IT Forum, nontraditional agendas, and the power of emotion

Next week, I’ve been asked to host an “IT Quarterly Forum,” a three-hour session of typically senior IT managers around gov’t and industry. The subject is social media. I have the privilege of working with two of my Social Media Subcouncil colleagues, Michelle Springer at the Library of Congress and Amanda Eamich at the Dept. of Agriculture.

We’re trying to avoid the standard agenda, with one Powerpoint presentation after another. Instead, we want to demonstrate what I call the social media way of thinking – not just drone on about it, but actually show it in action. So we’ll ask questions of the audience, we’ll include them in ferreting out good info about how social media is being used, we’ll reward them with candy when they listen carefully, and we’ll promote a Twitter hashtag so people outside the room can learn along with them. And I’m going to take a flying leap into the unknown and see whether these folks will join in making a thunderstorm by snapping, clapping, and pounding their feet. It worked great when I spoke at a local elementary school, anyway.

We’re also planning to show a couple of videos. To get them thinking about how information is changing, we’ve got Information R/evolution by Mike Wesch, which I think is a little easier to grasp for a non-technical audience than his better-known The Machine is Us/ing Us.

And then there’s the latest version of Did You Know, a video started by a teacher named Karl Fisch. I’ve shown it more than a dozen times over the last couple of years, but only today did I actually find and read his original blog post about it. His experience was fascinating, and demonstrated much of what happens in social media: he created it for a specific audience (fellow teachers in his district) and purpose (start conversations about how the world their students will enter is changing), but it took off. That’s good and bad. The good thing is his thought-provoking points have been seen millions of times. The bad thing is that the context has been lost, and some people simply take the info to heart instead of starting conversations.

In one of his blog posts, he mentioned a video put together by some fourth graders about how they use Skype to include a classmate who’s stuck at home while being treated for leukemia. It’s classic online video – low video quality, sound that’s sometimes hard to hear, small screen size. Yet … it’s riveting. Because it’s real and heartfelt, and tells a touching story.

So why is that relevant to the upcoming forum? Because this was one of the comments:

You’ve made a convert. Being a district admin, I am initially cautious of new technologies that may tax an already overextended system… but you’ve proven that the cost is far outweighed by the benefits. Congrats. You’ve touched more than one life.

Sometimes it’s not the slick presentations or the long strategy documents. Sometimes it’s a direct demonstration that convinces people of the power these tools offer us … to tell an agency’s story, to share critical information with people, to be part of a community.

Got other online items you’d share with this crowd?

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Jeffrey Levy

That set of vids is a fantastic example of how you don’t need Hollywood production quality to sell the idea that being on a carrier is cool. Thanks!

Jeffrey Levy

Thanks, Jean-Paul. We won’t be able to show Second Life. I’m not familiar enough with it to demo it anyway. Out of all the social media tools, it strikes me as the most complex, so while I’ve tried it a few times, I haven’t really gotten into it the way I understand other tools.