From Disruptive To Innovative Technologies

In a report on the recent eFoundations Symposium Ale Fernandez has given his thoughts on the discussions which took place on the symposium back channel in which there seemed to be agreement that the term ‘disruptive technologies’ was increasingly counter-productive and proposed use of the term ‘innovative technologies': “it surfaced that I wasn’t the only one who thought a more positive terminology (like “Emerging Technologies”) would be more conducive to positive adoption on campus or even just to an understanding of the real strengths and limitations of these tools“.

This sounds sensible to me as we are now finding that the disruptive aspects of Web 2.0 are now becoming better understood and institutions are now developing ways of makes use of the technologies and cultural changes in their planning. The disruptive aspects of Web 2.0 are I feel, the Social Web and the ‘network as the platform‘, with technologies such as AJAX being accepted as simply an welcome development which can provide more usable services and application areas such as blogs and wikis are now being deployed to support the teaching, learning and research functions within the institution.

In his talk at the Symposium Chris Adie outlined the need to take a risk management approach – and went on to point our the risks of doing nothing. Guidelines on the risks of using externally-hosted services are being written, and I’m aware of the Guidelines for Using External Services produced by the University of Edinburgh and the Checklist for assessing third-party IT services, produced by the University of Oxford. These documents are to be welcomed – and it is particularly pleasing that the documents are publicly available and not hidden on the institutional Intranet.

And despite grumbles from some quarters about the ‘noise’ on the back channel, useful additional resources were shared by people who may not have been physically present at the event. Ale Fernandez reminded us of the BBC guidelines on Personal use of Social Networking and other third party websites. And via Twitter (another very useful channel which brings to my attention resources relevant to my interests) David Harrison alerted me (and his other Twitter followers) of Roo Reynolds’ post on Policing vs Guidelines which described the approaches to use of social networks taken at IBM. In response to the question “How do you police use of social software in the workplace?” Roo responded:

The answer, which might surprise you, is that you don’t, You can’t. You physically can’t monitor, review and approve everything all your employees are doing. Instead, you need to use trust.

Our sector can learn from the approaches which are being taken by the BBC and IBM. And, as we have a well-established tradition of sharing, I feel we are well-placed to collaborate on the development of such guidelines and shares experiences in the deployment of such guidelines. Would anyone like to start? Has any institutions published similar guidelines? Or does anyone have any suggestions on what the guidelines should cover?


  1. ‘Disruptive’ is an well understood economic term, where new business models render old models and markets redundant. It’s not a term I’d necessarily apply to social media per se (as that’s a different phenomenon).

    For Unis though, it’s interesting to consider whether the possibilities for learning via peers online is ‘disruptive’ to the business of teaching students on a campus.

  2. @Frankie,

    That’s interesting, but wouldn’t disruptive be seen as a good thing from the POV of the new business models, but bad from the POV of the old ones?

    “Disruptive” is bound to have negative connotations to people whose existing ways of working are threatened.

  3. I think it was me that raised the question at the event in the context of “Can you imagine going to your Vice-Chancellor and saying … I want to introduce and support some disruptive technologies into our organisation”. What’s good and understandable language in one environment (ours – the IT professionals) is not one that stands up so well in the context of selling an idea or concept.

  4. @Tim Beadle

    Sure, “Disruptive”, is bound to have negative connotations to people whose existing ways of working are threatened, but if there ways of working really ARE being threatened, then the negative connotations (to them) are surely natural and correct? Using a more friendly sounding word isn’t going to make the disruption any easier to swallow, and might give a false sense of security.

    That said, I think a lot of what is sometimes termed ‘disruptive’ in social media is nothing of the sort.



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