EdTech & Social Business – The Problem Of Assimilation

Euan Semple wrote a very interesting post a few days back describing the assimilation of social tools in the workplace to strengthen status-quo rather than disrupt it. This is one of the reasons purely bottom-up approaches don’t really pay-off.

Incidentally, I have been reading through some pretty old conversations between Seymour Papert and the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paolo Freire around the future of school and in part 2 of the series one of the things that stands out is this:

The school bureaucracies know very well how to use the computer … in order to reinforce their own concept of school. And I find it very interesting that … in the 1970s the first times I saw any microcomputers in schools, it was always through the efforts of a visionary and rebellious teacher who didn’t like what he or she — often she — was supposed to be doing and saw the computer as the way of doing something different. And often … this is a bit romantic … they felt the potential of this thing and they wanted change.… So it was an instrument of radical change — that’s what they thought it was. And then around about the middle of the 1980s … this computer got into the hands of school administrations and the ministries and the commissioners of education, state education departments.

And now look what they did with them: no longer are there computers in the hands of visionary teachers in the classrooms. The establishment pulls together and now they’ve got a computer classroom, there’s a computer curriculum, and there’s a special computer teacher. In other words, the computer has been thoroughly assimilated to the way you do things in school.

Looks like assimilation is a problem with deep roots in institutions in general and not limited to enterprises alone. Be it schools,  governments or enterprises – many are likely to mangle the “social” out of social business and make it business as usual. Typical manifestations of this within enterprises attempting to use social platforms are:

  • Lots of private groups for no real reason leading to more silos than before
  • Extensive use of folders/sub-folders as opposed to tags
  • Using discussion forums for every conceivable type of interaction ignoring wiki pages, blogs and status updates
  • Building custom workflows for content like documents to keep gatekeepers happy
  • Community samaritans and their contributions are ignored
  • Very few middle and senior managers actually contribute to any conversation – as a matter of fact, they wonder if the people who contribute actually do any work!

The list is potentially endless. What this means is that an institution can choose to deploy a social tool and then take the social out of it by using a deadly web of structure, process and politics. Well, Drucker is right: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and any social business strategy is no exception.