Social networking - historical context
While the technology and the tools might be relatively new, the concept of social networking has been around much longer than the Internet or even mass communication.
People have always been social creatures; our ability to work together in groups, creating value that is greater than the sum of its parts, is one of our greatest assets. (Weaver and Morrison 2008, p.97).
Research suggests that the application of information and communications technology (ICT), and specifically, social networking tools, supports the development of evidence- based practice (LaMendola et al, 2009). Garrison and Anderson (2003) explore whether a facilitated blend of face-to-face meetings, structured online discourses about cases and online access to databases of research literature might create a community of enquiry among social work practitioners.
Communities of enquiry are also known as communities of practice, or learning networks. According to Wenger (2006), communities develop their practice through a variety of activities, for example problem solving, requests for information, seeking experience, reusing assets, coordination and synergy, discussing developments, documentation projects, visits, and mapping knowledge and identifying gaps.
Communities have great knowledge sharing and learning potential. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991).
Recognising that recent web developments should be fully exploited, a report from the Local Government Information Unit (Carr et al, 2009) urges local authorities to recognise that the internet has fundamentally changed the way we work and live and that it should not be regarded as something external to ‘normal’ life or business.
The development of web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, microblogs, wikis, videostreaming and social networking sites makes it easier than ever for us all to create and share content and enables us to communicate in real time across the boundaries and hierarchies that have too often held us back in the past.
Web-based social networking tools are already being used by professionals in the social services workforce to network, collaborate and learn. By their very nature, these resources are highly engaging and if used appropriately offer innovative opportunities for service improvement. The implementation of Changing Lives and the Continuous Learning Framework will be helped if members of the workforce have unfettered access to modern web-based tools for managing institutional knowledge and peer to peer knowledge sharing.