Social Media isn’t a Prerequisite for Open Government

February 19, 2010

Government 2.0

Open Government/Government 2.0 is about more than wikis, open data, Twitter, Web 2.0, or social media—it is about the strategic use of technology to transform our government into a platform that is participatory, collaborative, and transparent. Sure, social media can help facilitate this transformation, but starting a blog or Twitter account is by no means a prerequisite. You don’t have to wait until you hammer out a Twitter policy or get legal approval for your blogging guidelines to start this transformation.You don’t need to create all kinds of widgets and mashups with your data. The barrier of entry isn’t that high. Open government doesn’t start or end with social media – it starts with a mindset that you want to become more participatory, collaborative, and transparent.

While government use of social media is often highlighted as best practice examples of open government, they’re by no means the only examples. The first steps toward creating a more open government can be as simple as updating your public website more often or committing to actually implementing changes suggested by employees via your Intranet.

So, for those who maybe might not be ready for social media, here are eight things you can do now that can help your organization become more open, and none involve social media:

  • Update the content on your website a few times a week - And not just with more PDF downloads. Highlight an interesting article or link. Create an “Employee Highlight” section and showcase the work that they do. Link to job vacancy announcement. Generate a greater variety of content on your site and update it regularly.
  • Upgrade your “Contact Us” form with a name and contact information – I don’t know about you, but when I see a generic “contact us” form, I usually don’t take the time to provide any feedback because I assume it’s going to go off into the ether and I may or may not get a response sometime in the next seven days. A real name and contact information not only adds transparency and accountability, it also adds a sense of commitment that you value my feedback.
  • Replace your PDF files with XML or HTML files – Many government websites do a good job of connecting the public to TONS of information via individual PDF files. However, uploading dozens of PDF files hundreds of pages thick doesn’t equal openness and transparency. It usually just means you’ve totally overwhelmed the public with information and hidden your data in plain sight. Consider parsing these PDF files and uploading them in an accessible, searchable format.
  • Add external links to your site – Some agencies still have policies that say that they cannot link to non .gov sites. If this is still a policy at your agency, show them this and get the policy changed. You can and should link to non .gov sites.
  • Update the default browser on your employees’ computers – You might be surprised at how much of a difference a modern browser can make in an employee’s day-to-day work. A modern up-to-date browser is more than just a luxury – it can make collaboration easier and more efficient by providing easier access to applications and sites.
  • Ask for employee/public input on policy/regulations changes – Instead of firing off that next all-hands memo with the new policy for X, consider posting it in draft form to your site and giving your stakeholders an opportunity to have some input to it before it goes final.
  • Allow the public to subscribe to your site via RSS and email – One of the easiest and most valuable ways to increase awareness of your content is to make it easy for people to access and share it. All you need is Notepad, a server, and a beer.
  • Make collaboration part of the assessment process. Does your performance review process include anything about collaboration or sharing intellectual capital? Are employees recognized with awards or commendations for collaborating?

I could go on and on, but I don’t want this post to become a novel :)  What other recommendations do you have for creating open government WITHOUT using social media?

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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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  • http://www.ondotgov.com/ Gwynne

    Great list, Steve. And big snaps on encouraging folks to move away from unnecessary PDFs (like press releases that folks want to remain “pretty.” Really, who downloads them?)

    For a tweak, I would like to broaden your first recommendation. It’s not good enough to update your site if what you are updating is important to the organization and not to the folks visiting. The Federal Web Managers Council has been working on identifying top user tasks across government and within websites.

    The best thing that websites can do for engagement is to quickly let people do their business. Meeting people’s needs respects their time and builds confidence and trust–critical to meaningful engagement.

  • http://www.ondotgov.com Gwynne

    Great list, Steve. And big snaps on encouraging folks to move away from unnecessary PDFs (like press releases that folks want to remain “pretty.” Really, who downloads them?)

    For a tweak, I would like to broaden your first recommendation. It’s not good enough to update your site if what you are updating is important to the organization and not to the folks visiting. The Federal Web Managers Council has been working on identifying top user tasks across government and within websites.

    The best thing that websites can do for engagement is to quickly let people do their business. Meeting people’s needs respects their time and builds confidence and trust–critical to meaningful engagement.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    Great great point Gwynne – the user is all to often left out of the conversation when it comes to redesigning .gov sites, both on the Intranet and the Internet. We need a new site playbook, one that isn’t based around org charts, leadership bios, mission statements, and meeting minutes. Engage with your customers/users and find out what they want on your site, not just what you want to push to them.

    Thanks for the comment and for the reminder to focus on the user!

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    Great great point Gwynne – the user is all to often left out of the conversation when it comes to redesigning .gov sites, both on the Intranet and the Internet. We need a new site playbook, one that isn’t based around org charts, leadership bios, mission statements, and meeting minutes. Engage with your customers/users and find out what they want on your site, not just what you want to push to them.

    Thanks for the comment and for the reminder to focus on the user!

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  • http://twitter.com/baglion Gianpaolo Baglione

    My favorite? “Upgrade your “Contact Us” form with a name and contact information”. The human touch in customer service is making a comeback, despite the best efforts of Interactive Voice Response vendors, such as Chase’s recent ski-lift commercial.

  • http://twitter.com/baglion Gianpaolo Baglione

    My favorite? “Upgrade your “Contact Us” form with a name and contact information”. The human touch in customer service is making a comeback, despite the best efforts of Interactive Voice Response vendors, such as Chase’s recent ski-lift commercial.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    Great point Gianpaolo – I’ll take Frank at @comcastcares over the anonymous Chase human being any day!

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    Great point Gianpaolo – I’ll take Frank at @comcastcares over the anonymous Chase human being any day!

  • Tim Dibble

    Since Government is primarily in-place to provide care for the citizens, remember that not all citizens can access Government during “normal business hours” nor do most citizens (particularly those with the greatest need for government services) have nor want computer access.
    Offer extended hours, offer limited service offices in places like Wal-Mart, allow bill payments in various locations like the utility companies currently do (i.e. groceries, walmart, banks) etc. All of these are possibilities because of Internet connectivity within Government. Use the Social Media tools within the organization to serve the Clients, not use the Social Media tools to serve the Clients.

  • Tim Dibble

    Since Government is primarily in-place to provide care for the citizens, remember that not all citizens can access Government during “normal business hours” nor do most citizens (particularly those with the greatest need for government services) have nor want computer access.
    Offer extended hours, offer limited service offices in places like Wal-Mart, allow bill payments in various locations like the utility companies currently do (i.e. groceries, walmart, banks) etc. All of these are possibilities because of Internet connectivity within Government. Use the Social Media tools within the organization to serve the Clients, not use the Social Media tools to serve the Clients.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    Some great suggestions in here Tim – bringing government services to where citizens are (vice the other way around), whether that’s via the Internet or in person, is what open government is all about. Think of being able to get your drivers’ license renewed the next time you swing by Wal-Mart. Maybe I should have changed the title of this post to be “The Internet is not a prerequisite to open government.”

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    Some great suggestions in here Tim – bringing government services to where citizens are (vice the other way around), whether that’s via the Internet or in person, is what open government is all about. Think of being able to get your drivers’ license renewed the next time you swing by Wal-Mart. Maybe I should have changed the title of this post to be “The Internet is not a prerequisite to open government.”

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  • Michael Lamoureux

    Steve, thought you might find this interesting: http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnw/20100225/pl_usnw/DC60935_1

  • Michael Lamoureux

    Steve, thought you might find this interesting: http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnw/20100225/pl_usnw/DC60935_1

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    Thanks Mike – totally makes sense and very much in line with what I’ve heard anecdotally as well!

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    Thanks Mike – totally makes sense and very much in line with what I’ve heard anecdotally as well!

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  • http://www.tariqwest.com/ Tariq West

    The points about basic productivity technologies (i.e. modern web browsers) resonates deeply with me. I spent some time on a DHS-TSA project and our secure laptops only had IE6- it was the biggest pain point of the job and it slowed productivity incredibly – how did anyone navigate 30 websites, sharepoint sites, email windows at a time pre-tabbed browsing? Ditto with regards updating websites – there is a certain DOE webpage I updated a couple times and it pains me to see it hasn’t been updated really in the nearly 8 years since I left.

  • http://www.tariqwest.com/ Tariq West

    The points about basic productivity technologies (i.e. modern web browsers) resonates deeply with me. I spent some time on a DHS-TSA project and our secure laptops only had IE6- it was the biggest pain point of the job and it slowed productivity incredibly – how did anyone navigate 30 websites, sharepoint sites, email windows at a time pre-tabbed browsing? Ditto with regards updating websites – there is a certain DOE webpage I updated a couple times and it pains me to see it hasn’t been updated really in the nearly 8 years since I left.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    Tariq – you’ll appreciate this video then – ”
    Hillary Clinton is asked for Firefox in the US Department of State” (http://mozillalinks.org/wp/2009/07/hilary-clinton-is-asked-for-firefox-in-the-us-department-of-state/)

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    Tariq – you’ll appreciate this video then – ”
    Hillary Clinton is asked for Firefox in the US Department of State” (http://mozillalinks.org/wp/2009/07/hilary-clinton-is-asked-for-firefox-in-the-us-department-of-state/)

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