Rob Dyson has an excellent article today on the Guardian’s new Voluntary Sector Network blog (which itself is excellent).
Rob’s article covers how voluntary sector organisations can use location-based social media, like Foursquare and Gowalla, to promote the work that they do in a variety of different ways. For example:
Christmas card fundraising charity Card Aid are… are adding ‘tips’ into venues’ entries around the country so that when you check-in somewhere, you are alerted to a nearby outlet where you can pop in and buy charity cards.
Rob goes further than simply suggesting non-profits use location-based social media to share information by also using it to incentivise people to engage with their work:
Non-profits could also entice supporters to complete a set of tasks and incentivising them with badges and stamps. And what’s stopping us from translating these virtual items into real-world rewards like our local business friends offer? Fundraisers or volunteers that check-in to an optimum number of events could be entered into a prize draw or invited to dinner with a celebrity patron, for example.
The potential application of location-based social media is hugely exciting, and no doubt there are people with much bigger brains and innovative ideas than me already doing exciting stuff with it.
But Rob’s post reminded me of a very simple application that I think it could have in the world of social care (my primary work area).
The importance of good information, advice and guidance for people going through the care and support system cannot be overstated: it is the fundamental building block from which nearly everything else flows.
As a result, local authorities tend to take quite centrist approaches to gathering information and disseminating it. This typically takes the form of dedicated sections of websites, call centres and lists upon lists of potential providers.
This feels a bit 1.0 to me, as follows:
- It’s resource intensive: having staff finding the information, processing it, publishing it and then telling people about it is an expensive business
- It’s out-of-date: this is less of an issue on a website, but for printed lists information can easily be out-of-date, whilst providing information through call-centre staff – even if the information is relatively up-to-date – requires the staff interacting with it to remain up-to-date (and which they may not be inclined to do, partly because of the sheer volume of calls they’re probably processing)
- It’s centrist: this approach assumes everyone goes to the same place to get their information. At the moment they don’t, though eventually they will end up at the door of the local authority if that information is poorly disseminated (which it often is)
- It’s geographically ignorant: a proxy of such a centrist approach is literally that information closer to the centre (the local authority) is more likely to be represented in the centre’s repository. Information that exists a greater distance from the centre may not be captured, nor even known about
- It’s hierarchical: by this, I mean that an individual may have a piece of information, but that information is given to the local authority so that the person no longer controls it. It’s a vertical transaction from the person up to the council.
Overall, such an approach feels static and cumbersome.
What location-based social media can do in the context of social care is revolutionise the way in which information is created, aggregated and shared.
Using these tools, hundreds and thousands of service users (and citizens more generally, of course) can create and maintain what is effectively a repository of all the services, products and resources they access in their local communities, attaching data such as prices, opening times, comments on quality, location and offers to each of these things.
For anyone who is also then in that area (i.e. someone who lives there, is visiting it as a one-off, or simply seeking to understand what is available in an area), all they need to do is look at Foursquare or Gowalla and immediately see a picture of what is around them. Or they can access this information in advance of their visit / move.
The job of the local authority in this world then becomes one of aggregating this huge wealth of data that has already been created, and ensure that there are suitable platforms available for anyone and everyone to be able to access it.
I suppose that, strictly speaking, I’m not just talking about location-based social media, but social media more generally. The specific benefit of location-based media, though, is that it overcomes the information asymmetry that exists when a central body (e.g. a local authority) seeks to gather information – my points above about being “centrist”, “hierarchical” and “geographically ignorant”.
Clearly there are challenges in making this happen, not least of which is (a) the digital divide, and (b) accessibility of the technology for social care users to make their contributions.
But the potential rewards of this approach feel so big that I’d hope an innovative local authority may actively support people to do the tech stuff, in the knowledge that what they’ll create will press the buttons both the users and the council needs pressed.
Either way, I agree with Rob that location-based social media is a hugely powerful tool, with plenty of potential.