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Social Networking Sites (SNSs):: Smart Platforms for Public Service Innovation?



The paper argues that social networking sites SNS can be exploited as smart platforms for fostering public service innovation. Exploring and discussing SNSs in public service innovation through the complexity lens, the paper shows that SNSs enable new opportunities and pose new threats, depending on the perspective. The paper speaks for open and democratising innovation, which accentuates that not all ideas and knowledge critical to innovation reside within an organisation, but are dispersed in the organisation's external environment.
DOI: 10.4018/IJVCSN.2016070101
Copyright © 2016, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.
Volume 8 • Issue 3 • July-September 2016
Harri Jalonen, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Turku, Finland
The paper argues that social networking sites (SNS) can be exploited as smart platforms for fostering
public service innovation. Exploring and discussing SNSs in public service innovation through the
complexity lens, the paper shows that SNSs enable new opportunities and pose new threats, depending
on the perspective. The paper speaks for open and democratising innovation, which accentuates that
not all ideas and knowledge critical to innovation reside within an organisation, but are dispersed in
the organisation’s external environment.
Complexity Thinking, Facebook, Public Innovation, Social Networking Sites, Twitter
Social networking sites (SNS) refer to web-based services that facilitate the formation of the relationship
between online users and sharing information and content for such relationships. Facebook, Twitter
and Google+, to name just a few, have over a short period of time changed the ways people interact
with each other. SNSs are not confined to the relationship between users who share similar interests,
but they can also be exploited in the communication within organisations and across organisational
boundaries. Presumably this increase innovation potential as well. Studies show that organisations
beneficially use SNSs, among other things, in marketing and promoting brands, improving personnel
satisfaction, opening up their innovation processes and increasing organisational agility (e.g. Kaplan
& Haenlein, 2010; Standing & Kiniti, 2011; Berthon et al., 2012).
Despite such research, there appears to be a knowing-doing gap with regard to how SNSs can
be effectively used in engaging citizens in public service innovation. The reasons are probably as
numerous as there are interpreters. SNSs divide minds and breed opinions in which SNSs are either
embraced or despised. From the positive perspective, social media is not an alternative to real life,
but an irremovable part of it. It has been argued that SNSs have introduced significant although
unanticipated consequences to society, politics, economics and culture. Congruently, the argument
goes on that only organisations that recognise the need for sharing knowledge openly with their
customers, partners and employees through SNSs will survive. The counter argument is that there is
nothing exceptional and fundamentally new in SNSs. From this perspective, SNSs are just another
communication channel among many others. This critique argues that the implementation of SNSs
does not necessarily lead to more social, open or participative communication than more traditional
methods (Denyer et al., 2011).
Volume 8 • Issue 3 • July-September 2016
The paper asks: can SNSs be understood as smart platforms for engaging citizens in public
service innovation? The paper is based on the understanding that the effective use of SNSs in a public
service innovation context requires a theoretically sound interpretation of the potential benefits and
problems related to SNSs. Using the metaphorical reading of complexity thinking (e.g. Richardson,
2008), the paper discusses the pros and cons of SNSs in public service innovation. The paper focuses
primarily on the early phases of innovation, i.e. initiation and idea generation. It is supposed that
SNSs enable citizens to create, share and comment on issues in an uncontrollable way. For public
authorities, SNSs provide insight and weak signals about citizens’ needs. In the spirit of complexity
thinking, interaction is deemed as the prime mover which enables seeing and doing differently, i.e.
innovation. Interaction produces emergent behaviour which cannot be understood on the basis of
what is known about the actors involved in that interaction. The only way to comprehend it is to look
at the interaction processes. In so doing, this paper contributes new knowledge to the discussion on
how public authorities and citizens can co-operate in addressing and solving complex problems.
Special expectations are being directed towards public service innovations, by which new types
of service concepts traversing traditional sector boundaries are referred to, as well as new ways to
generate and combine existing services. Typically, transitions in policies, civil opinion, legislation
or – more widely – in social needs act as an initiator of public service innovation (Halvorsen et al.,
2005). Public service innovation fixes the attention on the problems and developmental needs of
public services; not only amongst researchers but also amongst practical actors and policymakers.
Testifying to the strength of public service innovation is understandable and logical, as there are
innumerable pressures for change amidst public services which target either the productivity of the
services or the question of how the services fit new types of needs, as well as those that are rapidly
changing. In the background of the goals linked with the productivity and influence of services,
concern above all over the future of the welfare society is exerting an impact under the circumstances
in which the skewing of the population’s age structure is simultaneously causing both growth in the
demand for services, and problems in the production of services with regard to staff sufficiency.
Changes in service needs can be connected with the increasing complexity of social problems as well
as the current trend in which the aim is to offer citizens more and more influence over the modes of
service production and the content of services. It is typical to find strong trust in the usefulness of
innovations in the discussion on innovation. The presupposition is that the problems linked with the
generation and influence of services are resolved when the actors involved are adequately innovative.
Indeed, the concept of innovation is linked quite generally with an explosive charge in positive values.
Trust in public service innovations can, however, also be regarded as worrying and problematic
– for the reason that despite the increased interest, service innovation is still incompletely theorised,
researched too minimally and is, as a result, a poorly understood phenomenon (Dörner et al., 2011).
This particularly concerns public service innovation (Moore & Hartley, 2008). Despite the strong
growth of the economic significance of the service sector, redeeming the expectations targeted
towards public service innovations and the role of citizens requires more research data that is both
scientifically and practically oriented.
Compared to companies, public sector organisations are characterised as bureaucratic actors
assessed as lacking, for instance, nimbleness and the ability to take risks in developing innovations.
It has also been asked rhetorically why public organisations in essence really need to be creative and
innovative. The foundation of the existence of businesses crystallises ultimately in their ability to
generate products and services for the market which customers are ready to pay for, whilst the continuity
of the functions of public sector organisations is based on handling the social tasks assigned to them.
Although an emphasis on innovation policy in supporting the functional prerequisites of enterprises
is quite understandable, this development has, at the same time, meant that our understanding of the
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... Digital technology also enables governments to raise their outreach to citizens whilst empowering citizens to have their opinions heard. Based on thinking that citizens are experts of their own situation, it has been suggested that social media provides means for engaging citizens in public service innovation (Jalonen, 2016). ...
... Open and democratizing innovation in a multi-actor environment is usually portrayed as a complex process which lack clear cause and effect sequences. The complexity of the innovation process can manifest itself in various forms, but the fundamental reason lies in the interaction containing nonlinear feedback loops and conflictual differences in opinions (Jalonen, 2016). Innovations do not 'go viral' and spread as straightforwardly as contagious diseases (Centola, 2018). ...
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This article presents the analysis of the usage of open data and social media in the co-creation of public service innovation. The article concludes that using open data and social media in co-creation of public service innovation is a promising approach but not yet fully implemented. It seems clear that the advances in digital technology may provide a bridge for bringing service providers and service users together. The benefits are clear. First, the more accurate and real-time data available, the more effective the service provision will be. Second, the more citizen participation, the more tailored services can be co-created. Third, the more transparent governance becomes, the more legitimate and accountable it becomes. Fourth, governmental legitimacy increases societal trust which supports knowledge sharing and spurs innovation. However, co-creation of public service innovations can be more complex, more unpredictable, and more political than what the rhetoric indicates.
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