Re-Inventing Our Use of Social Media… for Science

28 January 2014 by Paige Brown Jarreau, posted in Communications

In chapters 6-8 of Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer stress the role of “listening” in enabling the transition from ego-system to eco-system awareness in our economies, businesses, education systems, health and scientific research systems. Through many innovative examples, the authors encourage leaders and innovators to follow these three lessons: “(1) Dare to be different; (2) believe in people; and (3) invest in cooperation.” From businesses that cooperate to make sustainable local foods the status quo, to small-entrepreneur-friendly banking, building eco-system awareness requires new levels of cooperation, two-way communication and feedback.

Social Network. By Daniel Tenerife, Wiki.

Of course, the question I keep coming back to is: how can innovative communication platforms help make eco-system awareness possible? How can media help us realize that the cyclical processes and feedback loops so familiar to biologists are present in climate systems, public relations systems, and scientific research systems, just to name a few?

Scharmer and Kaufer call for innovation in infrastructures built for co-initiation, co-sensing (“sensing journeys to the edges of a system, where they [leaders] can see it from other perspectives”), and co-creation. They call for social technologies that can level the playing field and create whole-system levels of awareness.

Although the authors suggest workshops and face-to-face “sensing journeys” as mechanisms for creating eco-system awareness in leaders of various sectors, I personally think we could set our sights higher.

I may sound like a broken record, but I think real-time microblogging platforms such as Twitter could provide a democratic avenue for interdisciplinary co-sensing and collaboration. In the end, all tweets are equal: individuals can have the same presence in Twitter interactions and Twitter chats as institutions. Citizens and stakeholders can interact in online dialogue with organizations and experts without the potential pressures of face-to-face interaction.

Existing and growing social media platforms are potentially powerful avenues for fostering collaboration and co-sensing across disciplines and sectors. Take ResearchGate, the touted “Facebook for Scientists,” a network dedicated to connecting scientists in both intra- and inter- disciplinary research. Try as it might, this network simply can’t live up to Twitter and Facebook – not by a hair. What’s more, ResearchGate by its very nature limits its audience to scientists, experts in respective fields. Citizen scientists and other stakeholders have a limited role in this landscape.

Twitter, on the other hand, may be the level playing field that the scientific system needs to bridge gaps between research and impact, and to foster future innovations. Simple tweaks in the way we use this platform could lead to serendipitous collisions of ideas and collective intelligence on a global level.

One of my favorite things about Twitter is being able to jump on when I have a question – and get instantaneous, quality feedback. For example, what does social psychology say about value-based climate change messaging? Where can I find an expert in social norms to talk to about environmental messaging? Does anyone have a good recommendation on a textbook for a strategic social media class? Has there been research on how hurricane victims respond to sustainability messages vs non-victims? Sometimes I get answers, sometimes I don’t – but many of these answers have lead my own research in new directions that I’m not sure I would have found without the help of fellow nerdy Tweeters.

.@FromTheLabBench Re: #EnviroPsych & mass communication expts, I'll send you a rpt of a German expt by Reish, Spatz, & Bietz -Aug 2008 CSIRO

— Dan Stokols (@dstokols) January 22, 2014

Unfortunately, not everyone can jump onto Twitter and receive quality feedback in response to questions like these. Why? Simply because it takes time and effort to build a community of Twitter followers who share your interest in science and your bent toward interdisciplinary research. It takes time and effort to get to the point where the people you are hoping to reach are actually seeing your tweets at all.

But what if we could enable people like you and me who weren’t already plugged into Twitter communities to ask questions and receive quality feedback? What if a third Twitter account, let’s name it @CoCreateScience, could link scientists and citizens together regardless of their “strength” on social media? @CoCreateScience might be able to elevate questions from non-Twitter-savvy citizens and scientists to a level where experts in other fields would be able to see and respond to them. Citizen#1 might say he spotted a strange orange-throated bird in his yard, asking a scientist to help him identify it. Citizen#1 only has 5 followers… but he mentions @CoCreateScience, who in turn shares his question. (Or maybe, Citizen#1 even has permission through a common mobile app to post scientific questions to @CoCreateScience). In seconds, @CoCreateScience’s large Twitter following produces answers from a climate scientist and several biology students who recognize the bird as a rare species outside of its typical range, and begin a discussion with Citizen#1 to learn more about the bird and its behavior.

@CoCreateScience might be a slightly different approach to Tweeting – an approach that would give all users common access to a community of leaders, scientific experts, business and organizations that have much to gain from listening. But pushing the boundaries of how we use already widespread social technologies might be the key to unlocking greater listening, co-sensing and co-creating powers. The more we open up our problem-solving processes to broad social technologies, the greater chance we have of incorporating eco-system awareness into the solutions we come up with.

Got any great ideas? Please share!


3 Responses to “Re-Inventing Our Use of Social Media… for Science”

  1. Paul Kennedy Reply | Permalink

    Some great ideas here - I think we have a unique opportunity in the age we live to bring solutions to those with challenges, and vice versa. It is great to see it being talked about. This post puts me in mind of the so-called "innovation portals" that provide a digital marketplace for people who need technological solutions to advertise in, and hopefully find those scientists and engineers that can assist. It's a great model, and one that could be applied to a range of industries and areas of expertise.

    • scilogs_paige Reply | Permalink

      Thanks Paul! Do you know of any specific examples of these innovation portals? Sounds fascinating!
      -Paige

  2. Lorelei Kelly Reply | Permalink

    Paige I think there would be interesting ways to do this with Members of Congress--esp as they are just now experimenting with social media platforms for policy purposes...using unique identifiers allows them to use their own member websites as individual platforms, too, so they are not bound by the clunky old CRMs internally, leadership dominance, etc. The key would be personal engagement first, however, as trust is hard to come by these days in legislative information--so much money in the system is really distorting. you could organize something to assist a member with a Q and A before a hearing, for example.

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