Our Flu Wiki partner, DemFromCT, has an important post up at DailyKos today. In June of 2005, Dem (The Next Hurrah), Melanie Mattson (Just a Bump in the Beltway) and The Reveres joined forces in an experiment in community public health planning we called The Flu Wiki. We were joined by our tech guru, the blogger, pogge (Peace, Order and Good Government, eh?), and after a time by anon_22. Anon_22 was “just another” wiki participant who chose her name arbitrarily, not thinking she would become a central figure. Based in the UK, she is a physician and soon became deeply engaged in the discussions that went on at the Wiki. Now she shares moderating duties with Dem and Melanie (The Reveres are still active with Wiki policy but spend their available time here at Effect Measure). This is just the way we wanted the Wiki to work and Flu Wikians have formed all sorts of autonomous affinity groups, one of which is responsible for the current Flu Pandemic Awareness Week. You can read some of the history of The Flu Wiki here, recounted in a reply we made to a librarian who challenged the authority of this kind of new media.
As DemFromCT notes at DailyKos, that battle is now decisively over with:
One of the interesting things about blogs, wikis and “new media” (aka Web 2.0) is its ability to influence dialague and narrative way beyond the number of readers of a single post. Peter Daou (now working for Hillary Clinton) wrote this up in what he called Daou’s Triangle: media reads blogs, and the politicians and parties (and their staff) read media, while blogs write about politicians and parties. There are limits to this, of course, but there are also broader applications.
Well, a year later, we’ve been cited by Science, the World Bank, BBC, PBS, WHO (to name a few) and this week, by the CDC [who has just started a blog of its own].
Above and beyond real-time information gathering and message dissemination, the social and community qualities of new media can advance health and risk communication by changing how we understand our problems and how we construct our solutions. News groups, chat rooms, and bulletin boards have been used for exchanging health information and as online support groups since the earliest days of the web. Today’s Web 2.0 tools that leverage and harness the “knowledge of the crowd” offer great potential for solving our most difficult public health problems and building and empowering communities of change. One great example is FluWiki, whose stated purpose is “to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic, [which is] a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies.”
Controlling and mitigating public health emergencies, especially those that are the size and scale of an influenza pandemic, will absolutely require the active engagement and participation of the public and all sectors of society. New media efforts to engage and galvanize the public like FluWiki, Green Hammer, and the Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog are critical to CDC’s ability to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic and to other possible public health emergencies. (CDC)
So CDC is finally catching on. They recently participated in a panel discussion on new media and their implications for Federal health communications programs. Here’s some of an account by one of the participants, Craig Lefebvre, whose blog Social Marketing is a wealth of interesting information on the new media and health:
The invited audience consisted of HHS health communicators including people from five Institutes at the National Institutes of Health. From past reactions I have received on social media from people involved in both federal and state health programs, I was especially interested in the participants’ reactions and comments during these 3 hours of presentations and discussion. Here are my notes:
- An immediate response was that moving into places like MySpace and YouTube (two examples I used in my talk) meant that even more time and investments would be necessary to develop effective messages for these new channels. One participant who works in the substance abuse area talked about the difficulties they were having with pro-marijuana and drug use people hijacking their sites and messages, including on-going debates with editors of Wikipedia over the slant being given to some drug entries. The notions of transparency and audience-generated content as being realities of these new media were recognized and accepted by many people in the room, but moving from linear, one-way communication models to more networked models of communication is going to be as difficult for them as it is for many companies and agencies.
- The question was raised about what the role of the Federal government should be as a source of health information in this new world? Can it be effectively positioned as an arbiter of ‘truth’ and science? Or is it going to be one of many (hundreds?) of voices competing for people’s attention and trust? What does the trend of democratization of information portend for communications planning and health communications and social marketing programs? How will social networks play a role in assessments of credibility and trustworthiness? Monitoring this new environment (blogs, social network sites, Wikipedia) was also pointed to as a new task for these offices that would require attention.
- The issue was also raised about how to ‘push’ or direct people towards health information once it was made available in social networks and other types of social media (for example, a specific health campaign’s materials). We began focusing on the need to switch the orientation from an ‘outreach’ to an ‘inreach’ approach to health information and behavior change dissemination that emphasizes discovery of information when and where people are interested in it and looking for it.
- A concern was expressed by researchers that submitting investigator-initiated grants to the NIH to conduct research with new media and technologies has been met many times by rejection by peer review committees whose members are not conversant with these technologies. It was felt that this lack of expertise and experience on these review committees (whose members determine to a large extent whether grants are funded or not) may imperil opportunities to understand and best utilize these new media in health communications and behavior change efforts.
- Some participants also shared how they have been tapping into thought leaders from the commercial world to introduce ideas and new technologies to the executive level staff at some Institutes. I believe a shared feeling was that this type of cross-fertilization and exploration of new ideas had to become more commonplace at NIH. As one participant put it, the NIH is renowned for its curiosity and research into new ideas and approaches to health and disease; this attitude needs to be equally applied to issues in health communications, behavior and new media.(Social Marketing)
These are mostly good developments. The last bullet point, above, is somewhat worrisome, however. The commercial world tends to be behind the curve, not ahead of it. Being ahead of the curve in a world where things move as swiftly as new media is essential. Unfortunately, this attitude of the federal health communicators is another example of a charcteristic tentativeness at a time when decisiveness is more appropriate.
But we’ll take what we can get. We welcome CDC to the Blogosphere.