What Makes Government 2.0 Different from Enterprise 2.0?

One of the things that I have consistently noticed in my five years as a government communications consultant is that our new hires who come from the corporate world go through an adjustment period upon first supporting a government client.  That’s to be expected as there are a multitude of differences between public sector and private sector clients – from the mundane (different ways of hiring contractors) to the fundamental (no shareholders to worry about).  These differences extend into the world of social media too, specifically into social media behind the firewall, known in the private sector as Enterprise 2.0.

What makes implementing social media on the intranet of a government agency like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) different than say, General Motors (GM)?  I’ve worked with clients from across the government who are all seeing social media succeed in helping organizations communicate, collaborate, and share information better than they ever have.  From wikis in the Intelligence Community to internal blogs at IBM, many of my clients see these articles and want to use social media to realize these same benefits, but don’t know how to do it.  The first thing that I have to tell them is that just because another organization, company, or agency implemented blogs or wikis or whatever else, they won’t necessarily see the same results, especially if they compare themselves to case studies in the private sector.  There are several fundamental differences between implementing social media behind the firewall in the government as opposed to a Fortune 500 company.  Let’s look at my top six:

  1. Risks – From Mark Drapeau’s excellent Government 2.0 series on Mashable“When Coke’s recipe or Google’s search algorithm get out, there are certainly serious consequences, but ultimately, people don’t die. The government has a higher standard.” On Intellipedia, the Intelligence Community’s wiki, 16 agencies are sharing classified information related to some of our nation’s most protected data – you think that the leadership there might have some pretty justifiable concerns about information security?  Accidentally exposing proprietary information is one thing – accidentally disclosing Top Secret military movements or taxpayer data is another.
  2. Administration Changes – Every November, and especially every fourth November, every government agency has to prepare for the chance that tomorrow, they may have a new boss with a new vision for how things should work.  Organization charts are always out of date, no one ever knows what their corporate strategy is, and people are always getting shuffled from position to position.  The comments to one of my prior posts alluded to this as well – sometimes leaders who know they will be leaving their position want to leave behind a legacy.  These leaders are more apt to take risks, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  Getting and maintaining the top cover for an implementation of social media is virtually impossible in these cases – what happens after that leader leaves?
  3. Intra-agency collaboration – Most government agencies do not operate in a vacuum – they have to not only collaborate amongst themselves, but must also collaborate with various partner agencies.  How big of a net should you cast when implementing a wiki or blogs behind your firewall?  For example, let’s say that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wanted to implement a wiki – should that wiki be open to just TSA employees?  Or, should it also be open to other agencies like the FAA or other members of the Intel Community?  Wouldn’t you think that NSA and TSA might benefit from being able to collaborate with one another?  Where you draw the line?
  4. Bureaucracy – One thing that can’t be discounted in the bureaucracy involved.  Getting ANYTHING done often takes months of reviews, approvals, control gate presentations, etc.  I know of some government organizations still using Netscape as their Internet Browser because IE and/or Firefox haven’t yet been approved for their IT system.  Imagine the hurdles that have to be crossed to get blogs installed!  Combined with the various regulations and policies that have to be consulted and the administration issues mentioned above, there is often just not enough time available in the year to get these things done.
  5. Demographics – I don’t have any hard numbers on this (if you do, please pass them along), but in my experience, government employees fit into a very different demographic than those found in the private sector.  They tend to be older (have to learn these tools as opposed to having grown up with them), have longer tenure (are more set in their ways and resistant to change), and are motivated by different things (innovation is rarely on their performance assessments).  The cultural change that social media necessitates is thus inherently more difficult.
  6. Available Resources – If you’ve ever worked in a government environment, you know that there’s a constant battle for funding.  Every department is short-staffed and there’s never enough resources to accomplish everything, and as a result, innovative initiatives like social media tend to get dropped as the focus moves toward accomplishing the day-to-day work that makes up their organizational mission.  There just aren’t too many people who have the leadership support to take on the tasks necessary to make social media behind the firewall successful, like gardening a wiki or developing blog training courses.

Now, I put these six points out there not to discourage the exploration of social media behind government firewall – quite the contrary.  I want to identify the differences so that we can consider them and ultimately address them.  In one of my future posts, I’ll look at some ways in which these differences can be tackled, as well as what happens when these differences aren’t taken into account.

What other differences do you see?

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About sradick

I’m Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh.

Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • Good insights in training focus on public/private sector differences. I might add that engagement also vividly describes the public/private divide. Merely throwing up the two phrases, “public engagement” and “private engagement” demonstrates a stark contrast. The former is centrifugal, a reaching out for inclusion in ever-widening circles of policy spheres. The semantic of the latter is about exclusion; it’s centripetal.

    It’s ironic, then, that social media is mainly the purview of the private sector, their public counterparts lagging way behind. But this should get us thinking. Is “socialmedia” a precise term? What is the true meaning of “social” in socialmedia? How much of the social in socialmedia is driven by commerce, by private gain. Is the prevailing motive impelling socialmedia, social, or egocentric?

    Engagement is a key divide partly associated with your first point about risks. If the public you’re engaging is actually your ultimate master, both in principle and in law, there’s a huge risk of backlash. There’s serious consequences if things go awry, even catastrophic. By contrast, the names and bios of most big time corporate CEOs are not widely known. Some are downright secretive. It’s much easier to hide in a walled, private space than in a public park. In the end, socialmedia use in the private sector is a highly selective enterprise; it’s partisan. In the public arena, all opinions, in theory, count and deserve due consideration and respect. It’s nonpartisan, or supposed to be. To work, it has to be non-selective, open, transparent, accountable. Those values are often much touted by some private enterprises, but private practice does not demand them, nor vault them upward to the highest of priorities.

    The simplest, yet most telling difference, I think, is that with socialmedia, the public sector manages it publicly, and the private sector manages it privately. Inadvertantly, I may be pointing to what may be the perverse inversion of meaning in the rubric, socialmedia.

    For all that, I may be all wet! Thanks for provoking thought!

    bob

  • Good insights in training focus on public/private sector differences. I might add that engagement also vividly describes the public/private divide. Merely throwing up the two phrases, “public engagement” and “private engagement” demonstrates a stark contrast. The former is centrifugal, a reaching out for inclusion in ever-widening circles of policy spheres. The semantic of the latter is about exclusion; it’s centripetal.

    It’s ironic, then, that social media is mainly the purview of the private sector, their public counterparts lagging way behind. But this should get us thinking. Is “socialmedia” a precise term? What is the true meaning of “social” in socialmedia? How much of the social in socialmedia is driven by commerce, by private gain. Is the prevailing motive impelling socialmedia, social, or egocentric?

    Engagement is a key divide partly associated with your first point about risks. If the public you’re engaging is actually your ultimate master, both in principle and in law, there’s a huge risk of backlash. There’s serious consequences if things go awry, even catastrophic. By contrast, the names and bios of most big time corporate CEOs are not widely known. Some are downright secretive. It’s much easier to hide in a walled, private space than in a public park. In the end, socialmedia use in the private sector is a highly selective enterprise; it’s partisan. In the public arena, all opinions, in theory, count and deserve due consideration and respect. It’s nonpartisan, or supposed to be. To work, it has to be non-selective, open, transparent, accountable. Those values are often much touted by some private enterprises, but private practice does not demand them, nor vault them upward to the highest of priorities.

    The simplest, yet most telling difference, I think, is that with socialmedia, the public sector manages it publicly, and the private sector manages it privately. Inadvertantly, I may be pointing to what may be the perverse inversion of meaning in the rubric, socialmedia.

    For all that, I may be all wet! Thanks for provoking thought!

    bob

  • Dan Williams

    These points are also clear reasons why it it SO important to have clear goals when implementing social media within the public sector. Sometimes, whether in the private or public sector, organizations focus only on the benefits of social media without thinking about the planning that must be goes into a successful implementation.

    I might also add “Departmental Silos” as a sub-point under “Bureaucracy.” As an IT consultant to the government working on social media implementations, getting departments/divisions to work together sometime takes just as much “elbow grease” as inter-agency collaboration. This may be a result/symptom of point 5, “Demographics.”

  • Dan Williams

    These points are also clear reasons why it it SO important to have clear goals when implementing social media within the public sector. Sometimes, whether in the private or public sector, organizations focus only on the benefits of social media without thinking about the planning that must be goes into a successful implementation.

    I might also add “Departmental Silos” as a sub-point under “Bureaucracy.” As an IT consultant to the government working on social media implementations, getting departments/divisions to work together sometime takes just as much “elbow grease” as inter-agency collaboration. This may be a result/symptom of point 5, “Demographics.”

  • Hi Steve. Excellent post. I am going to reference it on a panel this week on Gov’t. 2.0. Thanks much.

    http://www.innotechconference.com/austin/Event/Austin_Events/Government_2_Practical_Applications.php

  • Hi Steve. Excellent post. I am going to reference it on a panel this week on Gov’t. 2.0. Thanks much.

    http://www.innotechconference.com/austin/Event/Austin_Events/Government_2_Practical_Applications.php

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  • @Susan – thanks for the comment! Feel free to use it next week – would appreciate a plug for the blog if you can squeeze it in there too! Tell Dave I said hi – we presented together at a Social Media for Government conference a few months ago.

  • @Susan – thanks for the comment! Feel free to use it next week – would appreciate a plug for the blog if you can squeeze it in there too! Tell Dave I said hi – we presented together at a Social Media for Government conference a few months ago.

  • The fundamental difference is legislative/governance. The fact that government agencies have powers and responsibilities means that things like the Public Records Act, the Official Information Act (to take NZ examples) have a tremendous impact on the way we think about social media specifically and knowledge management in general.

    Risk captures part of this, but not necessarily the full range of complexity.

  • The fundamental difference is legislative/governance. The fact that government agencies have powers and responsibilities means that things like the Public Records Act, the Official Information Act (to take NZ examples) have a tremendous impact on the way we think about social media specifically and knowledge management in general.

    Risk captures part of this, but not necessarily the full range of complexity.

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  • @Jason – good point. Those policies and guidelines that are in place present a much higher barrier than simple corporate policies. A corporate communications policy, while not simple, is still a lot easier to adapt than a law!

  • @Jason – good point. Those policies and guidelines that are in place present a much higher barrier than simple corporate policies. A corporate communications policy, while not simple, is still a lot easier to adapt than a law!

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  • Kim Patrick Kobza

    To understand the difference you have to focus less on the how, and more on the why. Public networks are both open and closed. When working together they are hybrid networks.

    In private sector markets commerce, entertainment and advertising, the “social web” serves the purpose of generating transactions. In other words building relationships with social tools enables and sometimes drives commerce. Brands historically promoted network involvement through advertising into social portals – that is now starting to change.

    In the public sector, open networks that support public involvement serve the purpose of decision support. In a metaphor, we go to public meetings to speak to decisions, not to make friends – to be social. While there we may make friends. As it is on the Web.

    When using public networks for decision support, the manner in which data is collected – informed opinion – that is collected independently is an extremely important difference. Cass Sustein speaks to this in Infotopia. In other words, on the Web, using social networking tools can foster the same conditions as at public meetings which elevate smart mobs and group think. So the manner of use of tools becomes extremely important. Thus the standard for public comment.

    In public sector applications it is important to architect tools in a way that minimizes social fear and invites inclusion. Also, being effective isn’t just about the tools. It is first a function of soft skills in expectation setting and integrated calls to action.

    In contrast, the use of social networking tools in closed networks is similar in public agencies and private organizations. You might think of these applications as the Smart Web – using hybrid networks to support continuous business improvement through building collective intelligence. When supporting change management, collaboration and decision support, CRM activities, business intelligence, and product and service improvement, the headline is the same in both cases – continuous improvement. So the technology architecture is largely the same with one marked difference that you touch on.

    The difference is that in government and public agencies building institutional memory is incredibly important to success. People come and go within organizations. Jurisdictions come and go within multi-jurisdictional, or multi-agency collaboration. Institutional memory provides the continuity and is more important in public agencies than private enterprise.

    Two additional thoughts on your points above.

    First, the resistance to change is less a function of demographics (age differences) in government, as it is a function of a changing paradigm in the way that decisions are made. Government agencies are organized to promote experts and to manage structured communications resulting from the enactment of statutes and promulgation of rules. The social web, and the smart web, both are built on open, unstructured communications that invert traditional processes. It is organizational inertia that is built on where centers of power and decision making reside – not age that impedes adoption of social media tools.

    Second, simply, social media systems, and better said, systems that support network behaviors, provide dramatic efficiencies and cost savings properly used. For federal, state, and local agencies that spend sometimes ten or even hundreds of millions of dollars building communication architectures for transactional communication, SaaS solutions, and more broadly social media technologies are a small fraction of percentages of the cost for the benefits received in both public and private networks in government.

    At times the cost inefficiencies are unfortunately perpetuated by consulting agencies and solution providers that have a vested and financial interest in making things complicated and complex.

    To achieve real transformation in government, the consulting culture has to shift dramatically to promote effective adoption. Good luck. As you said, three years ago there was no one at Booz even thinking about social media in government. So good luck. You are on the forefront.

  • To understand the difference you have to focus less on the how, and more on the why. Public networks are both open and closed. When working together they are hybrid networks.

    In private sector markets commerce, entertainment and advertising, the “social web” serves the purpose of generating transactions. In other words building relationships with social tools enables and sometimes drives commerce. Brands historically promoted network involvement through advertising into social portals – that is now starting to change.

    In the public sector, open networks that support public involvement serve the purpose of decision support. In a metaphor, we go to public meetings to speak to decisions, not to make friends – to be social. While there we may make friends. As it is on the Web.

    When using public networks for decision support, the manner in which data is collected – informed opinion – that is collected independently is an extremely important difference. Cass Sustein speaks to this in Infotopia. In other words, on the Web, using social networking tools can foster the same conditions as at public meetings which elevate smart mobs and group think. So the manner of use of tools becomes extremely important. Thus the standard for public comment.

    In public sector applications it is important to architect tools in a way that minimizes social fear and invites inclusion. Also, being effective isn’t just about the tools. It is first a function of soft skills in expectation setting and integrated calls to action.

    In contrast, the use of social networking tools in closed networks is similar in public agencies and private organizations. You might think of these applications as the Smart Web – using hybrid networks to support continuous business improvement through building collective intelligence. When supporting change management, collaboration and decision support, CRM activities, business intelligence, and product and service improvement, the headline is the same in both cases – continuous improvement. So the technology architecture is largely the same with one marked difference that you touch on.

    The difference is that in government and public agencies building institutional memory is incredibly important to success. People come and go within organizations. Jurisdictions come and go within multi-jurisdictional, or multi-agency collaboration. Institutional memory provides the continuity and is more important in public agencies than private enterprise.

    Two additional thoughts on your points above.

    First, the resistance to change is less a function of demographics (age differences) in government, as it is a function of a changing paradigm in the way that decisions are made. Government agencies are organized to promote experts and to manage structured communications resulting from the enactment of statutes and promulgation of rules. The social web, and the smart web, both are built on open, unstructured communications that invert traditional processes. It is organizational inertia that is built on where centers of power and decision making reside – not age that impedes adoption of social media tools.

    Second, simply, social media systems, and better said, systems that support network behaviors, provide dramatic efficiencies and cost savings properly used. For federal, state, and local agencies that spend sometimes ten or even hundreds of millions of dollars building communication architectures for transactional communication, SaaS solutions, and more broadly social media technologies are a small fraction of percentages of the cost for the benefits received in both public and private networks in government.

    At times the cost inefficiencies are unfortunately perpetuated by consulting agencies and solution providers that have a vested and financial interest in making things complicated and complex.

    To achieve real transformation in government, the consulting culture has to shift dramatically to promote effective adoption. Good luck. As you said, three years ago there was no one at Booz even thinking about social media in government. So good luck. You are on the forefront.

  • @Kim – you said,
    “First, the resistance to change is less a function of demographics (age differences) in government, as it is a function of a changing paradigm in the way that decisions are made. Government agencies are organized to promote experts and to manage structured communications resulting from the enactment of statutes and promulgation of rules. The social web, and the smart web, both are built on open, unstructured communications that invert traditional processes. It is organizational inertia that is built on where centers of power and decision making reside – not age that impedes adoption of social media tools.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more! You should see some of the reactions I get when I say that it’s not as much of a generational thing as it is a cultural thing. I’ve found VERY old people actively using wikis because they’ve continually kept their mind open to learning new things. Their personality is one in which they’re constant learners. This goes across generational lines. I’ve met just as many kids right out of college with absolutely no clue how to blog. I feel that sometimes the generational thing is a cop-out that’s used way too often by middle managers – we can’t and shouldn’t accept the standard “haha – that’s for the young kids…I’m too old” excuse.

  • @Kim – you said,
    “First, the resistance to change is less a function of demographics (age differences) in government, as it is a function of a changing paradigm in the way that decisions are made. Government agencies are organized to promote experts and to manage structured communications resulting from the enactment of statutes and promulgation of rules. The social web, and the smart web, both are built on open, unstructured communications that invert traditional processes. It is organizational inertia that is built on where centers of power and decision making reside – not age that impedes adoption of social media tools.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more! You should see some of the reactions I get when I say that it’s not as much of a generational thing as it is a cultural thing. I’ve found VERY old people actively using wikis because they’ve continually kept their mind open to learning new things. Their personality is one in which they’re constant learners. This goes across generational lines. I’ve met just as many kids right out of college with absolutely no clue how to blog. I feel that sometimes the generational thing is a cop-out that’s used way too often by middle managers – we can’t and shouldn’t accept the standard “haha – that’s for the young kids…I’m too old” excuse.

  • To illustrate your comment about bureaucracy, Miguel Gomez at HHS had to said six months to get a meeting with HHS decision makers, and an addition four months to receive approval to move forward with his social media ideas for AIDS.gov. And the day before he was to go live, the plug nearly got pulled because he’s “not a public speaker.” He made these comments at the October meeting of the Social Media Club of DC.

  • To illustrate your comment about bureaucracy, Miguel Gomez at HHS had to said six months to get a meeting with HHS decision makers, and an addition four months to receive approval to move forward with his social media ideas for AIDS.gov. And the day before he was to go live, the plug nearly got pulled because he’s “not a public speaker.” He made these comments at the October meeting of the Social Media Club of DC.

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  • James

    I think another important consideration for using social tools on government sites is the limitations imposed by Privacy and Accessibility rules. A lot of COTS social tools are completely inaccessible and inappropriate for government use. Also, agencies that do not have Administrator-level waivers will struggle to get past major policy roadblocks, like the ban on the use of permanent cookies. Neither of these limitations is a showstopper, but they can put a damper on a fed’s enthusiasm.

  • James

    I think another important consideration for using social tools on government sites is the limitations imposed by Privacy and Accessibility rules. A lot of COTS social tools are completely inaccessible and inappropriate for government use. Also, agencies that do not have Administrator-level waivers will struggle to get past major policy roadblocks, like the ban on the use of permanent cookies. Neither of these limitations is a showstopper, but they can put a damper on a fed’s enthusiasm.

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