From a Voluntary Health Association perspective Social Software is an umbrella term for a series of business solutions that are focused on inter connecting and facilitating the organization of people. Much of what is being developed is not in it self-new. It is a new way of looking at and doing things. In fact many of the application are variants of things which the NHA’s have created, been doing or have done in the past. The promise here is in the efficiency and the potential for integration that the new tools can bring. By definition for NHA’s the field of Social Software is innovative rather then purely creative.
For health organizations Social Software will not for the most part invent new things to do. It will however reinvent how things are done. It will of course create some new programs but more importunately it will make volunteer programs that are becoming unaffordable cost effective. The basic business model of the voluntary health association is to find interested parties, contact them where they work or live and do it often, in order to raise funds or recruit volunteers, that core function can be dramatically improved by social software.
A few examples: UP MY STREET.COM organizes neighborhoods in England for the civic good. The under pinning is very similar to the theories NHA’s used to create the now faded House-to-House and Dear Neighbor programs. The NHA business model has always depended on the creation of communication vehicles. Without the printing press they would not have been founded and would not exist. Now think of Blogs as newsletters, testimonials and appeals without printing presses and Pay Pal as an electronic way to respond to direct marketing and you will begin to see the business implications. Social Software is all that but much more go to Google and enter ‘Relay for Life blogs’ and you will get over 16,000 hits. People who simply want to communicate about Relay and what it has meant to them set up these blogs independently. Maybe only their friends or people on their team want to see their blog but with 1 in 70 Americans involved in Relay the potential for readership, recruiting and event growth is huge. Friendster and Orkut facilitate communication and networking of friends and business associates. Think of NHA’s using them it to bring research grantees together or as a way for volunteers to reach out to new volunteers and recruit new donors. There are of course many other examples. The idea of one person reaching out to many is the big idea behind volunteerism; the new systems can make it easier.
The ACS-Futuring and Innovation Center has looked at the Social Software area for the past year or so and become convinced that while the big impacts are several years away, understanding the trends and potential now will allow us to design and build functions that are ready to roll out at the front end of the adoption curve. The analogy could be, what if we as a sector had looked at the Internet and its potential back in 1988? Could our response in the early 90’s have been better? The ACS strongly feels that developing this field in concert with our fellow VHA’s will accelerate us to a level no single organization could achieve on our own.
We will be working with the senior leadership of other NHA’s over the months ahead in order to design a spring 2005 conference that meets industry needs and creatively involves the leaders of key program and technology areas. Currently we are working on the high-level business issues with our NHA counterparts to develop a clear vision of where the VHA movement is going and how Social Software can impact and improve the VHA business model.