Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style

February 15, 2009

Best Of, Government 2.0

I’ve fulfilled one of my social media resolutions for 2009, and have recently re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto.  As I mentioned in that post, I always feel so much better about the work that I do when I look at it through the lens of the 95 theses laid out in Cluetrain.  This is even more true now.  Ever since President Obama’s “Transparency and Open Government” memo was issued a few weeks ago, it seems that every one of our clients is asking about social media.  They all want to know how/if social media can help them become more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  They all want to know what they need to do to comply with the new Administration’s goals of transparency.  Inevitably, this increased interest has brought its fair share of social media carpetbaggers and alleged Government 2.0 gurus, but it has also done an incredible job of bringing together real-life Government employees with contractors and consultants for a common goal.

Just as the Cluetrain laid out 95 theses that described the new global conversation taking place via the Internet, here are 20 theses (I’m not nearly as ambitious as the Cluetrain authors) for carpetbaggers, gurus, civil servants, contractors, and anyone else interested in Government 2.0.  There are undoubtedly many many more that could be added to this list and I encourage you to add any that you think of in the comments.

  1. The risks of social media are greatly outweighed by the risks of NOT doing social media.
  2. Your Government agency/organization/group/branch/division is not unique.  You do not work in a place that just can’t just use social media because your data is too sensitive.  You do not work in an environment where social media will never work.  Your challenges, while unique to you, are not unique to the government.
  3. You will work with skeptics and other people who want to see social media fail because the transparency and authenticity will expose their weaknesses.
  4. You will work with people who want to get involved with social media for all the wrong reasons.  They will see it as an opportunity to advance their own their careers, to make more money, or to show off.  These people will be more dangerous to your efforts than the biggest skeptic.
  5. Younger employees are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about social media than older employees.  Stop assuming that they are.
  6. Before going out and hiring any social media “consultants,” assume that there is already someone within your organization who is actively using social media and who is very passionate about it.  Find them, use them, engage them.  These are the people who will make or break your foray into social media.
  7. Mistakes can and will be made (a lot).  Stop trying to create safeguards to eliminate the possibility of mistakes and instead concentrate on how to deal with them when they are made.
  8. Information security is a very real and valid concern.  Do NOT take this lightly.
  9. Policies are not written in stone.  With justification, passion, and knowledge, policies and rules can and should be changed.  Sometimes it’s as easy as asking, but other times will require a knockdown, drag-out fight.  Both are important.
  10. Be humble.  You don’t know everything so stop trying to pretend that you do.  It’s ok to be wrong.
  11. But, be confident.  Know what you know and don’t back down.  You will be challenged by skeptics and others who do not care and/or understand social media.  Do not let them discourage you.
  12. There are true social media champions throughout the government.  Find them.  Talk to them.  Learn from them.
  13. Government 2.0 is not a new concept.  It’s getting so much attention now because social media has given a voice to the ambitious, the innovative, and the creative people within the government.
  14. Social media is not about the technology but what the technology enables.
  15. Social media is not driven by the position, the title, or the department, it’s driven by the person.  Stop trying to pidgeon-hole into one team or department, and instead think of a way to bring together people from across your organization.
  16. Instead of marketing your social media capabilities, skills, experience, platforms, software, etc. to the government, why don’t you try talking with them?  An honest conversation will be remembered for far longer than a PowerPoint presentation.
  17. Today’s employees will probably spend five minutes during the workday talking to their friends on Facebook or watching the latest YouTube video.  Today’s employees will also probably spend an hour at 10:00 at night answering emails or responding to a work-related blog post.  Assume that your employees are good people who want to do the right thing and who take pride in their work.
  18. Agency Secretaries and Department Heads are big boys and girls.  They should be able to have direct conversations with their workforce without having to jump through hoops to do so.
  19. Transparency, participatory, collaborative – these terms do not refer only to the end state; they refer to the process used to get there as well.  It’s ok to have debates, arguments, and disagreements about the best way to go about achieving “Government 2.0.”  Diverse perspectives, opinions, and beliefs should be embraced and talked about openly.
  20. It’s not enough to just allow negative feedback on your blog or website, you also have to do something about it.  This might mean engaging in a conversation about why person X feels this way or (gasp!) making a change to an outdated policy.  Don’t just listen to what the public has to say, you have to also care about it too.

The technology that is currently driving social media will change, but the principles of participation, transparency, and collaboration will not.  You can either jump on the Government 2.0 cluetrain or get hit by it.  Which one will you be?

*thanks to Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger for inspiring this post with their book, the Cluetrain Manifesto.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Associate Director of Public Relations at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • alsimard

    I pretty much agree with everything you say. And someday most of it will come to past.

    However, my experience is that change comes slow and hard to government and its employees. Yes, policies can be changed; I've made it happen, but it takes years and more battles than I care to remember. I've set up a number of S.N. sites only to be thwarted by deeply engrained cultural habits. Let's write this together! Oh no – you write it and we'll review and comment on it. Of course, there's always “but you don't have permission to do that!” Then, there's IT shops that view their function as one of command and control and that tolerate no divergence from their rules. I've had a Director General criticize me to my supervisor because they didn't like someone disagreeing with their blog post (they weren't used to being corrected).

    Yes, change will gradually come to government and bureaucracy. As Tom Peters put it so well in his first book. The pioneers will be easy to spot. They'll be the ones lying face doen in the path in front of you with the arrows in their back:-)

  • http://twitter.com/sradick Steve Radick

    Albert – I think that's more than just your experience – I think that's the experience of anyone working in a large organization! You brought up some great points though. I think that's why one of the more common things I'm hearing when discussing social media initiatives is to “manage expectations.” Change is going to take time and it's our job, as the champions, as the evangelists, to make sure that people have realistic expectations for that.

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