or improve dropout rates (SMS is arguably being considered a part of social media). However, of course, before utilizing social media in a project, an analysis would be needed of whether the country in question has the technology infrastructure and existing user base needed to warrant the inclusion of social media. One would also need to know the technology preferences of different countries. For example, SMS is extremely popular in Asia, and Twitter is popular in Brazil.
The feedback loop from citizens on projects is an important component of project quality and improved project outcomes. Web 2.0 makes the feedback loop stronger, faster, and casts a much wider net. The technology is cheap, it’s effective, and client feedback is important, so why aren’t development organizations doing more to incorporate direct client feedback? All development projects could include some form of client feedback using social media. One way to do it would be to create a “verified” Twitter account for all investment loans. Concerned citizens and anyone else would be able to provide direct client feedback to the development organizations managing the project. The challenge after that would be for management to capture the feedback and respond to it, thereby completing the Web 2.0 feedback loop.
Two sectors where social media would help us make significant development gains
Although Web 2.0 could be integrated into several sectors (education, governance and health come to mind), disaster management and empowerment are two development sectors where social media can be used extremely effectively.
What social media is absolutely the best at - and I mean the BEST - is at instant communication. Instant communication is most helpful in situations where the populace is in immediate danger. When disasters take place, SMSs and microblog use should be monitored to track the disaster and provide support. Blogger Sheldon Levine at Sysomos created this infographic of Twitter usage during the Queensland floods, which corresponds to heavy Twitter usage in affected areas.
The other sector, or rather a cross-cutting area for which social media can be used is empowerment. Empowerment is considered a cross-cutting sector, as it also includes issues like access to information, inclusion and participation, accountability, and local organizational capacity. Social media is particularly well suited to all of these four elements.
Let’s look at one such example. Access to information can be maximized through the use of social media. Once you have decided you want to share information, you can do so through a number of different channels, to ensure that the parties who could benefit from your information have access to it. For example, all requests for information as well as information provided could be microblogged. Documents released can be published in a searchable format on a public website, where links to all new document releases are published on social media channels (example: one could tweet links to all new releases using url shorteners like bit.ly that provides information on the people who click on the link).
To summarize - there are two levels of development work for which social media could be used. One is at the corporate level, for senior management to work with - and this includes using social media for communication and branding. The other is at the project level, to improve achievement of project objectives and outcomes. Although all sectors could benefit from social media use, it is areas like empowerment and disaster management that stand to gain most from the use of Web 2.0 technologies.
Photo Credit: © Wu Zhiyi / World Bank (on Flickr)