Chris Delatorre. 2015. “Local Communities and Socialized Citizens: The Role of Social Networks in Sustainable Urban Development.” Download at academia.edu.
I’m grateful to Kimse Yok Mu for the opportunity to present this paper at the International Conference on Social Media for Good, Istanbul. My thanks to the interview participants, with special thanks to David Orban and Chris Worman whose words are included, and to Markets For Good (now Digital Impact) for giving added visibility to this important topic.
Local Communities and Socialized Citizens:
The Role of Social Networks in Sustainable Urban Development
This paper offers a conceptual framework for a distributed social networking application for CSOs, where engaged publics can address issues specific to their communities while contributing to a more comprehensive and timely global reporting structure. The goal is to show that a distributed model of communication can help to increase the impact of local organizations, while inspiring new ways to distribute resources, manage infrastructure and nurture local economies. Urban resilience is now a top concern for the social sector, where data and cross-sector partnerships are key. In lieu of a comprehensive interoperable system for civic engagement, based on their broad appeal, mainstream social networks would seem ideal. But issues around transparency and ownership make centralized services problematic for civic participation. Research shows that, while emerging technologies can help drive sustainable urban growth, centralized communication is prone to failure. Through positing a community-based system for organizations and individuals that includes cross-sector partnerships, this discussion highlights the potential for an interoperable and widely adopted distributed social networking solution for local communities, where both economic development and social agency are central. The role of metanetworks in implementing this solution is also considered.
Keywords: apps, civil society, CSO, digital engagement, ICT, metanetworks, mobile tech, NGO, social media, social networks, technology, urban planning, urban resilience, urban sustainability
The purpose of this paper is to present the need for a distributed social networking apparatus for civil society organizations (CSOs) and to advance the role of metanetworks in implementing it. Such an apparatus would help to facilitate urban development through local civic participation and cross-sector collaborations. I do not seek to prescribe a concrete methodology by which to employ an alternative to centralized social networking, but rather to convey the importance and viability of implementing a distributed system. Here “CSO” refers to both civil society organizations and community-based organizations. The conceptual framework presented aims to enable CSOs to make more informed decisions around connecting their work with that of other organizations through distributed social networking. I begin with an overview of global urbanization as it relates to current social sector initiatives. I postulate data and the rise of mobile technology as a medium for connecting local communities and CSOs, and explain why centralized social networking is insufficient for the system proposed. To illustrate the potential for a robust social ecosystem within a distributed framework, I give hypothetical examples using existing social apps and initiatives, and I consider participation incentives and the role of metanetworks. Finally, I recommend next steps for implementation.