Not all that long ago, the scientific community was justifiably ecstatic about having achieved mapping of the human genome – The Human Genome project. The promise was that by understanding genetic mapping we could find cures for disease, disability, and perhaps enhance longevity. http://tinyurl.com/2vu2z
But an interesting development has occurred. Scientists are now learning that understanding of human genetics goes far beyond mapping genes. Two people – for instance identical twins – can have identical DNA sequences– but can nonetheless experience very different health. Why?
This is where the science of epigenetics comes in. It seems that the environment, life conditions, our experiences, and perhaps the experiences of our ancestors can all affect how our genes express themselves. Epigenetics, a combination of proteins and markers affected by environmental conditions and life experience, can turn genes on and off. So even though two people have identical DNA they can still live very different lives. http://tinyurl.com/ycaes7z
So what does epigenetics have to do with citizen networks? Assume that two governmental agencies have similar networks – a similar number of members, compelling content, and exchange between citizens and agency. Assume also that we support the networks with similar component technologies. Why would we experience different results – different levels of citizen participation?
Because in the same way that pre-disposition to human health is affected not only by DNA, but its expression through epigenetics, network health, and the value that networks create, are dependent upon much more than members, content, and exchange. Results are also dependent upon the way in which technologies are experienced by members, leadership of the network,trust, expectation setting, and in some cases simply luck through the coincidence of events.
The point is that networks are not what we build, but the conditions that we create. And success in leveraging citizen networks is dependent on both.