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Insulate Open Government Efforts From Budget Cuts

April 24, 2011

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Numbers And Finance

To be successful over the long-term, Open Government efforts can't be a separate line item on the balance sheet

With the recent news that several major Open Government efforts including USASpending.gov, Data.gov, and FedSpace may be shut down due to budget cuts and that the Pentagon has disbanded their social media office, many people in the #gov20 community started wondering if their social media, Gov 2.0 and Open Government programs might be next. People rushed to their dashboards to develop PowerPoint slides that illustrated the impact that their social media and open government efforts.

  • “We have 5,000 Facebook fans – an increase of 143% over last year!!”
  • “Our retweet % has increased by 45% since last month!”
  • “Half of our web traffic results from click-throughs on our Twitter posts!”
  • “Our Open Government site is one of the Top 5 most popular open government sites!”
  • “Our datasets have been downloaded more than 1,000 times this month!”

Here’s the thing – if you’re only using metrics like these, you’re probably next on the chopping block. While they may be impressive to you and to others in the #gov20 community, this approach only marginalizes the impact of open government, making it something that’s a nice-to-have instead of a must-have. Guess which one gets the money when budgets are tight? Social media and open government will only be successful over the long-term if and when it becomes integrated with larger organizational efforts.

The problem is that most open government initiatives have been stood up and led by separate teams – the social media office, the New Media Director, the Open Government Team – rather than by existing functions within the enterprise. This makes open government and/or social media a separate line item in the budget – something that can literally be crossed off on the balance sheet when budgets are tight.

Instead of bragging about having the best blog, open dataset, Facebook page, or Twitter account, try pointing to the impact you’ve had on other people’s ability to do their job. Five thousand Twitter followers don’t mean a whole lot to senior leadership, especially when they don’t even know what Twitter is. However, if the customer service department can point to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction because they’ve integrated Twitter into their processes, simply cutting “social media” becomes less of an option. Instead of pointing to how many times your open datasets have been downloaded, try showing how the number of FOIA requests your organization has received has declined because the data are now freely available.

If you want to ensure the long-term viability of your open government and social media efforts, you have to demonstrate the impact you’ve had on other areas of the organization and how you’ve saved them money and/or improved their performance. Cutting an “Open Government Team” is pretty easy if that’s the only reason for its existence. However, what if:

  • the FOIA team stepped up and said that if the the Open Government Team were cut, their budget would have to increase to handle the corresponding increase in FOIA requests;
  • the customer service team says that customer satisfaction has increased because they’re using the social media channels established by the Open Government Team;
  • the public affairs department can point to a 20% decrease in negative press because they’re using Twitter to engage proactively with the media;
  • that recruiting says that the number of recruits has increased by 22% since they started using Facebook;

To insulate your Open Government efforts, stop talking about Open Government and start talking about how your efforts have positively impacted other areas of your organization. Integrate your open government efforts into other parts of your organization instead of building your open government empire. It’s a lot easier to cut something that’s contained within one team than something that’s pervasive throughout the organization.

*Image courtesy of Flickr User KenTeegardin

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The Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist: An Introspection

November 17, 2010

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“The Social Media Strategist must choose one of two career paths – build proactive programs now…or be relegated to ongoing cleanup as social media help desk.”

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group have put together yet another thought-provoking report chock full of statistics, research, and stories – “The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk.” As I clicked through the report, I found that I couldn’t put it down – it did a fantastic job of putting into words some of the things that I, and many of my #gov20 counterparts have been talking about, not on the conference stages, but in the hallways of events like Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

The whole report is a must read, and I encourage anyone who’s leading any sort of social media effort, public or private sector, big or small organization, to read it. For me, it made me look in the mirror and contemplate exactly which phase of this career path I’m in, where I want to go, and what I need to do to get there.

Click to see full-size image on Jeremiah's Flickr page

I find myself at Phase 4: Career Decision Point (see graphic at left and on page 10 in the report below). I mentioned this to some of my colleagues the other day – it’s almost like we built this great start-up and are now struggling with how to turn the cool start-up into a scalable business. We’ve  made a ton of progress over the last three years, but as more and more business units across the firm become aware of the new business we’ve brought in, the impacts that we’ve had, and the skills that we have, we’ve found that we’re receiving a TON of new requests ranging from the harmless – “can I buy a drink and chat about social media capabilities?” to the endless time sucks – “would you mind if my team bounced some ideas off of you every now and then?”

The biggest reason for my team’s success isn’t our social media skills, but our willingness to take risks and rally stakeholders from across the organization (page 12). We have 25,000 people spread across the world and in seemingly hundreds of different business units. However, our approach has always been and always will be, that social media doesn’t and can’t exist in a vacuum.  This isn’t something that one team owns.  Rather, we purposely set out to ensure that we’ve brought the folks from our Privacy, IT, Legal, Training, and HR teams into the fold.  As I’ve told many of my colleagues – I’m not all that smart, I’ve just become friends with a lot of really really smart people :).

Over the last year, I’ve found myself less and less in the trenches, and spending more time developing and implementing our overall strategy, and securing the top cover that’s needed for the rest of my team (page 13). Three years ago, I was THE guy to talk with about all of the latest and greatest social media tools and technologies. Now, I’m much more likely to redirect those sorts of questions to someone else on my team as they’re working with this stuff day in and day out with our clients. I’ve discovered that I welcomed this evolution with a combination of trepidation and relief. On the one hand, I’ve been able to focus more of my time on scaling our social media capabilities and laying the foundation so that it becomes a true capability, not just something that I do. On the other, I sometimes miss the day-to-day excitement of working with one client.

Our social media capabilities resemble the Dandelion model (page 15).  Because Booz Allen is such a huge organization that

Altimeter's Dandelion Model

Altimeter's "Multiple Hub and Spoke" or Dandelion Model

encompasses so many different disciplines, we realized early on that there was no way that a small team was going to be able to serve the entire organization (the Hub and Spoke model). That’s why we set out to identify leaders in different business units across the organization who could serve as other hubs within their teams.  That’s why in addition to the people on my team with communication backgrounds, we also have people like Tim Lisko with deep privacy and security skills, Walton Smith and his team with their IT and Enterprise 2.0 skills, Darren West and his team’s analytical experience, and so on and so on. This diversity not only allows us to scale, it allows us to dive much deeper into these others areas of social media that no one team could do on their own.

Internal education is a primary objective of ours this year as well (page 17). Whether through our reverse mentoring program or our new hire orientation classes, we’ve committed to ensuring that social media just becomes something that we do, regardless of team or discipline. It needs to become integrated into everything that we do. This then sets the foundation for other innovative ideas for how they can use social media better in their work.

Dedicated resources are still hard to come by (page 18). While our senior leadership has unanimously bought into the power of social media and have been a key reason for the success we’ve had so far, identifying and securing the right people to serve the enterprise has been a challenge. You see, the people who are the best for this role are also really really good at other things too.  And other people realize that too. Smart, innovative, skilled consultants are quickly snatched up by other project managers, so when the decision comes down to staffing those people on client-billable projects or internal programs like this, guess who wins out? (not that I necessarily disagree – just that it makes scaling these programs all the more challenging).

The end goal remains the same – “in five years, this role doesn’t exist.”  (page 20). I said this last year and someone in the Altimeter study agreed with me. I don’t want this to become something where my team and I are relied upon for every little thing involving social media. The goal is to make this just something we do. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to identify other leaders in the organization and empower them to become another hub with their own spokes. As more and more of these hubs are formed, the need for a dedicated “social media guy” will decrease.  As my friend John Scardino said on our internal Yammer network the other day, (paraphrasing) “I feel like I was helping to lead the growth and adoption of this community at first, and now, it’s almost like the community is self-sustaining and other leaders are emerging to take on those roles.”  I think my role is to help identify and develop that next wave of social media leaders, so that it truly becomes integrated across the firm.

Have you read the report yet? If not, I’d recommend downloading it and as you’re reading it, perform a similar audit of your role in your organization.  You might be surprised what you find out.

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’

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Entrepreneurs: Celebrated in the Private Sector, Hidden in Government

September 17, 2010

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Webster’s Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. It’s the “American dream” – owning your business, being your own boss, creating and growing something new and doing it better than anyone else. Kids are encouraged to dream big, to innovate, to invent, and to be ambitious. Silicon Valley has been built on the backs of these risk-taking entrepreneurs.

  • Facebook, the behemoth of a social network with 500 million worldwide users, was founded by a college student and his buddies.
  • Google, the search engine that processes  more than a billion searches a day, was founded by two graduate students.
  • Apple, the ubiquitous electronics company behind the iPhones and iPods we all carry around with us, was started by three guys building computers in their basement.
  • eBay, the most successful online auction site in the world, was started when someone bought computer programmer Pierre Omidyar‘s broken laser pointer on his personal auction site.

Read Fast Company. Read Wired. Read Inc. It’s not hard to find hundreds more stories just like these  – entrepreneurial people who have an idea, take a risk and build a business to scale that idea to the public.  Most of these ideas flame out, some become massive successes, but almost all will, at some point, go back to the drawing board and try to do it all again. There’s no shortage of opportunities to fix something or improve on something else, and the beautiful thing about America is that there will always be someone, somewhere, thinking of a way to fix it.

As this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo have shown, this spirit of entrepreneurship has spread to the DC area as well, prompting some to ask if DC can become the next Silicon Valley and Mark Drapeau to wonder about the long-term vision for for open government entrepreneurship. However, what struck me as I read through Mark’s article and GovFresh’s “10 Entrepreneurs Changing the Way Government Works” was they they focused entirely on people working in the private sector. Can civil servants not be entrepreneurs as well?

“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Does this not apply to those working IN government too? While they may not be entrepreneurs in the traditional sense, the spirit of entrepreneurship is certainly alive and well among those in the federal, state, and local government.  Unfortunately, while entrepreneurs who identify problems, take risks, and build businesses are celebrated and featured in glowing articles in magazines, those in the government who identify problems, take risks, and drive innovative changes usually toil in virtual obscurity at best, or are reprimanded at worst.

Dilbert.com

True open government entrepreneurship isn’t just about open data or mashups or social networking platforms or DC start-ups. It’s about those civil servants who organize, manage, and assume the risks of changing the way our government works. It’s about those analysts who create a platform that changes the way intelligence analysis is done. It’s about two State Department staffers fundamentally changing how diplomacy works.  Just because they’re not starting a business doesn’t make them any less of an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, most civil servant entrepreneurs are hidden away from public view and recognition. For every Alec Ross and Sean Dennehy, there are ten other entrepreneurs who instead of being celebrated for their ambition, are penalized for their ambitions. Rather than New York Times articles or speaking slots at O’Reilly conferences, civil servant entrepreneurs instead hear:

  • “You can’t talk directly to the Director – you’re not high enough on the totem pole”
  • “That’s something that will have to be decided above your pay grade”
  • “Make sure you get approval from public affairs before you talk about that. And oh by the way, that process could take 1-2 weeks.”
  • “That’s not your job – let so-and-so deal with that”
  • “Sure, we might become more efficient, but that means we may also lose 2-3 billets and/or funding”
  • “According to policy X, that’s not allowed”

The long-term success of open government entrepreneurship lies not with more open government business models from the private sector, but within the government itself. We must do a better job of creating an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded. Government isn’t lacking for entrepreneurship opportunities, ideas, or ambitious people – it’s lacking the processes to do something with those ideas and people. Instead of relying on open government entrepreneurs in the public sector, let’s do a better job of encouraging and empowering the entrepreneurs within.

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Do You Have What it Takes to Change Government and Create Gov 2.0?

September 8, 2010

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Image courtesy of O'Reilly Conferences on Flickr

As I’ve said many times before, Government 2.0 isn’t about technology, but what that technology enables. When the TSA rolls out an initiative like the IdeaFactory, developing and implementing the technology is the easy part (disclosure: my company has supported the IdeaFactory project).  When the GSA implements the Better Buy Project, getting UserVoice up and running was probably one of the easiest tasks on the whole project.  No, when a government agency decides to use technology to try to become more transparent, participatory, and/or collaborative, the technology isn’t what’s keeping the project leads up at night.  The hardest part of all of these initiatives is figuring how to change the way the government operates.

Managing change in the government is HARD, much harder than in the private sector. Leadership and, consequently, leadership priorities are constantly changing as administrations change. Because of this, employees suffer from change fatigue (if you don’t like how your department was reorganized, wait a year and it’ll change again), middle managers don’t invest in the change themselves, and leaders all too often push forward with their own agendas and goals, current organizational culture be damned. It’s no wonder we’re still talking about how the best way to create Government 2.0 – we’ve been way too focused on the easy part of this, the technology.

But if changing the government is so difficult, then why have some government leaders succeeded in bringing effective changes while so many others have failed?

To try to answer this question, Booz Allen Hamilton teamed with Harvard University Professor of Public Management, Steven Kelman to identify the common methods—the best “leadership practices”—used by successful government executives to transform their agencies and achieve mission goals. By studying 12 federal cabinet and sub-cabinet level agencies from the administrations of former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush, the study determined which organizational strategies worked best for delivering effective, meaningful change in government—and which did not.  More than 250 interviews were conducted with federal agency leaders and their employees, career executives, congressional staff, unions, media, customers, and interest groups.

So, why are some government leaders able to innovate and reinvent themselves and others stagnate?  At this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC, some of the findings from this study were discussed at the “Do You Have What It Takes to Change Government?” session. If you’re responsible for a Gov 2.0 initiative, here are some of the key findings that you should keep in mind as you attempt to change government.

  • Use a collaborative strategic planning process – This isn’t going to happen via a memo or directive alone.  If you believe that your employees will become more open or collaborative because the boss said so, think again. Involve your employees in the strategic planning process. Sure, it takes a little longer, but you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn and your employees will have some ownership in the change instead of feeling like they’re being told what to do.
  • Develop performance measures – what does success look like?  Can you explain how becoming more open and collaborative will help your agency/team/department/group/division better achieve its mission?  Ten thousand Facebook fans isn’t a goal – your goals should be tied to your organization’s goals and objectives, and your employees should be judged on their ability to achieve those goals.
  • Be proactive in building relationships with external groups – Your agency doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Identify other groups who may be impacted, positively and negatively, and proactively go and meet with them.  Talk with them, listen to them, and involve them wherever and whenever you can.
  • Re-organize if you need to – Assess the current organization and determine if you can achieve your goals within the current structure. Are there impenetrable stovepipes? Are there too many layers of middle management? Are there personality conflicts and “turf-guarding?”  Don’t be afraid to shake things up and move people around.
  • Focus on 2-3 goals – The majority of successful leaders in the study had 2 or 3 goals that were action-oriented and quantifiable. Unsuccessful leaders typically had jargon-filled, tactical, action-based goals that described the effort, rather than the outcome. Gov 2.0 goals should be focused on an outcome – improving customer satisfaction levels or decreasing FOIA requests by making more data available online, etc.  Unsuccessful leaders typically use goals focused on an action – “implement a new knowledge management system” or “use social media more effectively.”

Here’s the full presentation as it was given at the Summit:

 

http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/innovations/IdeaFactory
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