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?
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!):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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