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Government 2.0 Camp – What I Loved and What I’d Like to See Next Year

Inspirational. Fun. Chaotic. Stimulating. Profound. Surreal. Exhausted. Excited.

These are the words that I’ve used to describe the inaugural Government 2.0 Camp held this past weekend at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Georgetown. While an event of this magnitude and scope was sorely needed within the government, the planning of the event was decidedly anything but typical government.

If you were to tell your boss that you’d like to hold a two-day long meeting

Picture courtesy of Flickr User Vindictiveimmunity

Picture courtesy of Flickr User Vindictiveimmunity

for about 500 people (a mix of contractors and government employees) on a Friday AND a Saturday in downtown DC, in a school that does not have parking nor is metro-accessible, and oh, by the way, not craft any sort of agenda until the day of the meeting – what do you think his reaction would be?

That’s what I thought.

Yet that’s just what the members of the Government 2.0 Club did this past weekend in organizing the inaugural Government 2.0 Camp. I’m not going to recap the entire event – you can find that here.

But, what I am going to do is offer my take on the event – what I loved and what I’d like to see next year.

What I Loved

  • The Mindset of the attendees. Very few sales-y marketing types (that I came across). Most of the attendees were very much about cooperation, collaboration, and communication. I saw very senior government employees chatting it up with very junior consultants, employees from two different companies sharing time on a panel session, and groups of consultant/government folks hashing out a solution to a problem one of them was having. Best part of all was that it was being done without the typical political and cultural roadblocks of pay grades, political affiliation, company affiliation, etc. People were just happy to be discussing how social media is changing the way our government operates.
  • My Session ūüôā – “Get on the Government 2.0 Cluetrain or Get Hit by It.” Big thanks go to Mike Russell for having the initiative to coordinate this panel discussion for me. Based on my Government 2.0 Cluetrain post, the discussion centered on the fundamental principles of social media and the government. I really enjoyed talking with the other panelists and the 20-30 people in the room about how the theses from the original Cluetrain Manifesto that were so relevant to the private sector 10 years ago are still true today in the Government.
  • The organizers. Peter, Mark, Maxine, and Jeffrey were simply phenomenal to work with before, during, and now, after the event. From setting up the wiki to coordinating the budget to answering attendee questions, they created the platform for everyone to put on a successful event. I think it’s important to note that they didn’t just do it all themselves – they managed to get others involved and turn it into a real “crowdsourced” Camp where everyone played a role.
  • The sessions. The sessions from Day 1 and Day 2 were varied, timely, interesting, and effective. In each time slot, there were numerous sessions led by qualified individuals and I always had a tough time picking which one to go to. The organizers did a good job of consolidating similar sessions and spreading out similar topics. I particularly enjoyed the “Ask the White House” session with Macon
    Macon Phillips and Bev Godwin from the White House New Media Team

    Macon Phillips and Bev Godwin from the White House New Media Team

    Phillips and Bev Godwin from the White House New Media team. Macon and Bev answered questions and took suggestions both from the audience in the room and from Twitter. My favorite question was when someone told them that they needed to continue to push the envelope because the other agencies/departments took their lead from the White House. His answer – “Go! Do it! Don’t wait for the White House to solve your problems. Learn, evangelize, and implement yourselves.”

  • The location. I know that we all whined and complained upon finding out that the Duke Ellington School for the Arts wasn’t metro-accessible and it had very limited parking. In spite of the logistical challenges, we all made it just fine and I don’t know of too many people who chose not to attend because of it. Additionally, the academic environment – the desks, the blackboards, the theater stage – set up a real atmosphere of learning and sharing.

What I’d Like to See Next Year

  • The wiki. I loved the fact that the organizers used a wiki to transparently track everything leading up to the conference, including attendees, sponsors, and even finances. However, for next year, I’d like to see an actual minimalistic website with all of the significant static details with a link to the wiki. While I had no issue with navigating the wiki, some of my colleagues struggled to understand the whole concept of the Government 2.0 Camp when I sent them the link to the wiki. I can imagine that others may have had some trouble getting approval to attend because of this as well.
  • Better live-blogging. We had hoped to capture all of the sessions’ notes via live-blogs on the Government 2.0 Club website, but participation was sporadic. Most of the session leaders did a good job of identifying a Twitter hashtag to track that sessions’ notes, but identifying a willing live-blogger for each session was hit and miss (mine included). Rather than relying on someone in each session to volunteer to live-blog, maybe we would do better to identify 10-12 roving bloggers prior to the session who volunteer to live-blog every session they attend. Not sure if that would work out any better or not, but it might be worth a try.
  • More skeptics. Most of the attendees at this year’s conference were either already social media evangelists or practitioners, or were interested in learning more. While I never felt that we were in an echo chamber, I think that all attendees would benefit if we had some panel discussions and presentations led by privacy experts or IT security experts – people who, by their very nature, have to take a very conservative approach to social media. I think it’s critical that we make a concerted effort to include those who sometimes make implementing social media difficult so that we can learn their concerns and how to address them.

Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this inaugural Government 2.0 Camp – it was the first of what I hope to be many more gatherings of like-minded individuals focused on doing what’s best for our government. Collectively, we’re all at the start of something big here, and I can only hope that we realize the opportunities that lie before us now. What we’re doing now MATTERS. What we’re doing here at Government 2.0 Camp and every day in our offices, is making a DIFFERENCE. Let’s always remember that.

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An Interview with Blogger Bob From TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog

When I first started “Social Media Strategery” six months ago, one of my inspirations was the TSA’s “Evolution of Security” blog.¬† Along with Intellipedia, which showed me that IT security fears could be overcome, the Evolution of Security blog showed me that something even more important – that our government could be open and transparent with the public, even in the face of heavy criticism.¬† Let’s be honest here – the TSA isn’t on anyone’s list of most beloved government agencies – who enjoys going through security at the airport?¬†¬† Yet, they have a very open blog that’s advertised on the official TSA website and in airports around the country.¬† I was beyond intrigued – I was also excited and curious.¬† How did they do what I had been told would never be done?¬†¬† Why did they do it?¬† How are they managing¬† it?¬† I immediately began thinking of ways to bring this open, authentic conversation to my other government clients, knowing that maybe this Government 2.0 thing was possible after all.

Because sometimes all it takes is one blog, one wiki, or one presentation to inspire someone else, I wanted to interview one of TSA’s bloggers, Blogger Bob, to find out what made TSA take a risk like this in the first place, how it’s been working out for them, and what we can look forward to in the future.¬† Maybe someone else will get inspired by what they read here and realize that Government 2.0 is happening right now, and that they can make a real difference.

My questions are underlined and bolded below – Blogger Bob’s responses are found just below each question.

When and why did you decide that the TSA should do an external blog?
“That’s an easy one. Our former administrator, Kip Hawley, requested a blog. From that point, it was about 6 months later that we launched our blog. From what I’ve heard and read, one of the largest hurdles to clear is getting leadership to buy off on Web 2.0, but in our case, the Grand Poobah wanted it. That made things much easier. Kip wanted an outlet where he could make TSA a little more transparent. Lynn (Blog Team Member) was a major part of getting the blog off the ground as well. She and others wanted a way to interact with passengers and talk about airport security, knowing there’s not really much time for conversation at the checkpoint. This was also an excellent opportunity to debunk myths and let passengers know about new ideas and procedures.”

What was the biggest challenge you faced in taking it from a good idea to actually creating the blog?  Was there any type of key event that became the turning point in making it happen?  If so, what was it?
“We had to work with IT Security and Legal to make sure we wouldn’t start any fires. Legal also played a major part in crafting our comment policy. ¬†Finding folks who are committed to moderating is a bit of a challenge, but they’re out there.”

How did you determine whether to host the blog on a .gov or a .com server?  How did you resolve the various reporting/privacy requirements of hosting comments on a .gov server?
“All “official” government systems must be hosted on .gov domains per FISMA (law). This gives the public confidence that they are interacting with the government and not a “phishing” (fake) government Web site. When we stood-up our TSA blog in January 2008, there was no guidance on what the reporting/privacy requirements were for government blogs. Therefore we coordinated a policy and Terms of Use between the Office of Chief Counsel and other TSA offices. After a brief period of internal deliberation, we felt that we put sufficient safeguards in place to launch and maintain a government blog that was consistent with the spirit of established guidance. Thanks to Neil Bonner for that answer.”

Have you encountered any situations where something you’ve said on the blog turned out to be inaccurate after the fact?¬† How did you deal with that?
“I once said I was eating Froot Loops when I was actually eating “Frosted O’s.” You’re the first person I’ve admitted this to. Seriously though, there have been a couple of times where clarification was needed. The simplest way for us to deal with that was to just provide an update in the original post and then announce it in our comment section that we made the update.”

According to the Delete-o-Meter, you’ve only had to delete about 1,000 comments.¬† That seems like a very low % when compared to the number of total comments.¬† Do you/have you receive(d) any pushback from your superiors for negative comments that are posted?
Not at all. When Kip started the TSA blog, honesty is what he was after. He wanted it, warts and all. We sometimes get pushback from our officers in the field though. At times it can seem as if we’ve tied ourselves to the whipping post and created a demoralization machine. But that’s not true at all. When you look at the bigger picture, we’ve got about 3,000 readers a week and a small percentage of those readers are commenting. We fully expected to get hammered when we launched the blog. We didn’t expect a bunch of super fans waving foam fingers reading “TSA is #1″ to follow our blog.”

What would you say is the biggest success story that has resulted from the blog (indirectly or directly)?
“I think the biggest success story is the blog itself. It has succeeded when many thought it would never last. We’ve been blogging for over a year now and we’re still kicking. I think the blog has allowed us to show that we’re human and not a bunch of soulless govbots. The blog has allowed us to become much more transparent and even those who would rather see TSA fail have commended us for allowing a forum for them to vent. It hasn’t come easy though. Transparency is a tricky thing when you’re working for the government. There are just certain things you can’t talk about. And when we tell our readers we can’t talk about something, it’s kind of like telling an angry person to relax. They just get angrier. But that’s the reality when you’re blogging for the Govt. But all in all, we’ve been able to make policy changes (Black Diamond & Electronics in Bags) and better train our work force. (MacBook Air) ¬†¬†There are also the many changes you don’t see. We’ve got officers and leadership from airports around the world paying attention to the blog. It has to have some impact on the way we do business. There is even one case in Seattle where the Federal Security Director has his leadership discuss the blog at daily meetings.”

How did you identify the bloggers for the “Evolution of Security” blog?¬† Do they go through any sort of training before they can start blogging?
“Lynn went to Google and just started searching for TSA employees that were blogging. Of course, my name came up in the search and Lynn knew me from my work on the TSA Advisory Council. I didn’t receive any training since I was already familiar with blogging and had been with TSA for 6 years. On the other hand, Paul was hired directly out of college. Blogging was no problem for him, but he had to wrap his brain around TSA. We suggested some reading and sent Paul out to the field to observe. We’ve also involved Paul in other Public Affairs tasks such as writing press releases and public affairs guidance. This type of work is an excellent way for Paul to dig in and learn about all things TSA. We’re getting ready to bring a few officers onto the blog and we’ll have to provide some basic training and guidance. Nothing too complicated…just expectations, blog etiquette and vetting procedures.”

How much, if any, outreach do you do on other blogs/social networks?  Are you actively commenting on other TSA-related blogs?
“I do random outreach. Using my Google Reader, I check for all things TSA related daily. If I see something that needs a response, I’ll go in and make a comment. Some people are weirded out that I (The Government) found them and others are pleasantly surprised. I am also spending a lot of time on Twitter lately seeking out TSA questions and providing answers. Some folks have figured out that they can ask me a question @tsablogteam. It will be interesting to see how our use of Twitter evolves.”

What other blogs do you enjoy reading and why?
“When I’m off the clock, I enjoy reading mostly music related blogs. The days of reading store-bought magazines and listening to the radio to seek out new music are over. Now you can listen to mp3’s of the artist while reading a review or interview. I enjoy The Futurist, Stereogum, Aquarium Drunkard, Soul Sides and Gorilla vs. Bear, to name a few.”

Where do you see the “Evolution of Security” blog going in 2009? Any new features/changes coming?
“Yes! We are going to be switching from Blogger to WordPress. We are also going to be posting more vlogs and podcasts. Also, I am currently talking with four of our officers in the field about joining the blog team. It will be exciting to get some more folks on board that have their boots on the ground out in the field.”

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Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style

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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Stop the Posturing About Government 2.0 and Do It Already

Stand Out and Do Something!

Stand Out and Do Something!

It’s about time.¬† It’s time to stop talking about theories of Government 2.0.¬† Time to stop predicting how the Obama administration is going to use social media.¬† Time to stop whining about all of the challenges involved with bringing social media to the government.¬† Time to stop the boundless optimism about the potential that you’re seeing.¬†¬† Time to stop patting ourselves on the back.¬† Time to step out of the echo chamber of the social media blogosphere.¬†¬† It’s time to start doing.

I think most of my readers would agree with me that social media is here to stay.¬† The technology can and will change, but the authenticity and relationships that the technology enables isn’t going anywhere.¬† Our government has no choice but to start moving more and more toward social media.¬† We’re already seeing it with Intellipedia, with change.gov, with the TSA’s blog – within virtually every government organization, social media is at least being discussed.¬† My company has clients across the federal government, and I could get a meeting with pretty much any of them just by saying that I lead our social media practice and I’d like to discuss how their organization could take advantage of social media.¬† The point is that there’s demand for social media expertise in the public sector.¬† Everyone is curious, everyone wants to know what all the buzz is about, and everyone is looking for the right answers.

Our time is now.¬† It’s time to start doing.¬† If you work for the federal government or for a government contractor, there are opportunities galore for you.¬† If you’re sitting in your cubicle reading this, just counting the minutes till you can leave for the day, this is your chance.¬† Social media and the government is your opportunity to stand out and do something to effect real change in our government.

Don’t tell me it’s too hard or that your boss doesn’t know YouTube from an iPod.¬† Those are excuses, not reasons.¬† If YouTube is blocked where you work, get it unblocked.¬† Write a white paper justifying why it shouldn’t be blocked.¬† Meet with your boss about it.¬† Meet with your boss’s boss about it.¬† Start a blog where you talk about it.¬† Volunteer to give a brown bag presentation to your office.¬† Just DO something!¬† Take the initiative and work on changing how your organization works – don’t just sit there sulking, saying, “I wish we could do social media here, but we can’t even get on Facebook so there’s no use.”¬† Bringing social media to your organization isn’t something that happens from 9-5.¬† It happens from 5-9, after everyone else has gone home.

I know it’s not easy.¬† In fact, it’s going to be REALLY hard.¬† Hard, but definitely not impossible.¬† You’re going to face a lot of opposition.¬† You’re going to encounter a lot of nay-sayers.¬† You’re going to have to work a lot of hours.¬† You’re going to have to endure a lot of rejection.¬† Hell, you’ll probably get reprimanded or even fired.

More than likely though, you’ll become recognized.¬† You’ll be noticeable.¬† You’ll be in demand.¬† Most importantly, you’ll make a difference.

Social media and government started not with some policy or memo from the senior leadership, but from regular people sitting in a cubicle who saw an opportunity and decided to do something about it.¬† They didn’t see a policy prohibiting blogging and say, “oh well, I guess that ends that.”¬† No, they pulled together briefings on why blogging was needed.¬† They found examples of others who were doing it.¬† They told anyone who would listen about the power of blogging.¬† They got meetings with his bosses.¬† They eventually changed the policy.

It’s time for you to be that guy and to step up, take the initiative and not let red tape and bureaucracy stop you.¬†¬† Don’t accept no as an answer and don’t let a couple unenlightened colleagues stop your drive to effect change.¬†¬† Stand out from the crowd and actually do something about it.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user Paul Likes Pics

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