I write this as I sit on the train, on my way home from an inspiring few days in snow-covered Istanbul.
Providing the social reporting at this year’s TTI exchange, CommsConsult and Research to Action worked together to facilitate digital engagement during and around the event. Curating social media conversations through tagboards, capturing talking heads, monitoring and developing the TTI Exchange Dialogue page and providing daily round ups of the event in an online newsletter. It was not something new for us, we have done it before, but I came away from the TTI Exchange excited and inspired by a number of things.
The TTI Exchange was an event which brought together over 40 think tanks from across the southern hemisphere. They came together to discuss “Research Quality” and how it could be defined and upheld within a Think Tank. Prior to the event I foresaw issues in getting participants to see beyond social media as a distraction from the discussions taking place. I foresaw reluctance to engage with anything but the panel discussions and the traditional round table debates. I was wrong.
A couple of weeks before the event the Think Tank Initiative launched their hashtag #TTIX2015. As is usual with events such as this, both in the lead up to the event and during, there were key influencers in the social media field who were either more vocal (tweeted, posted more) or more visible (had more followers, likes). Developing a balance between these two types of influencer is key in generating fresh and dynamic dialogue- #TTIX2015 had both.
During the event, the use of the hashtag was successfully promoted through the use of Tagboards displayed live on screens within the breakout zones. This brought the online discussions into the real world for many of the participants; using the old but vital technique of bringing the story to the people, taking it to where they already were. Richard Darlington mentioned the effects of these tweet walls on some of the participants, giving “the (probably) 80% of the conference that are not using Twitter … a window into what the rest of us are doing as we stare at our smart phones, fiddle with our tablets and tap on our laptops.” This window encouraged engagement and even brought a few twitter newbies into the ring.
The hashtag activity provided a brilliant example of the power of social media as a networking tool. I heard people at several points discussing prolific tweeters- eager to put a face to the handle. At an event of this size the digital platforms gave voice to those who had not yet been heard, it “introduced” them to their peers and more importantly, showcased their knowledge.
The digital community of #TTIX2015 was in fact made up of numerous communities, overlapping and evolving around specific tweets or posts- indicating interest and expertise. This highlighted the real potential of social media to be used, at events such as these, as an informal knowledge-brokering tool, with opinion leaders emerging around different themes and topics.
The Power of the RT
Just as opinion leaders were visible so were the normally “invisible users”. This event really brought home for me the power of the Retweet. It provided quick and easy engagement during an intensive few days. The use of an RT as an endorsement, as a statement of agreement and affiliation, provided a valuable insight into emerging communities of consensus across the event.
The Collective Story
The Think Tanks were full of stories. With a variety of cultural and environmental backdrops, the exchange aimed to investigate common themes between them. The digital conversations enabled spontaneous narratives to emerge, highlighting recurring themes, repeated scenarios, across cultures and national boundaries.
The value of collective media is that it allows these spontaneous stories to be immediately visible. It gives a sense of both the multiplicity of stories as well the overarching meta-narrative(s).
The Think Tanks spent three days in discussions around approaches and systems surrounding research quality. How do you assess research quality? What are the measures? Can and should research uptake be included as a measure of quality? For me the digital conversations provided some of the answers.
Transparency and breadth were both mentioned as key indicators in research quality- two attributes exemplified by the digital face of TTIX2015. Capturing voices from the floor, providing an inclusive space for discussion, removing intermediaries and allowing direct conversations- these were all part of facilitating and enabling an exchange of the highest quality.
It was acknowledged during the second day of the Exchange that there was no straight line between research and policy- thus we have to look for other ways to capture learning and effect change. Social media is certainly no straight line- it loops and criss-crosses, conversations disappear only to re-emerge and evolve elsewhere. There is little or no authorial ownership on social media- words and theories become communal. In that way, in a delineated community such as #TTIX2015 it can provide perhaps the most rigorous and honest portrait of all.