“go to where the people are”

38 degrees - the angle beyond which an avalanche can happen. Clever!
38 degrees – the angle beyond which an avalanche can happen. Clever!






This follows the last post about why lots of public sector people don’t use social media for work. From the comments you’ll see there are exceptions, with people like Helen Reynolds and her Yammer group moving things forward. Keep up the good work!

The phrase “go to where the people are…” is something I picked up at an event where I heard 38degrees speak. This is an organisation that uses the Internet and various social media platforms to help organise people and campaigns. They have claimed some significant scalps like the UK Government change of plans to sell off the forests.

About 750,000 people have been involved with 38 Degrees campaigns so far, approximately 30,000 them from Wales. One thing they mentioned that Facebook is the most popular platform for organising a campaign, used by about 60% of their groups. Some of the reasons why people use it seem to include; familiarity, easy to use, accessibility (its available to everyone) and it’s free!  My heart sank at this point, …………..and also blocked by many public sector organisations.

Then some hope. Apparently the second most popular method used by people to organise themselves was the good old email distribution list (about 30% of what 38
Degrees had seen). The remaining activity (about 10%) is taken up with the likes of Twitter, Yammer, and bespoke websites like this one sosypant.com, a school campaign against the proposed closure of the sixth form.

This got me thinking about the struggle to engage with public servants in social
media and the current (over?) enthusiasm for developing bespoke websites and online communities of practice (OCoPs).  I’m not convinced that as rush towards the ‘high end’ technology such as bespoke websites is the answer. Lots of reasons for my reluctance, like the getting people to engage with the new, but my biggest concern is around cost. So much of this can be done using free / low-cost options (think Facebook groups), or by making much better use of existing arrangements.

What we should do (like 38 Degrees say) is “go to where the people are”.  The place where lots of people “are” at the moment is the good old email distribution lists. They exist, are accessible and people are comfortable with them. In particularly it seems those lists where everyone is visible, you can see who’s involved, and you know who you can trust are popular. Email distribution lists are already embedded in the day-to-day activities of most organisations. Lets use them with far more of a focus on learning and knowledge transfer, and not just for push communications. One final advantage is that they are not recognised as ‘social media’ and are below the radar of IT Departments and organisation security policies.

This has led me to shift my thinking, back to using a more stripped down approach to
promoting knowledge transfer with some of the groups I’m involved with. I’m
encouraging the resurrection of the email distribution list, and a ‘copy everyone in’ to your responses approach.  Once people really scream about the inadequacies of this method, then think about introducing them to the likes of Yammer,  LinkedIn Groups (for free!) or even a bespoke community of practice website.  It’s an anti “build it and they will come” approach and totally in the spirit of “go to where the people are”.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Social media platforms are extremely effective methods for people to
    organise themselves and share information. They could be much more widely used in public service.
  2. Using the good old email distribution list (with a focus on learning and sharing) is a means of building up some confidence and momentum before the leap into social media.
  3. Don’t try and build it and hope they will come (because they probably wont) ………..go to where the people are!

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

6 Responses

  1. Nik Mariam

    Broadly agree with this; only broadly because I am meshing the notions of going where the people are with the fact that I am reading The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Wilkinson and Pickett (which reminds me of possibly one of the best soul singers of the 1960s) have constructed a case for equality being totally important. I know I’m late to the book but I do have an aversion to trendy reading (I only read Blink last year) and so I’m always sounding old hat, so forgive me if that applies here. ANYWAY the pont is that being more equal in society includes feeling safe enough to belong and so able to share more openly and honestly. People are cleverer, healthier, happier and more peaceful when they are part of something. Hierarchy and inequality do the opposite; now this all leads me into ideas around employee engagement – for another time, I feel!

    Did anyone see the last episode of Lead Balloon with Robbie Coltrane completely transforming Jack Dee’s efforts to make a comment on his anxious-narcissism source of boasting dishonesty into a real comment on it – and why it matters so much? It’s nice when stuff adds up around you.

    PS does the Pont change the meaning of pontification?


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