Social Media Shows Hope for the Future of Development

Rebecca Shore

CCP | Program Officer II

In the past few years, I have been a part of many different types of online discussions. More recently there has been an upswing of Tweetchats. Today, any well organized meeting, conference, or discussion is complimented by some kind of common hashtag, Twitter, or Facebook presence. It helps the event gain exposure and fuels conversation with people who may not be able to attend in person.  

On Thursday, May 16  the Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network hosted the online discussion/debate, How can social media change how development is done?  People were able to participate through comments on the actual post or using #GlobalDevLive participants were able to post questions and make comments via Twitter.

Social Media as a Global Community

Peer to Peer Versus Dissemination

Peer-to-peer versus dissemination. Graphic facilitation by The Value Web.

Though the conversation only lasted about an hour, took in nearly 200 comments on the discussion forum page and over 450 tweets. There were nine panelists including myself that were from all over the world and with many different development backgrounds.  So much was shared through the forum and through Twitter, it was overwhelming how important social media has become to the development community.

One participant wrote, “In terms of development, social media has an unrivaled capacity to empower the individual. Nothing promotes freedom of speech like social media.”

Powerful thoughts and words were littered throughout the page about how social media will give a voice to those without a voice.  One panelist, David Girling agreed with a participant and stated that social media has the ability to change development, “It has, can, will and it should.”

Another participant responded to one of my posts by stating, “social media will allow greater collaborations geographically allowing opportunities for differing viewpoints and unique ways to create collaborative projects.”

As someone who uses social media in an international development context, it was inspiring to see the true depth to which social media can be used for collaboration over a large geographic area. Crowd sourcing through social media is a great way to get a consensus on a particular issue. Panelist Dustin Andres spoke of a change in social media to two-way communication. He continues, “On my knowledge sharing project, we've opened up our most important knowledge products in "beta" - allowing for comment from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and the broader Internet.” This ability to crowdsource information from social media may allow for more input from the audiences we are trying to reach in international development.

In some ways, the act of participating in this open/public chat about social media and development showed the way that it has already changed development. The ability to discuss a topic and share ideas around a common concept through multiple online channels such as a website and Twitter shows where we’re headed. No longer will our project/program planning involve only a few people who work at the same organization. Professionals working in development will have the ability to ask anyone, anywhere about ideas on how to solve particular problems. Without purchasing an airline ticket, conferences and meetings will be able to be attended and participated in. This is the change and just one of the contributions that social media is making to development.

As technologies like broadband and 3G become more available, social media will become more accessible, and will be an integral part of the pathway to success in international development.

Measuring Impact

The discussion also highlighted the need for getting and measuring real impact from social media, not just high exposure. This is a common theme in social media: How can we measure the real change we’ve made by sending out a 140 character message to the billions of users on Twitter? We need to increase the depth at which we evaluate how we are using these tools, why and what our goals are.

Another participant stated, “I think that you measure success with the degree of responsiveness and not just 'Retweets'. And that responsiveness may be hard to quantify in some instances.”  

Moreover, this participant focused on “looking at reach, engagement and influence in the round, and having clear but realistic objectives.”

Many more themes, topics, and resources were shared throughout the hour. For more information, take a look at: How can social media change how development is done?

To take part in similar discussion on social media and global health and development, join Social Media for Global Health.