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Welcome to digital communications

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital for Development

Hello and welcome again to the new Digital for Development blogging group. I am the head of the digital team here in DFID’s communications division in London. I work with a team of talented editors to produce and promote the online words, pictures, video, audio and graphics for the department. We also lead on DFID’s digital engagement which has grown from a germ of an idea many years ago, to a business as usual, day to day activity.

It’s an exciting time to be writing. With the advent of the UK government’s Digital by Default strategy, things are changing fast and changing for the better. As a former print and online journalist, I have lately been astonished by how willing the civil service is to adapt and grow with the changing times. There are many dedicated and switched on digital people across the UK government who are contributing daily to improving services for citizens.

At DFID, much of our digital communication is focused on demonstrating the impact of British support in developing countries. We work in 27 countries so there is a lot to show.

It will also be fascinating to read posts from the other digital teams in DFID, whose work on aid transparency and technology for development are breaking new ground in the global effort to eradicate poverty. I would also love to hear readers’ thoughts on what we could improve and what works well.

In this blog, I will write about social media initiatives, interesting articles, meeting citizen needs on the award-winning GOV.UK, digital trends and more. I will introduce colleagues who will – no doubt – write with zeal about what has worked and what hasn’t. While we are very established now on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud, not to mention this blogging platform, we are always exploring what else we can do, and what should be dropped.

My next post discusses the recent changes to Flickr. Let’s get the conversation started.

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  1. Comment by David Girling posted on

    I would love to know more about DFID's social media initiatives and more importantly if you have commissioned any research on the potential of social media for development in the global south. David Girling (@socialmedia4D)

  2. Comment by Gitau Mburu posted on

    I work for the Department, in its Nairobi office. In Kenya, we're used to reading harsh verdicts from, say, literary critics, who charge that Kenya, and much of Africa, has lost its reading culture! I disagree. The only shred of truth I could possibly see in it is because social media has forced our minds - and attention spans may be - to only read things that are no more than 140 characters!

    Do you think social social contributes to falling interests in reading? Especially in the development field where tonnes of reports are produced every year.

    I recall a friend of mine saying that they have read nothing else other than 'Executive summaries' for the last two years! Is it that bad, and does social media have something to do with this problem (I think it's a problem)?

  3. Comment by BlogModerator posted on

    Hi David. Thanks for the comment. Great to see that you're reading. We're fans of your blog. Did you see the next post about Flickr? On your question about research, the short answer is no - it's a big topic, so there isn't a major, all-encompassing study. But keep reading this blogging group for posts later in the summer from Jonathan Wong, head of the innovation hub, which will shine a light on technology for development in DFID. Meanwhile, opportunities for research funding are resourced from the research division. So take a look there.

  4. Comment by BlogModerator posted on

    Hi Gitau - lovely to see a comment from you here. I agree the sheer volume of material on social media can be deafening, and it does lead to vastly altered reading patterns and attention spans. It's disrupting everything. However, we try to use Twitter to send people to interesting articles and authoritative information about the UK's work in-country. I imagine that people will eventually work out how "loud" they want their social media to be, and adjust accordingly. It can be terribly distracting. Take a look at this article in the New York Times about how even people who work in the tech industry sometimes need to turn off their devices. Meanwhile, in the same way that people used to touch base with their preferred news provider several times a day, they are now doing that in social media spaces, so it's important that we are there to provide them with the latest.

  5. Comment by Gitau Mburu posted on

    I love the NYT article, but would desist from applying that trick of stacking phones in the middle of a dinner table and paying the bill if I reach for mine first!

    Social media and micro-blogging (pardon me if I mix terms) is great in pointing people to the right places for the right infor they need, in appropriate doses. On that account, it could actually be a panacea for the information overload we're currently suffering from.

    I suppose the next frontier for people like you and I (in dev't and trying to sponsor social transformation) is using social media to contribute to actual or tangible change on the ground, in the communities and cities that really need that change. A lot was said of how social media was the catalyst or trigger for the Arab spring, but in my own city (Nairobi, a sprawling, prospering metropolis), there is a fair share of scepticism about social media's ability to lead to tangible change. During the period leading to our general election this year, you’d hear - in a negative connotation - of how middle class "face book voters" are only good in voicing discontent against politicians via their "likes and dislikes", in the comfort of their lofty sitting rooms, but would barely get out to vote, attend political rallies, or come out for street protests. See an op-ed that was penned in Kenya's largest daily newspaper by a political activist; it was spot on!

    I think it's just a phase we're in. Amartya Sen, the Indian economist who won a Nobel prize, argued in his book "The argumentative Indian", that there is a place for arguments and multiple voices in building a flourishing democracy. So social media can, and does, inform in the right manner. The next the challenge to conquer is to make that translate that cyber energy to real transformation in the lives of people.

    Good luck!

  6. Comment by Joakim Rådström posted on

    Dear DFID Communications Team,

    I have tried in vain to reach someone at your department at DFID to get some answers on DFID's Communication for Development strategies (if there are any). Resorting to your Public Enquiry Point has unfortunately not helped, since I originally posted my request to them on the 29th of January (some 50 days back), and I still don't know what happened with this question. I am a student of development communication with the Malmö University in Sweden, but I also work as a communications professional with a big think-tank here, and I must say that I am confused as to how DFID's public communication has worked so far. That is, rather than being open and hospitable to external queries, you have mired most of the access points to DFID in an anonymous Public Enquiry Point, which makes it almost impossible to see where one's questions end up.

    Please therefore do return to me as soon as possible, since I have an upcoming research assignment which is due on Monday the 24th, and for which I would need to interview someone with your team at DFID.

    Best regards,
    Joakim Rådström