Friday, June 26, 2009

A misconception about web technologies

Again and again, I keep hearing that web technologies cannot build relationships. The misconception is that web technologies cannot contribute to the building of relationships--that Internet technologies are mechanisms only to provide information delivery systems.

Of course, I know that technology, itself, cannot build relationships. People build relationships.

The Internet today is much different than it was 10 years ago. Then, we mostly thought of Internet technologies as those that efficiently deliver information. We have thought of the Internet tools much like mass media (newspapers, radio, TV) one-to-many communication tools. Early in the Internet years, we learned to utilize searching capabilities, the ability to discover information. And, we learned to build on the capabilities of linking--tying information together.

However today, the Internet tools are more about flattening communications channels and enabling relationships among people who never would have been able to "meet" in the "old" Internet and certainly not pre-Internet.

Studies are showing that connections, such as social networking, enhance working and social relationships and build social capital, particularly in relationships that already have a physical presence. To name just 3 studies (I can find more) are:

  • Hampton, K. (2002). Place-based and IT mediated “community.” Planning Theory and Practice, 3(2), 228-23
  • Hampton, K. & Wellman, B. (2003) Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb. City and Community, 2(4), 277-311.
  • Ellison, N. B. Steinfield, C, and Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends”:  Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer Mediation Communication, 12(4), Article 1.

To discount online opportunities because we don't think that the technologies can be used to develop relationships is detrimental to our success, as an organization and as knowledge workers. 

Most of us (I suppose I am referring to "us" as those who have been in the workforce 15 years or more) have the tendency to think and learn linearly and that technology takes the place of some other method because of its efficiency.

Instead, information technology is an enablers, not only a replacement. Technology enhances whatever we are doing, provides innovation opportunities, and helps us grow or scale development, products, and services.

Many of those who have been studying and using social media for awhile often say

"It's not about the technology;"

"It's about people"
"It's about relationships
"It's about ideas"
"It's about the change that is created".

Though I am becoming known for "pushing" social media and as someone who is a Twitter nut, I can assure you that I do not think that technology is a sole answer--the answer is how people are using and building relationships and capitalizing on the work of many. But, technology is necessary.

Some ask "how does online engagement give an organization competitive advantage?" There are many answers. A survivalist answer is "where will you be if you don't engage?"

We must adapt not only to new technologies, but adjust and embrace changes in culture and expectations, such as work streaming, transparency, engagement, and participation. These expectations in culture are not dependent on technology, but have been driven by open, tremendous availability of information and access to people through technology.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where do we go from here?

It seems that a lot of my conversations lately have centered around the future of Cooperative Extension.

Most people are discussing and worrying about the budget woes and the realization that future funding is changing.

Some Extension professionals are looking beyond the funding issues. They are realizing the effects of:

  • ubiquitous connections.
  • pervasive information and communications.
  • multi-way and instantaneous communications.
  • rapid increases of non-linear information availability.
  • expectations of open communications, transparency of organizations, and adding societal value; these expectations are not only expectations of online activities but also include the way we serve, operate, manage, and lead.
  • changes in knowledge construction.
  • online and placed life becoming one. The online life does more than mirrors the physical life. The online is meshed into the way we function in work, leisure, and home.

Are we positioning ourselves to adapt and excel in a changed future?

  • A future where the public, stakeholders, and partners want to know how we are impacting communities.
  • A future where we continue to meet community and local citizens needs and are influential locally, but use global,far reaching, methods.
  • A future where we grow education without significantly increasing our organization.
  • A future that embraces “non-linear, information seeking” learning processes.
  • A future that embraces the ways that learning, access, engagement, and knowledge construction are changing, by being ahead of the learning curve, not behind it.
  • A future that opens access to our content and research
  • A future where our organization is a contemporary organization that has the "capacity to connect, unite, react, or interact" among many individuals and organizations, both traditional and new.
  • A future where we capitalize on instantaneous, multi-way communication.
  • A future where we understand that context matters and that contexts are continually in flux, thus, knowledge within context is more important than knowledge by itself.

The thoughts above are not mine alone, but rather they are a compilation of thoughts and expressions from many people who I have had a privilege of talking with in the last few months and hope to continue with future conversations.

While some people are very worried about our future as the third arm of land-grant institutions--Cooperative Extension--particularly from a funding standpoint, I am realizing the opportunities are vast and exciting. In fact, I see that the future, in some ways can bring us back to using the principles of  Seaman Knapp and George Washington Carver. The difference is in context, but the ideals of engagement and integrating research and education are not again available because we can go where the people are.

The challenge is to immediately change the way we communicate, build education, and are organized, and capitalize on existing and new relationships through more collaboration and seizing the power of ubiquitous connections and pervasive communications.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back into the groove

I feel like I am starting over because: