Discussion paper

Social media and public policy: what is the evidence?

Information technology Social media Great Britain
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Government and public service delivery is taking place in a changed world. A significant level of social, economic and political activity is now happening on the internet.
As people buy and sell goods, search for information, browse the web and share their day–to–day experiences with colleagues, friends and family through social networks, they produce an enormous amount of data.

The use of this data to develop insights is growing rapidly. In the private sector it is being used to enhance decision making, understand customer behaviour, improve operational efficiency and identify new markets.

The new information environment also obliges government to develop new capabilities to understand the information available and to compete for attention and influence within it.

Part of the challenge in embracing the digital age is that, in the midst of rapid change, it’s very difficult to know where to place your bets. We do not yet know exactly what access to large volumes of social data will mean for our society. It certainly will not present a panacea for long–standing social problems; but it can add another dimension to our understanding of them.

This report considers whether social media data can improve the quality and timeliness of the evidence base that informs public policy. Can the myriad of human connections and interactions on the web provide insight to enable government to develop better policy, understand its subsequent impact and inform the many different organisations that deliver public services?

The report is based on an evaluation of available literature and interviews with 25 experts from a number of disciplines. Given that developments in this field are at such an early stage, it aims to provide helpful signposts rather than definitive answers.

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