New Media: Emerging Tools for the Practice

20 04 2010

I was recently posed the question, What is the most important trend/issue related to public involvement? In terms of tools and techniques, I believe new media including the internet and social media provide significant new opportunities for providing information and methods for public participation.

For people who are on the web on a daily basis, this is not new news. Web sites allow 24/7 access to summaries and documents; citizens can choose to learn about topics to a level of depth that meets their information needs and interests. Interactive media provides the possibility of dialogue on a given topic that doesn’t have to occur in a single geographic location or timeframe. There is opportunity for real-time response as well as time-shifted response (meaning, people can participate in the same thread over the course of time rather than having a specified hour and then it is done).

Although these tools have great promise for facilitating public input, there are also drawbacks: one is related to access to technology and the ability to use it; another is the need to distinguish what is trustworthy and credible information. These two issues will be ongoing challenges to implementing new media techniques in public involvement. Although the use of new media seems obvious to people already familiar with it, there is another segment of the population who are not connected to these media outlets and are completely left out of the virtual conversation.

That said, new media should always be accompanied by other tools and techniques for participation such as in-person public meetings, small group forums, published materials placed in public locations, and telephone and letter correspondence.

What examples have you seen effectively use new media for public involvement? Please share your stories and links by posting a comment!