Tag Archives: government

An Awesome Interview with the Founder of GovLoop, Steve Ressler

September 28, 2009

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Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

As announced this morning, GovLoop, the premier social network for the government community, has joined forces with GovDelivery, the world’s leading provider of government-to-citizen communications solutions.  Steve Ressler, the founder of GovLoop, will be leaving his day job with the Department of Homeland Security, and will now focus 100% of his time on leading leading the further development and management of GovLoop, now an operating division within GovDelivery.

Within the Gov 2.0 community, this is a monster merger – one that brings together not only two of the most successful Gov 2.0 initiatives, but also two of our best leaders, Ressler and Scott Burns, CEO of GovDelivery.  When Steve told me about this news last night, I was thrilled for him because he now gets an opportunity to do what we all want to do – get paid to do what we love to do.  And while I think the entire GovLoop community will ultimately benefit from this partnership, I also wanted to talk with Steve about how the partnership came about, how this impacts both GovLoop and GovDelivery, how it effects the members of the GovLoop community, and what GovLoop will look like in the future.

Here’s the full Q&A –

Why make such a huge change to a site that is, by all accounts, already one of the most successful Gov 2.0 initiatives?   What will be the short-term and long-term impact to GovLoop’s 18,000+ users?

The short answer was that the community was unsustainable.  As the site grew (now actually at 18,500+ members), the community needed more gardening.  Like any yard or dinner party, it needs care and feeding and I just wasn’t able to do it working another full-time job.  I like your quote on working a 9-5 and a 5-9.  GovLoop has been my 5-9 plus weekends for 18 months now and I needed to find a way to turn my passion – connecting government to improve government – into a job.

Why did you choose to partner with GovDelivery?  What does this partnership give you that you couldn’t get by maintaining the site independently? GovDelivery

I’ve been looking for a home for GovLoop for awhile and my criteria was finding a place that 1) Got Gov 2.0, 2) Had Good Values, 3) Had the resources to grow and better the community.  I met Scott Burns, the CEO of GovDelivery, at Gov 2.0 Camp so that was a good start and right away I just got a good vibe.  He “got it” plus he’s from Minnesota so he’s got the same Midwestern values as I do.  And finally, the more he told me about GovDelivery, the more I got excited.

Basically, GovDelivery is the #1 Government to citizen collaboration platform – think email, text messages, those cool gov’t widgets, etc.  It is used by over 300 government agencies at fed/state/local level with a ton of the big names like CDC, EPA, etc.  The more important thing for GovLoop is that they’ve been finding that 15-30% of the over 10 million people signing up to receive government alerts are actual other government employees.  Think the guy from City of Cincinnati Public Health signing up for CDC H1N1 alerts.  And they had been wondering how to provide places for these government people to move from push communication to a real collaborative space to work together.  And that’s what GovLoop does….

GovLoop has always held a unique position in the world of government and government contractors – it was for everyone because it wasn’t “owned” by anyone.  Now that GovLoop is part of a commercial organization, is there any risk that it will fall out of favor with government employees because they don’t want to be seen as “endorsing” a commercial product?

GovLoop has always been about the community and will continue to be.  I think of GovLoop as a platform – a place for government employees and contractors to connect on any topic – whether it is acquisitions, cycling, technology, or HR.  The community makes it and I’m passionate about working with the community to act on their ideas to do more good to improve government.  Government people always need homes to collaborate and there are a ton where great dialogue occur already from associations to events to government-specific magazines.  I think GovLoop will be another complimentary home (specifically a knowledge network) for people to collaborate.

And finally…if you know me, I’m passionate about public service (3rd generation fed) and care first about government.  If I do anything that starts not being awesome, let me know…

Can you describe how your role will change now that you can dedicate 100% of your focus to GovLoop?
First off, I probably should start cooking more as I owe my girlfriend countless meals for putting up with me.  Second, I get to put all my energy behind GovLoop.  So I hope to be a better customer service rep for GovLoop on your question (Craig Newmark-style), I hope to be even more active online both at GovLoop and other spaces, I hope to continue to speak and connect with the community at various events and associations.

But the biggest difference you will probably see is that I’ll be building a team to work on making GovLoop even more awesome.  Better community moderation, taking discussions into actionable events, building more best practice repositories, launching new features, and just general more awesomeness.

Do you think there is any risk that you will become too out-of-touch from the day-to-day work of government now that you’re not a government employee?

I got that gov blood in my veins so I think I should be good.  All my friends and families are govies plus all I do is hang out at government events/meetups so I don’t think I’ll lose touch.  But if I ever do, you can smack me around and tell me whats up…

At a high level, what does GovLoop look like in five years?
I think the opportunity for GovLoop is to move further to become a knowledge network connecting hundreds of thousands of government employees at all levels (Fed, state, local, international).  I want it to be the home to help you do your government job better – solve more government problems and solve them faster.    Right now, GovLoop solves 5-10 real government problems a day (someone looking for help on a new hiring program and boom..they get an answer).  I’d love for that number to be 500-1,000 real government problems solved a day in five years.

I’ve studied formal and informal network and written a paper as a part of the Wikinomics series on Gov 2.0 and I think there is a great value for informal networks.  GovLoop is an informal network…it is not behind the firewall and is not the place to do top-secret intelligence work – that place is Intellipedia. But I do think GovLoop can full a void in what I call soft collaboration where people working on a topic whether it is section 508, learning to implement SharePoint, or figuring out how to move to a government executive – can connect, collaborate, and share ideas.  Let’s not reinvent the wheel – gov’t folks are not competitors and we should learn from each other.

You mentioned doing more charity work, especially with the GovLoop Kiva group.  What charities are you particularly passionate about, and how do you plan to help them?

I’m particularly interested in businesses like Tom’s Shoes and Honest Tea that are social enterprises and have a focus on doing good and giving back.  GovLoop will be like that and I have a ton of charity ideas. But at the heart I want them to be government focused – I’d love to give scholarships to GovLoop members who can’t afford to go back to school for a degree.  I’d love to give training scholarships so those govies who want to advance their career can get the training they need.  Or the GovLoop members in need – maybe they got laid off from their city government and are having a hard time getting their bills paid.  I’d love to help out with that.

Last question – if someone is interested in doing more to help GovLoop succeed, what’s the best way for them to do that?
First thing, join GovLoop if you haven’t already.  Takes two seconds.  And it’s free…gratis…

Second, join the conversation.  You only get what you put into it.  So I suggest you join some GovLoop groups, comment on blogs, ask questions, and find your passion.

Third, tell your friends.  It’s not invite-only.  You don’t only have a +1.  Bring the whole crew and let’s jam….

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Taking Gov 2.0 to the Ballpark

September 25, 2009

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Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

I recently had the honor to join Frank Gruber, Shashi Bellamkonda, Mike Tunison, Gayle Weiswasser, and several other social media and microtargeting professionals (sorry I didn’t get everyone’s Twitter names!) to meet with Stan Kasten, President of the Washington Nationals, and several other team executives to discuss how sports teams can better use social media to increase awareness of the team’s activities both on and off the field, better engage with their existing fans and potential fans, create more fans, generate more positive media coverage, and ultimately, help sell more tickets and build a better baseball team. We were all brought together to brainstorm what the Nationals were doing well, what they could be doing better, and what they hadn’t thought of yet. If you aren’t familiar with my background, this was a dream come true for me – bringing together my love for social media and communications and my love of sports. I’ve always been a huge sports fan and used to work in public relations for a minor league hockey team, so I was extremely excited for this opportunity.

However, despite sitting in a conference room at one of the nicest ballparks in the Majors talking with some of the league’s most powerful baseball people, I couldn’t help but feel like I was again sitting in a nondescript cubicle in some office park talking with the Branch Director for a government agency.  From the opening introduction – “you have to understand, we’re dealing with a very unique situation that’s different from your typical organization,” to the challenges they face, “we have to work under Major League Baseball’s strict communications policies so we’re really limited in what we can just go and do,” – the similarities between sports teams’ use of social media and the government’s use of social media really struck a chord with me.

  • Both are trying to reach a very broad and very diverse group of people that crosses all demographics
  • Both operate under a broader entity that creates and enforces the policies and guidelines for communications, including the use of social media
  • Both are primarily operated by conservative and traditional leaders who rely on the command and control communications model
  • Both deal with VERY passionate and very partisan (both positively and negatively) stakeholders
  • Both typically have relatively small communications budgets
  • Both are usually so concerned with the overall mission that communications doesn’t receive the attention or commitment it requires
  • Both deal with media who crave all the information they can possibly get
  • Both operate in a system where they should communicate with other organizations with a similar mission, but instead find themselves in competition with each other
  • Both are determining the best way to educate employees (or players) outside of the traditional communications function who are actively using social media to communicate directly with the public

While there are most definitely some differences, when it comes to social media, the fact remains that we had the exact same conversation the other night with the Nationals that I’ve had dozens of other times with government agencies. Neither the challenges nor the solutions are all that different. During the meeting, I mentioned some of these similarities  – if the government can use social media to do share classified information across Agency firewalls using Intellipedia and the Air Force can allow their airmen to engage directly with the public via social media, there’s no reason similar strategies and tactics can’t be applied to a sports franchise. Sports teams have too much gain from social media and too much to lose by not engaging – it’s a no-brainer to me.

The sports community is a very insulated community – teams and leagues generally look inside the sports industry to hire their communications and marketing professionals, but maybe they should take a look at the Government 2.0 industry to find that next pool of communications talent and innovation.  After all, we’re dealing with many of the same issues they are.

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The Week of Gov 2.0 – Longing for More

September 14, 2009

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Image Courtesy of Flickr User Alex Dunne

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Alex Dunne

We’ve already had the Summer of Gov, but September 7-11 was the Week of Gov.  With the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase on Tuesday and the Gov 2.0 Summit on Wednesday and Thursday, plus a multitude of happy hours and networking receptions, I was immersed in all things Gov 2.0 last week.  There are already plenty of recaps, summaries, and other articles detailing the events of last week – if you’re interested in finding out what you missed, videos from all of the sessions are (or will soon be) posted here.  Watch those, and then read through all of the news coverage here for that.  Now, what I want to explore in this post is one particular topic that came up time and time again among the attendees I spoke with.

There were some very successful, very cool Gov 2.0 initiatives that were highlighted, but while I came away both impressed and inspired by the results that were discussed, I was left asking myself more and more questions about HOW the speakers got to these results.  This isn’t a criticism of these two events – I realize that I wasn’t the target audience for the Summit (that program was geared more toward C-level execs) and the Showcase was more of a teaser for the Gov 2.0 Expo coming up in May.  That’s exactly why I now have more questions than answers – I want to know about the challenges these people faced; I want to know the risks they took and why; I want to know what they’d do differently if they could go back in time – most of all, I want to know how they went from good idea to being highlighted at the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase or Gov 2.0 Summit.

As my colleague Brian Drake discussed in this blog post, we both spoke with a number of people who would like to see a  Gov 2.0 Practitioner event that targets the people actually doing the work of Government 2.0.  While it’s great to hear from people like Vivek Kundra and Vint Cerf, it’s difficult for me to relate directly to their experiences or to turn that knowledge into something actionable in my day-to-day job.  A Gov 2.0 Practitioner conference that focuses on the real-life challenges, benefits, and concrete actions would help fill this gap, giving attendees a action plan for moving forward.  So while I left the Gov 2.0 Summit feeling excited about the prospects of OpenID and Government 2.0, I was also left asking myself things like, “that’s great that OpenID is coming to the government, but now what?  How do I help my client’s organization take advantage of this program?  How do I turn this great idea into something actionable for my client?”

I think there’s a very real need for an event that brings together Gov 2.0 practitioners and aspiring practitioners in one place to share war stories, to discuss what really works and what doesn’t, and to learn from each others’ mistakes and successes.  Maybe it’s another Gov 2.0 Barcamp or another event entirely, but I don’t need another event to discover the benefits of opening up my data or by communicating more transparently.  What I need is an event that tells me how I get my manager to sign off on dedicating the resources needed to make that data open and accessible. I need an event that answers these questions  (and more):

  • How do I negotiate with my IT staff to get social media sites unblocked?
  • How do I involve our Legal department when I’m terrified they’re going to shut me down?
  • What’s the best way to get people to contribute to our organizational wiki?
  • What am I missing in my social media policy?
  • How do I best get senior leadership to actively participate in social media?  Should they?
  • We still have Internet Explorer 6 – how am I supposed to get IT to support social media?
  • We have a blog, Twitter account, podcasts, and other social media already, but no one is using them – what’s the best way to build more community?
  • We have a TON of data that I want to open up to the public, but I don’t own any of it – how do I approach the owners of this data and convince them to open it up?

Would you be interested in an event dedicated to sharing these types of war stories and providing actionable next steps that you could use?  If you’ve ever left a Gov 2.0 conference and had any of these questions, then you’re the target audience!

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What Does Government 2.0 Mean to Me?

September 3, 2009

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Because Booz Allen is a Diamond Sponsor of next week’s Gov 2.0 Summit, and I’m on the Program Committee for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase, I have been incredibly busy trying to pull together presentations, talking points, attendee lists, and other logistics for next week.  However, I did take some time to participate in Tim O’Reilly’s “What Does Gov 2.0 Mean to You?” initiative in advance of the Summit next week.  For me, Government 2.0 isn’t about the tools, but what those tools enable – it’s about more than just creating a blog and engaging in dialogue with the public, it’s about more than just creating a wiki that’s open to multiple government agencies, and it’s about more than just making data accessible to the public.  Gov 2.0 is about what you do after that.  It’s about updating policies because of the conversations you had on the blog, it’s about using a wiki to deliver better intelligence analysis to our country’s decision makers, and it’s about opening up government data to crowdsource IT development, saving money increasing innovation.

There are tons of GREAT initiatives out there, initiatives that we’ll learn more about next week, but in many cases, these initiatives are just laying the foundation for government innovation. Think about it.  Next week, we will hear about lots of exciting Gov 2.0 initiatives taking place at the federal, state, and local levels. But, we’re also going to hear lots of stories about social media bans, offices still using IE 6, and information silos.  Remember that Government 2.0 isn’t just about getting on Twitter or building a wiki – those are just first steps.  It’s about using these tools to create a government that’s truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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