Sunday, 30 November 2008

Communicating subtlety and complexity (AKA 'yet another reason why museums should blog')

Interesting thoughts on how blogs could work for politicians in Political information on the web (some quotes below). The same arguments could be made for museums sharing information with the public about acquisitions, curatorial and interpretative decisions, and perhaps even using internal blogs to communicate management decisions with staff.

I'm using 'blog' as a generic term but an intranet page or 'what we thought about when putting together this exhibition' section might work equally well for different contexts. The blog format is a good choice because the technology supports notifications and dissemination of new content, and because the context allows for an informal and discursive writing style.

Regardless of the technology, communication and transparency could be vital for the cultural heritage sector. Tough times lie ahead for UK museums as the effects of the Olympics and the global financial crisis on funding start to kick in. They also face on-going critique for being either too populist or too elitist, too willing to be sucked in by contemporary artists or berated for not buying artists while they were unknown and cheap, for not providing public access to their entire collections and for not commercialising enough content. Engaging with the public directly to explain how they balance these and other factors when making decisions may alleviate the effects of the tabloid culture that drives much popular debate and the cynicism generated by too much spin.

So, to the article:
The web also requires a very different style of engagement. If you are used to communicating through speeches, press releases and media interviews then you develop a certain style that may not work well on the web. Politicians are used to having to reduce (ad absurdium) their arguments on complex issues to five second sound bites. They are used to having their remarks taken out of context or twisted in a world built around readership at any price.


Blogging, by contrast, is conversational, personal, and can sustain a more complex debate. On a regional radio station or speaking to a local hack it may be suicidal to support the closure of a local hospital (for example), but on a blog it is possible to argue for things that superficially or intuitively may not make sense to local people - but that may make good sense when the full implications and subtleties of the situation are made clear. In my experience MPs live amongst very complex and confusing balances of interests, and many yearn to have a richer conversation with their voters about how they are navigating these waters. They'd like to justify the judgements they make but also to inform people and in turn receive informed views back. Most of them - not all, but most, and from across the political spectrum - became MPs to work hard for their constituents, and most do. In light of that, the web could be the answer to their dreams; it's not without risks, but it has the potential to raise the debate and to allow them to extend the conversations they have on the street, in care homes and schools, over a longer period and with a much wider audience.


The other aspect to this, and another important lesson from the recent US elections, is the way that technology can enable volunteer engagement and mobilisation.


So this means that not only can political parties engage with voters through good use of the web, they can turn supporters into activists, and coordinate their activity. IT-enablement could positively transform (and rejuvenate) political activity just as it has so many other walks of life.

However, of course I have to point out that there's no point trying to blog like that unless there's a commitment to communication and transparency from the highest level down, and an organisational structure that provides adequate resources for content creation and active audience engagement.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly re: transparency. I'm convinced that businesses (despite how scared they are about the concept) will be more able to tell their unique stories and engage communities by making themselves more open.