You gave us your money, now give us your feedback

Was part of a good discussion today about 1) highs-and-lows of the digital year [almost] gone and 2) hopes and fears for the year to come.

Barack Obama’s use of digital media featured highly in both. We spoke about our shared admiration for the election campaign, and our shared aspirations for what might happen after January 20th 2009.

What excites someone in my sort of role about what the new US Administration might do with digital, is how it might excite other leaders around the world and encourage them to keep pace.

Only time will tell if the adventurous, inclusive and integrated approach to digital we witnessed during the presidential campaign will translate to an average day in the White House. But I think the portents are positive.

Witness, Change.gov and specifically ‘Join the Discussion‘. Here:

policy teams will be sharing new developments with you [the American people]… and asking for feedback.

Yes it is basic, broad and bloggy but the application integration is good, there rules are clear and simple, and the tone is right – more ‘inform and deliberate with us’ rather than ‘have your say and tell us what to think’. It has certainly caught the American public’s attention as can be seen by the number of comments and participants.

Sophistication, depth and value will come with time… so long as the encouragement keeps coming and the momentum is maintained.

Yet, surprisingly not everyone is as convinced by the value of engagement as you might think in the closing stages of the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. Have a look at this article on the BBC website carrying a comment from former Whitehouse E-Communications Director, David Almacy, where he says:

‘the question is whether he’ll be governing based on how people vote in online polls or whether he’ll just be choosing policies and making decisions based on what he feels is right and on what is best to move this country forward.’

I suspect that this sort of dismissive comment will, unfortunately, be encountered again and again. Sadly, I think we’ll also find the media stirring up the controversy and doubt.

My advice is to ignore it. Don’t get frustrated. Questioning whether engagement – on- or offline- is right and feasible will quickly disappear under the sheer weight of proof-in-practise. After all that sort of thinking is just so 1999.

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3 thoughts on “You gave us your money, now give us your feedback

  1. Good post, Scott. Of course I agree that engagement is right and feasible. After all, that’s the power of the Internet in a free society. It enables us to voice our opinions and connect with each other in ways that weren’t possible before — like from Washington, DC to the UK, for example. Thanks, Google Alerts!

    The incoming Obama Administration is smart to tap into the pulse of American citizens to gauge public sentiment on issues of the day. Seeking opinions and feedback should be part of the process and is always helpful when grappling with difficult choices.

    My point, however, was simply this. Politicians must ultimately make their own decisions on how to vote or, in the President’s case, whether to sign a bill into law or get out the veto pen.

    Hopefully, they will have the courage and fortitude to be guided by their convictions and principles and not just by what is politically expedient or popular. After all, isn’t that why we elected them?

    Really like the discussion, Scott. You have given me an idea for a future post on my blog CapitalGig.com about some of the challenges that future leaders may experience while governing in an ever-changing digital landscape. Stay tuned!

  2. No worries, David – I am Scottish, so Scot[t] isn’t too far off :)

    I was a bit suprised by your comment because of the digital developments you oversaw during your time in the Whitehouse. Perhaps it was because you were quoted out off context.

    What I took issue with was ‘online poll’ as used to describe – in the article at least – the discussion that was taking place on Change.gov.

    There is an important distinction to be maintained between the mechanics and applications of polls and those of blogs, webchats, forums and so forth. Each has its place in G2C engagement; the online poll is down there with the least deliberative.

    Engagement detractors often dismiss other forms of online engagement as simply worthless polls. It’s been a long fight to get elected representatives to see that the web can deliver more than a yes/no answer from a self-selecting sample. I think we’ve won the battle, but the war is still on.

    I think one of the problems here is terminology. What one person [in one country] might mean by ‘online poll’ could potentially mean something different for another person. Perhaps a follow up post could explore how leaders learn, process and articulate the language of digital media?

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