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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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Your Organizationopedia – Make it Stop!!

So yesterday, I came across this article on Federal Computer Week – “FBI Creates Knowledge Wiki” – and my first thought was, “wow, that’s great – more and more government agencies are getting into the social media game!”  However, after about five seconds, I had a more cynical thought – is this just the evolution of “cylinders of excellence?”  Corporate intranets are notorious for their stovepiped walled gardens where information is cordoned off depening on a user’s accesses (do I have edit privileges?  Oh, I only have contributor status? How much more do I have to do to make it into the “edit” club?).  The theory that everyone’s information had to be safeguarded from others’ nefarious schemes within their own organization dominated the traditional Intranet culture.  I hate to see this mindset continue, especially with social media applications behind the firewall.

Enter Intellipedia, the gold standard of wikis behind the firewall.  Intellipedia is the Intelligence Community’s wiki that is open and editable to anyone with the appropriate clearances within any of the 16 Intelligence Agencies (keep in mind that the FBI is included in this).  So, it was with a little curiosity and cynicism that after reading about Bureaupedia, I went over to eMarv’s unofficial Intellipedia blog to see what he had to say about the matter. As I suspected, he has many of the same concerns I do.

Intellipedia is available only to those individuals with the appropriate clearances in the U.S. Intelligence Community – not the general public.  Its users are those with whom the government trusts to keep secret information that could damage national security.  Intellipedia isn’t Wikipedia, yet sometimes I get the feeling government organizations believe that the chaotic nature of Wikipedia repeats itself on internal wikis like Intellipedia.  Maybe the -opedia at the end of every internal wiki fosters this feeling, but on pretty much every internal wiki that I’ve seen, vandalism hasn’t even been an issue – increasing and maintaining user adoption has been a much bigger concern.  And why is that, you ask?

Because building and maintaing a large enterprise-wide wiki like Intellipedia or the wiki available behind my company firewall, is a LOT of hard work.  You need gardeners to clean up formatting, coaches to help people get comfortable with collaboration, trainers to teach the actual tool, techie guys to manage bandwidth, and so on and so on.  You can’t just install a wiki, say this is what it’s going to do, and let people have at it – it won’t work.  That’s why things like Bureaupedia are so frustrating to see.  Intellipedia has already done the hardest part – they have a vibrant community (more than 37,000 users according to Wikipedia) with the infrastructure already in place.  Why recreate the wheel?

Now I understand that there really is some information that can’t or shouldn’t be shared beyond the FBI – that’s absolutely expected, and I’m not advocating that everything the has should be shared on Intellipedia.  However, what I am advocating is that instead of creating Bureaupedia, I would have rather seen the FBI first make the big splash into using Intellipedia, with a much smaller mention of how an internal wiki was created for those things that can’t be shared beyond the FBI.

Anyone have any other insight into the how Bureaupedia works?  I’d be interested in knowing their split of technical staff vs. change management staff and if they have a plan/strategy for how to teach users when and where to use Intellipedia or Bureaupedia.  Rolling any enterprise-wide social media application is a tough chore – a chore made much easier if you can tap into existing communities like Intellipedia.

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