Tag Archives: open

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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Open Government Directive Workshop Results in More Questions Than Answers…For Now

January 12, 2010

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Yesterday, I, along with 250 other people representing three dozen agencies, contractors, and non-profits, attended the second Open Government Directive workshop held at the Department of Transportation. The workshop featured 10 Ignite-style presentations (awesome) by federal employees engaged in some form of open government, followed by an unconference in the afternoon where all of the 250 attendees gathered to informally discuss everything from how GovLoop can help support the Open Government Directive (OGD) to how to look beyond the deadlines and implement a culture change within your agency.

From left to right: Giovanni Carnaroli, Gwynne Kostin, John Teeter, and Jim Rolfes speak at the Open Government Directive Workshop

I really enjoyed participating in this conference for a few reasons. First, it was led by the Department of Transportation, not by a commercial company or a non-profit. There are a lot of really good conferences, events, and seminars on Gov 2.0 held by commercial companies and non-profits, but when a conference on government is hosted and led by government, it takes on a different feel and usually results in greater sharing, trust, and relationships.  Secondly, I really enjoyed meeting all the new people who attended this event. The world of Gov 2.0 can sometimes feel like an echo chamber, but yesterday, I got an opportunity to talk for the first time with people like Josh Salmons with the Defense Information School, Neil Bonner from TSA, Dan Munz from GSA, and Giovanni Carnaroli from DOT. It was good to see so many new faces leading the panel sessions as it brought some new perspectives and some insight into the day-to-day challenges that our government is facing in implementing the OGD.

As I listened to the various speakers and discussion leaders, I was happy to hear the focus on culture change not compliance, on baking transparency and openness into processes vice making it an extra tasking, and on looking at the OGD as a floor, not a ceiling when talking about Open Government. However, there was little in the way of concrete steps for government agencies to follow to implement these things. We did a good job of shedding some light on the challenges of the OGD and discussed some possible solutions, but everyone is still trying to figure it out so there was a lot of, “that’s a great idea – we should totally do that” and not as much “here’s what we did and how it was successful.”

And I think that’s ok…for now. I’m really looking forward to future workshops where hopefully some of those ideas have turned into solutions that are shared and improved upon. Jacque Brown discussed some of these questions and challenges in a recent post and those were expanded upon yesterday:

  • Funding. The Open Government Directive didn’t come with any additional funding or resources – how does OMB expect the government to realistically fulfill these tasks and meet the deadlines without any additional funding?
  • Evaluation. How will OMB measure success? Do they take a “did they meet the deadline or not” approach or will they take a “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” approach?
  • Clarification. Every agency is interpreting the deadlines and actions in the OGD differently – is there going to be a clearinghouse to determine what’s right or not? Will there be some sort of enforcement for what “meets the deadline” and what doesn’t?
  • Flexibility. For most agencies, the deadlines are completely unrealistic – getting legal approval on anything, much less a policy change, usually takes 45 days by itself. How will missed deadlines be handled?
  • Culture. Right now, agencies are wired to compete with one another, not collaborate – how do you incentivize that inter-agency collaboration and communication that’s so important to this effort?
  • Education. How do you take the focus off of just meeting the objectives in the OGD and take that next step toward creating that long-term process change?
  • Ownership. Who’s ultimately responsible for implementing the OGD? Is it the CIO? The CTO? The Chief, Public Affairs? A cross-functional team?

The good news is that this Open Government Directive Workshop was the second in a SERIES. The organizers told me yesterday that they’re hoping to have these workshops every six to eight weeks or so. I’ll be very interested in attending those future workshops and learning more about the solutions to these questions that received so much attention yesterday.

For more information on the Open Government Directive, here are some additional resources:

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How to BE a Government Consultant and Use Social Media

October 28, 2009

90 Comments

Photo

As “Government 2.0” becomes more and more popular, especially here in the Washington area, there seem to be an increasing number of people calling themselves social media or “Gov 2.0” consultants. As such, I’ve also seen a small increase in the number of people who are only interested in hawking their wares because social media is the current buzzword and who will move on to the next buzzword as soon as social media loses its luster.  Now, consider this blog post a public service announcement for all you consultants and contractors out there (including all you Booz Allen guys too!) – I don’t want you to become the next Gov 2.0 carpetbagger.  

So here’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to let you in on the secret and tell you how you can BE a good consultant in this world and add value to the Gov 2.0 community (it’s not all that hard!):

  1. BE helpful – Always always try to provide some value. Read other people’s blog posts, wiki edits, forum questions, and tweets and help out if you can – even if it’s just sending a helpful link, providing a good point of contact, or giving a restaurant suggestion to someone in a different city. Not everything is a marketing opportunity – just try to be a helpful person whom others can rely on.  For the most part, everyone involved in Gov 2.0 is incredibly helpful to one another and we all want each other to succeed.  Those who aren’t stick out like sore thumbs.
  2. BE honest – If you don’t know something, say it. If you suddenly start promoting another organization’s wares, disclose that you have a relationship of some sort with them.  If you’re interested in conducting a marketing call, say that’s what you’re doing.  Nothing’s worse than thinking that you’re going to have a lunch with someone you met on Twitter and they lug in a PowerPoint presentation and start running their capabilities briefings.
  3. BE responsive – If someone emails you, email them back. If someone comments on your blog, comment back.  If you comment on someone else’s blog and they reply to you, continue in the conversation.  You have no idea how much people appreciate a simple, timely response to a question, until you deal with someone who isn’t.  Don’t be that guy.
  4. BE realistic – Don’t promise the world.  Don’t promise your client thousands of Twitter followers in two weeks.  Don’t say that social media is going to solve all their problems – it won’t.  Just because you’ve helped one organization use social media doesn’t mean that the next one is going to work the same way.  Each organization and each organization’s mission is different – their results in using social media will be too.
  5. BE around – Social media is all about openness and transparency and authenticity.  You have to take part in the conversation if you ever hope to influence it.  Don’t proclaim yourself a Twitter expert if you’ve been on Twitter for two weeks. Use the tools that you’re advocating your clients use.  Be active within the social media and Gov 2.0 communities, both online AND offline.  Go out and meet the people with whom you’re talking online.  Out of sight, out of mind – you have to be be around, both physically and virtually.
  6. BE passionate – Please please please, believe in what you’re selling.  Is Gov 2.0 what you do for your job or is it something you’re passionate about?  Don’t tell me – talk with me for about ten minutes and I’ll be able to tell right away.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a passionate person who cares deeply about my mission over someone with a slick Powerpoint presentation any day.
  7. BE authentic – Just be a human being, please? Talk like a human being, not a living, breathing, walking product or service offering pitch. Be able to have an entire conversation with someone and connect with them as a person.  Build a real relationship instead of a sales lead. It will be more valuable in the long run.
  8. Be knowledgeable – Know what you’re talking about and back it up. Don’t speak only in marketing-y consultant-ese. Get to know your companies strengths and weaknesses, and be honest about them.  Stay on top of current Gov 2.0 events and demonstrate your knowledge through consistent engagement.  Get to know the mission and unique processes and policies of the people you’re talking to.  Try to imagine the challenges that they’re dealing with and think about how you can help them overcome them.
  9. BE humble – You’re going to be wrong, and you’re going to mess up.  That’s just the nature of this business.  Admit your mistakes and move on.  Don’t blame someone else or make excuses – say you messed up and you’ll do better and if you’ve been all of these other things, people will forgive you.
  10. And lastly, but maybe most importantly, BE assertive – As Tom Webster points out in this fantastic post, I can tell you to BE all of these things, but unless you’ve got the internal support of your management, it’s going to be difficult to put these tips into action. Be assertive with your management team and make the business case  that there’s value in building and maintaining these human relationships instead of the traditional fire hose approach to marketing.

If you do these things, I promise you that you will BE a better consultant to the government…and BE a much more likable person too!

*Photo courtesy of Flickr user JavierPsilocybin

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