Tag Archives: government

The “New Media Director” Position is Just a Means to an End

November 24, 2010

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We've got a long way to go...

In 2010, the position of “New Media Director” within the government has become almost commonplace. From governors to senators to Departments and Agencies, now you can attend a GovUp and leave with more than a dozen business cards, all containing the title of New Media Director. Some may herald this as a sign that yes, the government finally “gets it!”  Some may even look at a role like this as the pinnacle for a social media professional in the DC area.

The role sure sounds enticing to anyone working in the social media community (the below represents a composite job description that you might see):

Job Title: New Media Director
Department:
Department of Take Your Pick
Grade:
GS-14 or GS-15
Salary Range:
$100,000+
Job Summary:
Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy;  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets; serve as an agency liaison for new media relations; electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases; responds to various important agency and departmental priorities and events; coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites; develop and implement a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites.

Unfortunately, as many of the people with this title have discovered this year, there are some not so minor details that aren’t talked about as often. Let’s read between the lines of the job description –

Job Summary: Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy (by yourself, with no staff or budget);  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets (but make sure every tweet gets approved by public affairs first); serve as an agency liaison for new media efforts across the Agency (create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for people); electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases (make our stuff go viral!); respond to various important agency and departmental priorities and events (get media coverage for our events); coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites (get us on YouTube and create viral videos, but make sure they’re approved by General Counsel and Public Affairs); develop and implement a policy and a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites (but without any actual authority- just get buy-in from all of the public affairs officers – I’m sure they’ll be happy to adhere to your new policy).

Sounds a little less glamorous now, right?

Here’s the problem.  As Gov 2.0 and Open Government became buzzwords within government, more and more senior leaders decided that they needed to have someone in charge of that “stuff.”  Thus, the “New Media Director” was born.  Despite their best intentions, this role has too often become a position that not many people understand, with no budget, no authority, and no real support beyond the front office.  Unfortunately, by creating this separate “New Media Director” position, these agencies have undermined their own public affairs, IT security, privacy, and human resources efforts. The “New Media Director” position has allowed social media to become this separate, compartmentalized thing. Rather than public affairs officers learning about how to use social media because they it’s just part of what they do, they can say, “well, that’s not in my lane.”  Instead of HR learning how to handle employee use of social media, they can say, “well, the New Media Director is handling that Tweeter stuff.”  The law of unintended consequences has struck again.

As these New Media Directors have found out, social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum – there isn’t one person or team that can own it. The position of New Media Director then is just a means to an end. It’s just a phase. No, the end state shouldn’t be when every Agency has a New Media Director, but when every Agency has Communications Directors, Directors of Human Resources, Chief Information Officers, Office of General Counsel who are all knowledgeable about social media and its impact on their specific area of expertise. Teaching a New Media Director how to get the UnderSecretary’s buy-in for some social media effort is just a stepping stone. The real change will come when that New Media Director IS the UnderSecretary.

We should stop aspiring to become New Media Directors where we have to fight for leadership buy-in, and instead aspire to become the leaders ourselves. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very movement we’re trying to create.

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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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Dear IT Guy, Can You Actually Use the Tool You’re Creating?

August 27, 2010

34 Comments

Do the top developers for Google’s Android operating system use Blackberries?  Do the IT guys developing Windows 7 use Macs?  Do the folks at WordPress use Blogger to host their personal blogs?

These are purposely ridiculous questions – wouldn’t the best developers use the actual tools they’re responsible for building?  Wouldn’t they do their job more effectively if they were actually a user of the product they’re developing? Doesn’t the product have more credibility if the people behind it are believers in the product’s features?  Out of everyone, shouldn’t the development team, at least, be the biggest advocates of the very software they’re implementing?  Shouldn’t they be the ones drinking the Kool-Aid?

Unfortunately, IT departments at large companies and government agencies are too often doing the equivalent of developing Android apps at work and using the iPhone at home. Sharepoint developers implement Sharepoint, yet they don’t use it to manage the implementation. The guys installing your organization’s blogging software don’t realize that the “Add a Picture” button doesn’t work because they don’t have blogs.  The team responsible for increasing awareness of your Enterprise 2.0 platform haven’t even created profiles of themselves.

Now, take a look at the official support areas for WordPress, Telligent, MindTouch, Jive or any of the dozens of social software vendor sites.  Notice anything? The developers are often the most active members of their respective communities and they’re using their own software day after day in the course of doing their jobs. If there’s a glitch involved with posting a new comment to a forum, they’re going to be the first ones to see it, diagnose the problem and fix it.

Sadly, I’ve been seeing these situations increase with the emergence of the Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 initiatives. IT departments are increasingly being asked to implement wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, video-sharing, and dozens of other varieties of collaboration software – software they may know how to code, but often have no idea how to actually use.  They’re just told to “give us a wiki” or “develop a blog for me.”  Actually using the blog or wiki isn’t a requirement.  As as I was told by one programmer a year or so ago when I recommended he start a blog to inform the rest of the community about the latest enhancements and maintenance activities,

“Every hour I spend playing around on a blog post is an hour I spend away from coding!”

Well, that was helpful – thanks! Instead of getting frustrated and ending the conversation, I should have instead elaborated on the benefits that a developer enjoys when he becomes a user instead of just a developer.

  • Higher quality product – you can identify bugs and feature improvements before they become problems for other users.
  • Increased credibility – If, as a user,  I ask how to upload my photo, guess whose response I’m going to be believe – the guy with an empty profile or the guy who’s been active on the community for the last year?
  • Increased “forgive-ability” – Look, we know that these sites will go down occasionally, especially when they’re first being developed.  We can deal with that…if we’ve been reading your blog and know that it’s down this Saturday night because you’re installing the new widget we’ve been asking for. If the site goes down and all we get is a 404 error page stating that the site is down for maintenance…again, we’re going to be less than pleased.
  • Content Seeding – Clients are always asking,  “how are we going to get people to actually work on this site and add content?”  Well, before you even launch, if your project team (including developers, community managers, comms people, etc.) actually use the site you’re building, you’ll create a solid base of content before you even start to open it up to more people.  Adding to existing content (even if it’s not related) is always easier than creating something new.
  • Common Ground – you become a member of the community instead of the guy behind the curtain making changes willy-nilly. You gain trust and respect because they know that you’re dealing with the same issues they are.  You’re struggling to access the site on your phone too.  You’re not getting the alerts you signed up for either.  You’re not able to embed videos correctly.  You go through what they go through.
  • Greater ownership in the final product – The community becomes YOUR community, not something you’re just developing for a bunch of “users.”  You become invested in it and want to make it faster, add new features, win awards, etc. because you’re a part of it.

For all you non-developers out there, would you like your IT staff to be more visible?  Would you be interested in learning more about what’s happening under the hood of your Intranet/Enterprise 2.0 platform?  What other benefits do you see to getting them more involved?

For you developers, what’s preventing you from getting this involved in the communities/platforms that you’re responsible for creating?

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