Tag Archives: social media

The Public Doesn’t Need to Know What Gov 2.0 is, But They Do Need to Experience It

March 8, 2010

90 Comments

“Dear U.S. Government,

There’s been a lot of media coverage about you becoming more open and transparent. There have been a multitude of new policies, conferences, guidelines, platforms, and even awards for things related to something called Government 2.0 and Open Government. You people in DC sure are talking a good game – trotting out your iPhone apps, Twitter feeds, blogs, and wikis – and I suppose I should care about those things, but in reality, I haven’t got the slightest clue why any of that matters to me. I, like 95% of America, don’t use Twitter, I don’t have any idea how to mash anything up, and I don’t care enough about your agency to read your blog.

I’m not sure why I should care about open government -sure these things are nice and all, but it hasn’t really changed anything.  You know what would change things? If my Congressman would actually explain what he does on the Hill – what is she/he doing on a daily basis to make my life better?  If someone at the IRS could explain the tax code to me. If someone at the metro could tell me when my train will be ten minutes late, and why they’re only running four car trains at rush hour. If I knew when my street was going to be plowed. But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy, and I want to feel like my government is there to help me.”

– Sincerely,

John Q. Public

 

The Open Government Directive set the wheels in motion for thousands of government 2.0 intitiatives but means little to the average citizen

I’m not going to get into whether the general public needs to understand what “Gov 2.0” is  or not, but there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care.  No, what we need to do is start calling more attention to things like the DC DMV’s real-time video feed of their lines, like NextBus to alert riders when their next bus is coming, like what Santa Cruz is doing to involve its citizens in the budget process.

While something like Data.gov may eventually become the backbone for hundreds, maybe thousands, of revolutionary open government initiatives down the road, it’s not impacting the average citizen’s life RIGHT NOW.  To the average citizen, it’s not revolutionary – it’s just another government website.

Building an open government is kind of like building a successful sports team. While team management may have a vision of where they want to be in five years and may be taking steps to build the infrastructure – drafting young players with potential, cutting older/overpaid veterans, and putting in a new strategy – so that they are successful in five years, they also realize that they can’t just concede the next five years and hope their fans will keep coming back. So they sign some veteran free agents to help the team compete in the short term. They may make a trade to help build some excitement among the fan base. They may lower ticket prices. They realize that even though a championship may realistically be years away, the team has to continue to show the public that they care about them and that they’re doing what they can to win, both in the short term and over the long term.

So, no, the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them. Let’s not get too caught up in what Open Government could mean in the future, and forget about the little things that we can do for the public right now. Implement customer service training for everyone who could interact with the public, fix the speakers on the metro so that people can understand what’s being said – it’s these little things that will go a long way in establishing the trust among the public (our fans) that we’re committed to building a truly open government, now and into the future.

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Social Media isn’t a Prerequisite for Open Government

February 19, 2010

46 Comments

Open Government/Government 2.0 is about more than wikis, open data, Twitter, Web 2.0, or social media—it is about the strategic use of technology to transform our government into a platform that is participatory, collaborative, and transparent. Sure, social media can help facilitate this transformation, but starting a blog or Twitter account is by no means a prerequisite. You don’t have to wait until you hammer out a Twitter policy or get legal approval for your blogging guidelines to start this transformation.You don’t need to create all kinds of widgets and mashups with your data. The barrier of entry isn’t that high. Open government doesn’t start or end with social media – it starts with a mindset that you want to become more participatory, collaborative, and transparent.

While government use of social media is often highlighted as best practice examples of open government, they’re by no means the only examples. The first steps toward creating a more open government can be as simple as updating your public website more often or committing to actually implementing changes suggested by employees via your Intranet.

So, for those who maybe might not be ready for social media, here are eight things you can do now that can help your organization become more open, and none involve social media:

  • Update the content on your website a few times a week – And not just with more PDF downloads. Highlight an interesting article or link. Create an “Employee Highlight” section and showcase the work that they do. Link to job vacancy announcement. Generate a greater variety of content on your site and update it regularly.
  • Upgrade your “Contact Us” form with a name and contact information – I don’t know about you, but when I see a generic “contact us” form, I usually don’t take the time to provide any feedback because I assume it’s going to go off into the ether and I may or may not get a response sometime in the next seven days. A real name and contact information not only adds transparency and accountability, it also adds a sense of commitment that you value my feedback.
  • Replace your PDF files with XML or HTML files – Many government websites do a good job of connecting the public to TONS of information via individual PDF files. However, uploading dozens of PDF files hundreds of pages thick doesn’t equal openness and transparency. It usually just means you’ve totally overwhelmed the public with information and hidden your data in plain sight. Consider parsing these PDF files and uploading them in an accessible, searchable format.
  • Add external links to your site – Some agencies still have policies that say that they cannot link to non .gov sites. If this is still a policy at your agency, show them this and get the policy changed. You can and should link to non .gov sites.
  • Update the default browser on your employees’ computers – You might be surprised at how much of a difference a modern browser can make in an employee’s day-to-day work. A modern up-to-date browser is more than just a luxury – it can make collaboration easier and more efficient by providing easier access to applications and sites.
  • Ask for employee/public input on policy/regulations changes – Instead of firing off that next all-hands memo with the new policy for X, consider posting it in draft form to your site and giving your stakeholders an opportunity to have some input to it before it goes final.
  • Allow the public to subscribe to your site via RSS and email – One of the easiest and most valuable ways to increase awareness of your content is to make it easy for people to access and share it. All you need is Notepad, a server, and a beer.
  • Make collaboration part of the assessment process. Does your performance review process include anything about collaboration or sharing intellectual capital? Are employees recognized with awards or commendations for collaborating?

I could go on and on, but I don’t want this post to become a novel 🙂  What other recommendations do you have for creating open government WITHOUT using social media?

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Try Looking Outside to Solve the Problems Inside

February 9, 2010

34 Comments

Quick – who recently said this in reference to his organization’s social media efforts?

“…if our consumers are younger, and they love video games, and they have shorter attention spans, and they love interactivity, and they love social media, and everyone blogs, and everyone’s on Facebook, why wouldn’t we put ourselves right in the middle of that?”

What social media or Government 2.0 champion could have said this? Could it have been Federal CIO Vivek Kundra? Maybe Director, New Media and Citizen Engagement at GSA, Bev Godwin? Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd?

Nope. Try Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals. In this week’s Washington Post, Leonsis discusses why the team is aggressively using social media to engage with their fans and the potential impact that social media can have on his team and on the sport. Sound familiar? Sound anything like what us in the Gov 2.0 and social media communities have been telling our bosses and clients for years now?

Leonsis goes on to say that, “what’s unique and different about us is that most organizations are managed [with the thinking], ‘We’re bricks and mortar, we’re buildings, and we have this Web operation beside us,'” Leonsis said. “We’re kind of different. We look at the Web as being our basic power plant, kind of like electricity, so the Web and communicating in this fashion is second nature to us now. It’s not like we go brochure, television, mail. It’s Web, and then everything else. It’s social media first, and everything else.”

Hmmmm…sounds like his perspective, experience, and business acumen would be a valuable addition to the Gov 2.0 conversation, don’t you think?

I recently read a fascinating article in the latest edition of Fast Company – “A Problem Solver’s Guide to Copycatting.” This article argues that instead of solving our toughest problems through brainstorming or consulting with experts, we should start looking for analogues outside our industry because someone (or some thing) has probably already solved our problem. For example (from the Fast Company article),

“In 1989, the pilots of the Exxon Valdez ran it into Bligh Reef, spilling enough oil to cover 11,000 square miles of ocean. To finish this cleanup job, you’d have to clear an area the size of Walt Disney World Resort every week for about five years. One major obstacle was that the oil and water tended to freeze together, making the oil harder to skim off. This problem defied engineers for years until a man named John Davis, who had no experience in the oil industry, solved it. In 2007, he proposed using a construction tool that vibrates cement to keep it in liquid form as it pours. Presto!”

This methodology, this thinking, that someone who has absolutely no experience with or knowledge of your organization might be able to solve a problem that your top domain experts haven’t been able to crack is a totally foreign concept to most organizations, especially those within the government. What if instead of talking with the Gov 2.0 “experts,” we started getting more people from outside of Government involved in Gov 2.0? Think about the value that Craig Newmark has brought to the Gov 2.0 discussion. Or Tim O’Reilly.

The social media community seems to have realized the value these outsider perspectives can bring – just last year I attended conferences featuring Jermaine Dupri, Brooke Burke, and Jalen Rose. This year, Gov 2.0 events like Gov 2.0 LA reached out to Hollywood to get that perspective and author/entrepreneur/professional keynoter Gary Vaynerchuk will be speaking at this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo. Getting these influencers involved as speakers is a great start, but we need to achieve more consistent engagement beyond just singular events.

What if the next Director of New Media and Web Communications for DHS was someone like Mike DiLorenzo, Director of Corporate Communications for the NHL? What if we talked with some behavior modification psychologists about the best way to change people’s behavior from one of “need to know” to “need to share?” What if we studied Native American tribes to learn more about how they build and maintain a unique culture even in the face of extreme changes?

While government may be unique, the problems we’re facing aren’t. The challenge shouldn’t be in solving them, but rather, in finding out who or what has solved them already.

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Keeping Gov 2.0 Fresh

January 21, 2010

8 Comments

Have you heard of GovFresh? It, along with Federal Computer Week, GovLoop, Fedscoop, and the many Gov 2.0 leaders on Twitter, are my primary sources of all things Gov 2.0. GovFresh was created last year by Luke Fretwell with the goal of inspiring government-citizen collaboration and build a more engaged democracy and is a great source for all things Gov 2.0. One of the things that I really like about GovFresh is the diversity of features – from highlighting Gov 2.0 at the local level to your Gov 2.0 Heroes series to videos, books, and a whole host of RSS feeds, Luke has created a platform that offers value to anyone involved in Gov 2.0, whether you’re working with Vivek Kundra on data.gov, or trying to get the mayor of a tiny town in Kansas to blog, GovFresh will probably have something that’s highly relevant to what you’re doing.

I wanted to sit down with Luke and get his take on what GovFresh means to him and where we’re likely to see it going in the future.

Like Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop, you’re based outside of the DC metro area as well. How’d you get involved in the Government 2.0 community from 3,000 miles away? Was there a specific moment that you can point to where GovFresh got started?

I grew up, lived and worked in the Washington, DC, area, so I’m familiar with the culture and mechanics of the Beltway and government. I studied political science and international relations at George Mason University and was editor-in-chief of Broadside, the student newspaper. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area right right before the dot-com bust to pursue start-up opportunities. Web design, development, strategy and social media are as much in my blood as C-SPAN, NewsHour and WAMU. When the idea for GovFresh came to me, it was a DC-meets-SF perfect storm.
The first iteration of GovFresh transpired over 3 days. After seeing how government was beginning to use social media, it dawned on me that I could create my own set of aggregated feeds and effectively build my own news site. I thought about how best to execute it quickly. The next day I picked the name and designed a simple interface, most of it while riding BART home from an event. I met with a friend that Friday who helped me set up the site and it launched that afternoon.

What are you trying to accomplish with GovFresh?
I want GovFresh to inspire new ideas and encourage public servants to be more innovative and embrace a sense of openness. I want developers to see the opportunities for them to be part of a new way of governing. I want citizens to see that their government can be more collaborative and forthcoming, especially if they’re willing to let it make mistakes from time to time. The concept of government is faceless, distant and tedious to most people. I hope we can help change that.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, I’d like to see GovFresh evolve into a sustainable business, through sponsorships, partnerships, advertising, consulting, events or all of the above. Building a thriving business that matters and adds honest social value is the real American Dream.

What are the biggest challenges to running GovFresh?  You have a day job too, right?  How do you fit it all in?

The biggest challenge of any privately-funded start-up venture is finding the right balance. I do Web, marketing and social media consulting (http://lukefretwell.com), but put a lot of effort into GovFresh. I’m very family with the start-up environment. There are moments where you think you’re working on something great and, 5 minutes later, you’re ready to give it all up. It takes a great deal of energy. Also, I can appreciate the financial challenges of original content media. I don’t think people realize the effort it takes or the support it needs.

From a content perspective, the biggest challenge is living so far from Washington, DC, where much of the open gov & Gov 2.0 chatter is centralized. The challenge isn’t in finding content, but more in connecting with people you’ve never met face-to-face, which is still integral in getting the word out about what you’re doing. Even with the Web 2.0 crowd, there’s still very much a 1.0 mindset when it comes to letting outsiders in. The latter is changing. More people are learning about GovFresh and get behind what we’re doing. When I get a random email that says “I’m GovFresh, too!” or “I’m a big fan of GovFresh” and want to help, it re-enforces you’re doing something right.

What do you see as the primary value that GovFresh delivers?
I ask everyone this, because it’s important for me to understand the value to better build on its success. Most people will say, “I know this is cliche, but you bring a fresh perspective to government.” Even though we’re not a social network, I get lot of feedback on the sense of community it brings to the open gov, Gov 2.0 world and the way government is covered. GovFresh also offers public servants and citizens a place to share their ideas in an open way. One great example is what Gov 2.0 prodigy Dustin Haisler is doing at Manor.Govfresh.com, where he’s sharing the City of Manor’s innovation processes. Idealistically speaking, I hope the value is that it inspires public servants to push for a fresh approach to doing their jobs. For citizens, I hope it makes them want to engage in a more creative, collaborative way with their government.

You just launched MilFresh – where do you see that site going, and why launch it as a separate site rather than just as a part of GovFresh?
MilFresh is ‘GovFresh for the military’ and focuses on Gov 2.0 in the military, or ‘Military 2.0.’ I think the dynamics and culture of social media and the military are different than government. They’re different communities. It just felt appropriate to separate the brands and content. There’s still a lot to learn around what’s happening with Mil 2.0, but MilFresh has forced me to be more disciplined in the way I follow it.

It’s January 1, 2011 – in an ideal world, where is GovFresh?  Where do you see it going over the next year?
We’re working with more people on guest-blogging and creating serial content, whether it’s from in-the-trenches public servants to government solution providers to citizens with great ideas. I enjoy the GovFreshTV interviews and we’ll expand on that. We’re in the process of creating an event series focused on local open government/Gov 2.0 initiatives too. Frankly, though, much of the direction has been inspired by others. If you asked me six months ago to outline where GovFresh would be today and how it would transpire, I would have been completely off the mark. By January 2011, I hope government and citizens realize there’s a place for them to engage on a new way of working together, and I hope GovFresh plays a big role in that.

What’s the one thing that you’d like the people of the Gov 2.0 community to know about GovFresh?
You can get involved. Whether you guest-blog, send an idea, connect us with someone doing great work or become a business partner, GovFresh is just as much yours as it is mine.  Just send me an email at luke (at) govfresh (dot) com.

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