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A few weeks ago I attended a meeting at the University of Maryland in College Park of a working group proposing a new “National Initiative for Social Participation”. The meeting brought together people from the major universities, research labs, and government funding agencies to think about an “Apollo Program for Social Media”. The idea is that data networks, social media applications and mobile devices could change disaster recovery or help governments deliver regular services and address common problems.
Peter Pirolli, research at PARC, presented the keynote about the challenges and opportunities for the use of social media to address social problems.
There is growing interest in this space, for example NSF funding was significantly increased this year. For example, there is the new NSF Social-Computational Systems (SoCS) program: http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503406&org=NSF&sel_org=NSF&from=fund
President Obama’s recent speech to the National Academy of Science (http://www.nasonline.org/site/PageServer) sets some of the context for this group’s vision, he speaks about crowd sourcing and its impact on science. (See minute 28:30) video is on the web site of the National Academy of Science http://edg1.vcall.com/video/nas/launch.asp
“I have charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions – and not the other way around.
As part of this effort, we’ve already launched a website that allows individuals to not only make recommendations to achieve this goal, but to collaborate on those recommendations; it is a small step, but one that is creating a more transparent, participatory and democratic government.”
Elsewhere in the speech there is a refernce to the role of (appropriately) digitizing medical records which I think includes the idea that people will increasingly gather online to work towards better personal health:
“The Recovery Act will support the long overdue step of computerizing America’s medical records, to reduce the duplication, waste, and errors that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
But it’s important to note: these records also hold the potential of offering patients the chance to be more active participants in prevention and treatment. We must maintain patient control over these records and respect their privacy. At the same time, however, we have the opportunity to offer billions and billions of anonymous data points to medical researchers who may find in this information evidence that can help us better understand disease.”
There seems to be a role for the kinds of online communities and social media that people turn to when facing physical or medical challenges.
National Initiative for Social Participation at University of Maryland