A Gartner news release summarizes recent research into the role of social networks in government. Researcher Andrea Di Maio points to the emergence of networks within and initiated by the government (like A-space, the Intelligence Community’s socially-enabled collaboration platform) as well as emergent communities that spring up as social support networks (like Netmums, a UK community of parents dealing with childcare issues and offering information about local and national resources).
The need for governments to think about networks as an organizing principle was well set out in Governing by Network (Goldsmith and Eggers) in 2004, before the age of social networking capabilities, but they did provide both the business case for the government to adopt network structures.
In the age of social capabilities, it’s possible for people in government to reach outside their agency or domain boundaries and extend the reach of government and its ability to mobilize responses to emergencies and connect communities of action.
Speaking of communities of action, David Lazer at the Kennedy School of Government (who runs a great colloquium on networks and complexity) blogged an interesting question recently: when the election is over, will the vast interconnected network built by Barack Obama be repurposed? In Net Work, I describe the life cycle of networks and the transition that occur. Many networks created for a specific purpose disband after they have fulfilled their mission, but many also opt to stay together in which case they need to renegotiate their purpose, structure, style, and value intentions. There are so many possibilities for the Obama network — it will be interesting to see (should Obama win) whether he can turn this network into an engaged and committed set of networks linked to the federal government in a way that supports our citizenry and our partners around the world.