Yesterday afternoon I attended an excellent IPPR/TUC event discussing how Unions can benefit from using Internet tools. Discussions ranged from getting general secretaries blogging to paperless direct debits. A very useful and productive event for all that attended.
One issue that I found particularly interesting was exploring how the Internet could help leverage peer-to-peer member interactions. So instead of requests going up to a union rep (or higher) and then down again, web-based member directories (such as we build every day for alumni associations, corporate networks etc.) could empower members to find the right people instantly. This cuts out the middle-man and really lets members see the richness of their fellow union supporters.
This idea is scary to many due to the potential loss of control over member communications and data protection issues. These are both surmountable, however talking to delegates it became clear that the real stumbling block was fear from branches of letting centralised union bureaucracies have their membership data in the first place… a tough political nut to crack.
There's a write-up of the event (before it happened bizarrely enough) on PublicTechnology.net. Will Davies (from the IPPR) has a personal blog entry and an official entry with links to presentations, papers and so on. Roger Darlington's presentation was particularly passionate about the power of technology. It was only when I got home and pulled up his site that I realised I already knew who he was – bizarre.