The National Grand Challenges Summit brings together leading scientists, engineers, educators, policy leaders, innovations, and forward-thinking corporate executives to address society's most pressing problems. One of my favorite "brain food" thinkers, Henry Jenkins was a keynote speaker. The topic was "communications" (another favorite topic for me of late). His blog post (which includes the keynote video) on communications, media, and civic ecology has interesting implications for the enterprise. Whenever I read research and analysis that examines trends in other fields / disciplines (in this case, communications in the new media environment), I try to re-interpret and explore how those assessments might apply within an enterprise setting. As I read through his post and watched the video, several points jumped out at me - you might have to toggle back and forth, or read the blog post first, to make the connection below:
Towards A New Civic Ecology
Think about the challenges faced by organizations today, not only does the enterprise want to externally communicate more effectively (a focus on the keynote, along with journalism and citizen journalism), leadership teams are trying to improve the way they communicate internally. We all know from first-hand experiences that communication is critically important to get right. Bad communication inhibits our ability to know what is wanted, or how to proceed with an activity, or with whom to work with or keep notified. Not only is communication a valuable precursor to effective collaboration, it is intrinsic during collaborative work as well. And yet today we suffer from a communication infrastructure that is badly broken (e.g., e-mail, communication silos, fragmented context).
Communication is often nuanced and subtle. The interest in Enterprise 2.0 is not so much a reaction to gaps in the technology tools we use today but also a reaction to a new normal when it comes how we work, how we learn, how we connect, how we share, how we collaborate, how we relate to one another, etc. The enterprise is finally beginning to realize that the old methods of disseminating and exchanging information are inadequate - not only because there is a more digital lifestyle that people bring into the workplace, but from a business model stance, organizations will not be able to survive unless they are culturally literate in new media that is more social and inter-connected than ever before,
The concept of a new civic ecology is transferable to enterprise environments. The infrastructure of how employees "get news" is changing as organizations see greater adoption of tools associated with Enterprise 2.0. The human network is producing the information employees need to do their jobs in ways that the formal structure of an organization cannot. What scares management teams about this more participatory culture within their organizations is the idea that employees (over time) will perform duties similar to what we see in the media landscape when it comes to the citizen journalist (more open, visible, dynamic "news"). There are very legitimate risk issues from a policy, security, compliance perspective but also concern that the information may not always be vetted and credible - that is - leadership teams often prefer information come from authoritative, professional sources.
The natural tension between deciding how to best leverage formal and informal producers of information is similar in ways to the journalism debate going on today. When we think of a bank teller blogging about selling products, or a call center agent as a wiki gardener on customer service wiki - that prospect might make management teams nervous. A better (and safer) approach (it is thought) is to assign an information specialist or steward of some sort, to perform those roles. Whether that approach is actually better is a debate worth having in the context of the civic ecology organizations might want to cultivate (re: knowledge sharing, etc) but are having difficult envisioning due to a need for control (valid or not). Which type of network activism works best? One influenced by formal structures, or one where informal structures ebb-and-flow - or is a balance of both? And if so, how does the organization attain that balance and sustain it?
According to a recent "state of the news" report referenced in the blog post, citizens are getting more information than ever before but are doing so by "grazing" across many different sources. This phenomenon is also transferable to the enterprise (and related to my recent post on a universal follow model). More and more, people construct their own information and communication virtual "catch basins" - they are not dependent on any single channel or newspaper in the public sense - platform in the enterprise sense. Information and communication systems need to be designed to be porous - enabling information to be spreadable has become an incredibly valuable (and necessary) part of the user experience. Interestingly enough, this idea of spreadability makes the industry thinking around social objects as a credible means to mediate network connections quite relevant. How "social objects" manifest themselves within the enterprise was a topic explored in my recent IASA presentation. Thinking in terms of civic ecologies, participatory cultures, and the influence of Enterprise 2.0 also brings into play concepts related to networked publics (refer to "The Rise Of Enterprise Publics").
The keynote closes on three challenges to factor into solutions that enable civic ecologies:
- Maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all americans and their communities
- Strengthen the capability of individuals to engage with information; and
- Promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community
These are challenges that also need to be factored into solutions that will enable more effective communication and ultimate, better collaboration within the enterprise. Overall, it's worth taking the time to read the post and listen to relevant portions of the video keynote.