In the last week of November I spoke to the Public Policy Exchange about the effective use of Social Media in schools. I can’t say who attended or what questions they asked as the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule. What I can reveal is a brief summary of what I discussed.
In 2011 the government published a White Paper on the future of Public Services (schools, hospitals etc and which served as the basis for the the conference). One heading stuck out for me:
The old, centralised approach to public service delivery is broken.
This line of thinking has huge implications if made into a reality. Two other quotes struck me from the White Paper and the progress update released last year:
Public services should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.
We will ensure fair access to public services.
Within this context, how could Social Media help deliver or enhance Public Services? My view is that despite the desire to move away from centralisation, that is a fundamental function of the state (see Steven Johnson’s ‘Future Perfect’ for a recent example of this)and we should really think about how we can enhance or add to the existing delivery of centralised public services.
Why Social Media and Public Services? Brief context is needed. A recent survey of students at HE suggests that 72% of them spend at least four hours a week on social networking sites a week (25% said they spent upwards of 11 hours a week). Are Public Services ready to reach such people on their terms? Can Public Services incorporate this information into what they do?
As there are so many tools to think about, I limited my talk to three of the most common (Facebook, Twitter and Google +) and returned to the work of Simon Sinek for helping us to understand why, how and what Social Media can do in terms of a particular Public Service – Education. Purpose/principles are very important in any endeavour and Social Media can help schools fulfil their core purpose of providing opportunities, celebrating success and ‘living’ the idea as a organisation geared towards learning.
I provided three (nowhere near exhaustive) ways that Social Media tools can be used by schools.
On a basic level, Social Media tools can be used as reminders for students, parents and colleagues. This works for promoting events, homework etc. I showcased examples of tweets announcing public lectures, teachers/lecturers reminding students about assignments and to reminders to watch particular documentaries.
On another level, Social Media can be used to celebrate work publicly and in a timely fashion. This is especially interesting as Public Services do not have the marketing budgets commercial companies to show the brilliant work that is often undocumented. I used a few examples of Sixth Form Colleges showing off their colleagues wining teaching awards, teachers showing work on walls and the picture below of a Motte & Bailey castle made by one of my Year 7 historians. This tweet was retweeted and picked up by a national organisation and when I told the pupil, he was beaming which would translate into increased effort in his lesson (benefits for all).
The third example of how Social Media can help deliver effective Public Services was in the area of professional development. Twitter has been incredibly helpful in spreading ideas in terms of teaching and learning and I used examples of hashtags on Twitter to link professionals across the country and generate discussion (such as #TeachMeet, #edtech and #SLTchat). Talking online is useful but what is impressive is how these discussions lead to action or physical meetings in an attempt to solve a common concern. Using TeachMeets, Meetups and the forthcoming Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted as examples, I argued that the professional development that could be generated via Social Media could be more effective and targeted than what an instiution could sometimes provide. Using the example of TeachMeets and Meetups, I made the point that people gave up their time freely to discuss issues and learn from others which in a time of reduced budgets was something to seriously consider. The use of Social Media in this way was a clear example of Steven Johnson’s ‘Peer Progressives’ – amplifying and developing expertise through distributed networks.
How could the example of schools using Social Media apply to other Public Services? In the first instance, it could be used to celebrate the work within the institution – something that is not done enough. With so many services under public scrutiny, Social Media could be used to raise staff morale in a very cost effective way – all you need is a smartphone (and an awareness of what is appropriate). Secondly, it creates the possibility to amplify what is already good within an institution not just through publicity but also through linking with other interested groups who can provide news ways of approaching a problem. If you have a common concern as a Public Service, would it not be useful to discuss this with other colleagues in different areas of the country?
I then suggested that there were three key things to consider when thinking about Social Media in Public Services.
- Does your use of Social Media fit the purpose of your organisation? For education it is a natural fit but if you are constrained by budgets, does it really fit into what is the main thing your organisation does? This is the ‘why’/purpose question.
- Do you have a framework to help schools/other Public Services to innovate? This means being able to take managed risks and a willingness to learn from mistakes (as this will happen).
- Be prepared for criticism as it will come. How will you deal with a disgruntled user of public services on Social Media channels? You need to plan ahead as it will happen.
The discussion and questions were really interesting (but I can’t say anymore than that)! I want to thank for the team at the Public Policy Exchange for their hospitality and understanding (especially Alex) that I had to leave after my talk to go back and teach my Year 10 GCSE History class. Yes, my class was also thrilled about it too.
Social Media Landscape image from Fred Cavazza.