Tag Archive | "Government 2.0"

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Government 2.0: The Midlife Crisis


This post was originally published on ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) on March 5, 2009, shortly after President Obama was inaugurated.

Excitement about the government’s use of Web 2.0 technology has swept Washington, DC. One of President Obama’s first acts in office was to issue a directive calling for a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government. Websites like USA.gov have launched new Web 2.0 features, such as RSS news services. And the President got to keep his precious BlackBerry.

At the grassroots level, a group of knowledgeable insiders, the so-called “goverati,” is spreading information across social networks. The recently formed Government 2.0 Club, modeled after the popular Social Media Club, will provide a further mechanism for branding events and sharing wisdom. And non-profit organizations like The Sunlight Foundation are developing applications and hosting events in an effort to make government more transparent and ultimately more accountable to the public.

From the outside, everything looks splendid. But the truth on the ground is that Government 2.0 is gummed up like molasses on a steamy afternoon.

Problems Bubbling Up

Relatively archaic government policies, rules, and customs that impede progress are being covered by the Washington Post and reach the highest levels of government. To this day, Department of Defense workers, even some of whom are in charge of new media output, cannot access YouTube. At one government agency, public affairs employees use government-purchased Macs and wireless cards to circumvent social networks being classified as “dating sites” — by other employees! And in extraordinary cases, contractors hired by agencies to carry out the work of Government 2.0 are banned from doing the very job they were hired to do.

Meanwhile, amid rapid iPhone sales and the permeation of mobile technology throughout society, senior counter-intelligence officials publicly discuss security risks they face while traveling. Hackers have a new priority target: the President’s PDA.

All this is happening while many of Government 2.0’s supposedly biggest fans — the Web 2.0 enthusiasts — behave like the biggest critics of government efforts, particularly regarding citizen participation in policy making. The rejuvenated WhiteHouse.gov website, the newly launched Recovery.gov site for making the economic recovery more transparent, and the preferential use of YouTube to share information with the public have all been criticized, often in near real-time. Adding to the confusion, social media news reports about such things as the White House’s use of Twitter have turned out to be unfounded because of spoofed accounts and guesswork rather than source checking. And salivating hackers at events like DEFCON discuss the many vulnerabilities of social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, which are nearly ubiquitous among young professionals.

The Midlife Crisis

Government 2.0 has reached its midlife crisis. Despite some leadership from influential individuals on using social software in government, there is still in many cases a disconnect between authorities issuing directives and ground troops carrying them out. In some corridors of Washington, this impervious middle section of government is jokingly referred to as “the clay layer,” the layer through which no light shall pass. Resistant to change and adhering strictly to doctrine even when nonsensical, people in the clay layer can halt progress. Despite their intentions and being in a strategic position, they often stop the progress being called for.

This midlife crisis was pointed out by one of Government 2.0’s most outspoken evangelists, Chris Rasmussen, of the U.S. intelligence community, at a well-attended event held recently in the Washington area. As covered in a widely read trade press article, Rasmussen lamented the impossibly high standards that social tools are held to, even within government firewalls. Furthermore, many tools, such as Intellipedia, are used as supplements to (rather than substitutes for) legacy systems. As Clay Shirky once quipped, this is like putting an engine on a rowboat to make the oars go faster.

At this crossroads, “creative destruction” will require hard decisions about shutting down certain systems and processes and focusing employees on new ones. Employees at the grassroots level need to be given true executive empowerment, rather than dictatorial directives. But how to achieve this?

A Way Forward

In about a month, thought leaders from Washington and beyond will convene for the Government 2.0 Camp, an “unconference” designed to hash out these issues. The event is expected to build on previous ones, and its output will surely guide future agendas. Even now, organizers and other thought leaders are debating how Government 2.0 Camp can and should be used, and they are doing it in the open. On the agenda? How social software affects information security; social technology as part of everyday work versus fad products to be procured; and how to get citizens more involved in solving government problems.

An influential military thinker, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, once said: “You have a choice: you can either create your own future, or you can become the victim of a future that someone else creates for you. By seizing the transformation opportunities, you are seizing the opportunity to create your own future.” How will Government 2.0 advocates create their own future?

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Government 2.0: The Rise of the Goverati


This post was originally published on ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) on February 4, 2009, shortly after President Obama took office. It was important because it defined a group of people (i.e., the “goverati”) inside and outside government making IT, social media, and other reform and innovation happen.

Everyone knows how well Barack Obama’s presidential campaign made use of new media to raise money and market the candidate. We also know how big a role social technology played during inauguration week, from handheld flip HD footage appearing on network TV to people reporting on Twitter about what they liked and disliked. After President Obama took office, spirited debates proliferated in the blogosphere about whether or not whitehouse.gov is Web 2.0-enabled and what the role of President Obama’s CTO might be. But one striking trend has largely flown under the national radar: the rise of the goverati.

What is the goverati? It is made up of people with first-hand knowledge of how the government operates, who understand how to use social software to accomplish a variety of government missions, and who want to use that knowledge for the benefit of all.

The goverati includes not only government employees, but also people from think tanks, trade publications, and non-profits. And it includes high-profile thinkers outside of the government who have an interest in a more open, transparent, and efficient government; people such as Joe Trippi, Craig Newmark, and Tim O’Reilly. Using formal and informal social networks, the goverati is networking, sharing information, and changing how parts of the government interact with each other and with citizens.

About a week ago, President Obama issued a memo on this very topic. The memo, which affects all Executive Branch employees, has three main pillars: government should be more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Social software will be part of an overall strategy to make this happen, spearheaded by the CTO, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the General Services Administration (GSA). The naming of a “New Media” czar, Macon Phillips, will no doubt push the process along and keep branches well informed.

There are many barriers to this kind of change, so many they would be overwhelming to list. But the changes that are happenening are being covered by the mainstream press, and they are being enacted mainly by — you guessed it — the goverati.

Case in point: webmasters. Numerous policies and customs restrict the government’s use of things like commercial websites to host video and cookies to track visitors. Insiders from across the government have written a number of white papers that explain the problems (without using jargon) and outline reasonable solutions (here’s one of those white papers).

Former CIO of the Department of Defense, Dr. Linton Wells II, often comments to me that battles in government are often won by the most persistent. And the goverati are certainly persistent. It knows that momentum and timing are on its side, and it is pressing its agenda on Washington.

But changing the government is not like changing Apple Computer. President Obama issuing a directive is not the same as Steve Jobs issuing one. It simply doesn’t work that way, for all kinds of reasons. To change government, you must be persistent, have a hook, and know when and how to leverage connections and power to “muscle” change. And there are usually competing factions, outside interests, political seasons, etc.; it’s a very delicate business.

But interestingly, just as the goverati is fighting for a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government, it is also leveraging the social tools it loves so much to become a body more powerful than the sum of its parts. The informal Government 2.0 social network GovLoop was developed by a DHS employee in his spare time; in a few months, it has surged to over 5000 members. Intelink, the intelligence community’s internal social network and information hub, is awash in blogs and other communication about the topic. Events are sprouting up everywhere, most notably non-profit ones planned by insiders and advertised primarily by word of mouth.

The Sunlight Foundation, which uses the power of the Internet to shine light on the interplay of money, lobbying, and government, is hosting an unconference in late February called Transparency Camp, in which open-government advocates from all walks of life (tech, policy, non-profit, etc.) can talk across organizational and party lines in a casual atmosphere about new strategies for goverment transparency. It is sold out. This is exactly the kind of event you can expect the goverati in Washington and elsewhere to be holding in the next year as we transform President Obama’s memo into a reality within government.

Closer to home, three partners and I have recently established the Government 2.0 Club, modeled on Social Media Club. Government 2.0 Club will bring together thought leaders in government, academia, and industry from across the country to explore how social media and Web 2.0 technologies can create a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. Local “Clubs” will hopefully also sprout up to discuss issues specific to them. And the first Government 2.0 Camp is happening in Washingston in late March.

The excitement over new social technologies has not abated in Washington. Change is indeed on the way. The intriguing part is the mechanism by which it is happening. By using these social tools to network and share information among themselves, the goverati is helping to spread the use of these very tools throughout the government.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist, government consultant, and author. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. in animal behavior, conducted postdoctoral research on complex genomic and neural systems, and has published writing in Science, Nature, Genome Research, American Scientist, the New York Times, the Washington Times, and other venues.

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Government 2.0: How Social Media Could Transform Gov PR


This post was originally published on PBS MediaShift on January 5, 2009. It was one of their most popular posts of the year (by pageviews).

It’s easy to see governments as nameless, faceless monoliths, something impersonal or, even worse, untrustworthy. Much of that is because government culture remains steeped in traditional ideas about public relations and outreach work, notions that have become archaic in an Internet-enabled, hyper-connected world. Just as private companies are learning to embrace social media to manage brand reputations, governments must adapt if they wish to effectively communicate with their “customers” — a.k.a. their citizens and stakeholders.

I propose that using authentic and transparent personalities as public outreach ambassadors can help transform “government for the people” to “government with the people.” This should also have an indirect positive effect on the government organizations — the brands — they represent.

Government 2.0

To be sure, governments are very different from private corporations in ways that create barriers to change. Bureaucracy and entrenched special interests make collaboration between agencies difficult. Information assurance, infrastructure, and legacy system concerns can make using or acquiring novel technologies from startup companies nearly impossible. Constant turnover of elected officials and political appointees as well as year-to-year budget concerns make long-range planning nearly a fantasy.

Nevertheless, as I have written about in my column at Mashable and elsewhere, pockets of influence inside the government as well as outside groups like the Sunlight Foundation are working to change that. And gradually, senior leadership is realizing that the upside of adopting social technologies could be extremely high.

Some criticize the use of social technologies in areas like national security and foreign relations, but I feel strongly that decision-makers cannot make informed choices about this until they or their staffs have personally had experience with this technology. And some senior officials, such as Colleen Graffy, the current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, are bravely taking the plunge.

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Colleen Graffy’s Twitter feed

Behind every press release, web page, and social networking account is a person. But when people “hide” behind organizational brands, it reduces the authenticity and transparency that people — citizens, customers, fans — have become accustomed to seeing in the Web 2.0 world. New social tools and niche communications can empower people to connect with their audiences on a more personal level through what has been termed “ambient awareness” or ambient intimacy.

The Collaborative, Creative Class

Governments everywhere are dealing with the rise of the “collaborative creative class” or C3. Often thought of as “Millennials” but in reality composed of people from all generations, C3 are the passionate, talented, and creative individuals who often blur the lines between work and play. To harness the momentum and power of C3, and to recruit and retain such individuals for public service, the government needs to embrace the spirit of creativity and trial-and-error characteristic of the social software community, fund research and development on social software, address information security risks inherent in social software, and create policy, acquisitions, and human resources incentives to encourage the use of such software.

Social software has numerous government applications, including information-sharing within and between agencies; collaborating with outside partners like humanitarian workers; public outreach and crowdsourcing; and empowering people with inexpensive, simple, mobile technology. In addition, as hostile entities become more adept at using social media for propaganda, it is imperative that governments familiarize themselves with social technologies.

How can government use social software to engage people in meaningful ways, understand public sentiment, recruit and retain employees, and harness what is often called collective intelligence? One early and prominent advocate of this is Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), who has experimented with social software including the text micro-blogging platform Twitter and the video broadcast technology Qik.

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Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) on Qik

In my opinion, there is a good deal of opportunity for bi-directional engagement between the government and its citizens. Rep. Culberson’s visionary experimentation with social software prompted Congressional rules changes that effectively empower members to act as bi-directional ambassadors, bypassing traditional media to directly engage Congress on behalf of constituents, and perhaps more profoundly, vice versa.

Bi-Directional Brand Ambassadors

The term “branding” is most often associated with companies selling products, but government components are arguably brands themselves. And failure to monitor conversations about brands is guaranteed to be PR trouble. Just look at the recent “Motrin Moms” controversy, which has been written about extensively here, here, and here. Briefly, Motrin failed to keep abreast of negative public reaction to an online advertisement aimed at mothers, a failure that may very well have damaged the brand’s reputation in a major niche market.

Conversations like those that surrounded the “Motrin Moms” video are happening every day on issues that directly pertain to governments. How well do governments monitor what their constituents are actually talking about on Twitter and similar open information-sharing platforms?

Businesses, governments, and other organizations are still struggling to find the best way to use social software to engage people about their brands. I have argued elsewhere that on social networks, brands are best represented by individual people as “brand ambassadors.” Ashton Kutcher and Maria Sharapova are in digital camera commercials for a reason — so you’ll watch (and hopefully listen and learn, too).

But television commercials, billboards, and press releases are unidirectional — the audience sits back and passively receives information. Through social software, brand ambassadors have the potential to promote messages through what I term “indirect, intimate influence” or I3. Brand ambassadors ideally listen and learn from ongoing conversations, and then engage in them, creating bidirectionality as outlined in books like The Cluetrain Manifesto. Ideally, they also talk about more than just their brands on social networks — a good ambassador will also talk about other aspects of his or her life, to the point that followers eventually begin to see the brand ambassador as something of a trusted friend.

Becoming Individually Empowerful

As the influence of traditional media sources like television networks and newspapers declines, I predict that brand ambassadors will become a critical part of government public relations and outreach. In an environment of rapidly changing global issues, an increasingly fractionated media sector, and people more and more defined by unique combinations of niche interests, the government sorely needs enhanced public relations that involve bi-directional multimedia engagement with specific niches of public interest.

Every citizen now has the potential to be a collector, an analyst, a reporter, and a publisher — and so does every government employee. Engaging, trusted personalities employed as brand ambassadors will complement — not replace — traditional public affairs and government outreach. Depending on their agency or office’s mission and goals, individuals can follow customized strategies to engage specific niches of the public at events, in interviews, and through constant, pervasive use of new and emerging media tools. In an ongoing bi-directional conversation, brand ambassadors employing I3 would work not only on behalf of the government among the people, but also on behalf of the people within the government.

Government social ambassadors should be fully accessible, transparent, authentic, and collaborative leaders that inspire people to cooperate for the sake of common concerns. As part of their missions, government brand ambassadors should conduct community-based research to understand the “marketplace.” What do the elderly living in the Southwest think about health care? What do kids from different household incomes think about their public schools? What does the man-on-the-street in Greece think of U.S. foreign policy? My guess is that most people don’t know who the government authority is on elderly health care, impoverished schools, or foreign policy towards Greece. And while many interests are represented in Washington DC, the interests of the average person are sometimes misunderstood or overlooked.

The strategy of lethal generosity can be incredibly powerful when engaging micro-niches. Lethal generosity holds that the most engaged and sharing person in a community will eventually become the most trusted. By leading overt discussions online and in person, combined with the ambient intimacy brought about through I3, government brand ambassadors will gain a greater sense of public sentiment, which in turn will allow lawmakers to formulate better informed public policy.

Conclusions

While governments certainly face challenges in using social tools, the pros of using these tools far outweigh the cons. Social technologies can make networking and engagement with the public simple and powerful, make research faster, identify influencers in useful micro-niches, provide mechanisms for combating negative publicity, and measure public sentiment to help inform public policy.

These tools can also be used to advertise job vacancies or agency needs as well as provide live broadcast coverage of niche events. And there are increasingly quantitative measurements of social software return-on-investment. Finally, they may even save money. Phone calls, focus groups, and airline tickets can be expensive; social software can provide a cheaper alternative in some situations. Governments everywhere will benefit greatly by adopting progressive new approaches to social software and the indirect, intimate influence it propagates.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a biological scientist and government consultant. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. in animal behavior, conducted postdoctoral research on complex genomic and neural systems, and has published writing in Science, Nature, Genome Research, American Scientist, the New York Times, the Washington Times, and other venues. He is also a contributing writer to Mashable.com on government and social technology. These views are his own and do not represent the official views of the National Defense University, the U.S. Department of Defense, or any other part of the U.S. Government.

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The Oval Office Facebook Group


This post was originally published by Science Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, on November 3, 2008.

On Wednesday, November 5th, 2008, a presidential transition team will immediately begin preparing for inauguration day 2009—the day the new president will take office. This team will take over from the campaign staff and work on behalf of the newly elected president in order to make the transition of U.S. leaders as smooth as possible.

The process itself is extremely complex and will happen very quickly. There will be about 800 people on the transition team, which will spend roughly $9 million. Given that this team will have about 11 weeks to form a new government as the country skids through an economic crisis, it will not be an easy job. The handover of power will involve an unprecedented amount of information and will require fast, effective communication. Briefing books, face-to-face meetings, and phone calls will be insufficient. The transition team must make the most of modern information and communications technology to shape, coordinate, and run the process of moving the next president into office. Here are some suggestions on how that can work.

Previous administrations—and ultimately the American people—have suffered from poor communication and coordination during transition periods.

One of the first priorities of the president-elect must be issues that could affect national security and other vital interests. Ordinarily, this information gets passed around in the form of briefing books and PowerPoint slides. But now, information and communications technology allows experts to conduct briefings remotely using videoteleconferencing, present information via secure webpages and internal wikis, and conduct real-time discussions and make document modifications using collaborative software and chat tools.

Previous administrations—and ultimately the American people—have suffered from poor communication and coordination during transition periods. For example, the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident occurred in Somalia at the time of the Bush 41-to-Clinton transition, and the “Bay of Pigs” occurred during the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition. Ultimately, these crises, and numerous others, boil down to lack of communication, coordination, and collaboration.

But the U.S. Intelligence Community has already cleared a lot of the technical hurdles in this area. Their recent advances with INTELINK and its cousin A-Space are essentially mashups of the functionality civilians are familiar with through Facebook, LinkedIn, GoogleDocs, and Google Reader—all rolled into an addictive work environment. These social networks allow status updates, subscriptions to real-time news feeds, activity streams, content management, a community tag cloud, drag and drop, discussion threads, a “scrapbook,” and widgets. This system is better than anything I know about in the private sector and the whole government should now make good use of it.

Using INTELINK to coordinate the intelligence and national security teams of the incoming administration is but one important example of how social networking software and Web 2.0 tools can facilitate the presidential transition, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is the transition team?

Broadly defined, the presidential transition includes the entire campaign season, the election cycle, and a number of months after inauguration when the Senate confirms appointees and leaders are stepping into decision-making roles. The team that coordinates this process exists in two critical and intertwined worlds.

The first is in the Executive Office of the President, where transition staff are concerned about staffing the White House, vetting potential cabinet members, developing advisory councils, recruiting lower-level personnel, coordinating with the outgoing administration, communicating with key outside advisors and leaders in government and the private sector, and drafting an initial presidential agenda.

The second world is executive branch departments and agencies, where team members have three main responsibilities: analyzing the overall organization and function of parts of the executive branch, reassessing key senior personnel positions and responsibilities, and looking at pressing and long-term issues in subject-matter areas.

Department-specific teams are especially important during a change in which the incoming president is from a different political party from that of the outgoing administration. In the event that Sen. Barack Obama wins, those transition teams within departments and agencies are likely to be larger than what was normal in the past.

Technology in the transition

During the Clinton-Bush transition to the 43rd presidency, the United States was just past the Y2K confusion and at the peak of the dot-com bubble; Time-Warner purchased AOL; Microsoft released Windows 2000 and was in the middle of an antitrust case; Netscape launched its open-source Navigator 6.0 browser; Wikipedia did not yet exist; and the first short film to be widely distributed on the Internet, “405: The Movie,” had just appeared.

But now the presidential campaigns are longer, more expensive, and more stressful, and the government is larger. Since that last transition, there is a new department in the executive branch for Homeland Security, as well as significant new coordinating offices like that of the Director of National Intelligence. As such, transition organization will be more difficult than ever.

In this process, personal connections are imperative, and new social software lends itself to precisely these situations. A new administration in transition, just off a grueling campaign, cannot reasonably be expected to comb through mountains of data which are not necessarily well-organized, in agreement, or even fully available due to classification issues. Social technologies, inherently designed to bring people and ideas together, can improve the transition process.

The transparent transition

Eight years after the last hand over of the presidency, collaboration tools have emerged and evolved, and the complexity of projects like managing an 800-person government transition, organizing what might be the largest White House ever, and analyzing a myriad of government agencies, employees, contractors, and policies, could be easier and more effective by drawing some lessons from Wikipedia and even the familiar Facebook.

Immediately post-election but pre-transition, there is a huge need to understand the institutional memory of the White House and of the cabinet agencies. Eight years ago, briefing books—big thick binders of information— were still in vogue. But now, social tools like websites, wikis, and collaborative software can help by making information more widely available, searchable, and discoverable, and it can also promote and aid discussions between relevant transition personnel with areas of overlap.

The White House must also coordinate a recruitment effort to seek out individuals with required expertise to staff the incoming administration. This involves not only the creation of a website for this purpose, but management of the resume information—which they can expect will be about 40,000 applications in the first few weeks and eventually total 70,000 interested persons, according to an article written by Clay Johnson III, the current deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and previously the executive director of the Bush 43 transition team. Social software will also facilitate the associated research for vetting job candidates. Information management tools, collaborative software, advanced Internet search algorithms, and knowledge of online social networks would greatly facilitate a good deal of this important task. In addition, current career government employees could staff some of these thousands of open positions. The transition team is in a unique position to reach out to and recruit those people—even if just temporarily—using social tools. This approach would leverage existing bureaucratic knowledge without risking administrative gaps in the critical first months of the presidency.

Next, the incoming administration will be immediately and constantly overwhelmed with “advice” (some wanted, some unwanted) from think tanks, previous administrations, “experts,” interest groups, lobbyists, governors, legislators, and donors. And this information will come from a variety of sources using diverse media—print, email, video, and audio. Points of contact for these people and groups need to be organized and coordinated; information must be organized and shared; and staffers must meet and sometimes partner with groups, all in the effort to craft the short and long-term agenda of the critical first 100 days (and beyond) of the new administration. New social websites and software allow coordination of formal debates so as to allow actionable conclusions from what might at first seem like the chaos of many opinions. And the new administration might consider using social networks to reach out to stakeholders as well.

Within departments, small teams from the incoming administration will be interacting with existing personnel in order to prepare for the cabinet and sub-cabinet heads, tee up important upcoming issues, and reorganize resources and personnel. Social tools would enable teams interacting with different departments to share information and advice while they perhaps struggle to obtain information or solve problems. Social software can also help coordinate informal social networks and organize advisory groups of outside-subject-matter experts to advise the transition team members, keep track of discussions, and include people who cannot attend in person.

Risks during the transition

Once the president takes office, there is a very real chance of a crisis that will test the new administration. Both World Trade Center incidents occurred in the first year of a new presidency. If this happened in 2009, would formal and informal networks and communication be in place? Social media can reduce these risks by getting the right information to the right people before they need it. Prior to September 11, 2001, groups within the intelligence-gathering community did not share information. Tools like INTELINK, discussed above, have solved many of those information-sharing problems in principle, but the transition team must plug the right people into the system right away—and they have to use it.

Within the Executive Office of the President, every administration’s staff is organized differently according to the president’s desires. But this organization has consequences for communication and effectiveness. For example, staff with insufficient titles cannot go to certain parts of the White House, including the Mess. Where else might important, informal, evolving staff interactions (say, between speechwriters and policy advisors) come from? Social media can help create more of these interactions. One potentially useful idea from corporate America is that every morning each person must enter one sentence into a collaborative system, answering the question, “What are you working on?” These data—available to anyone on the system—are simple, searchable, discoverable, and archivable.

In addition, now in office, the president must focus not only on the voters he needed to get elected, but on the public sentiment of the entire nation. Governing is very different from campaigning. Social software can help with this too. Websites like Twitter offer real-time information on public discussions people are having on the Internet. Quantifying public sentiment using these and other tools, both open and proprietary, will be very important for reaching out, listening, and engaging the citizens post-election, and henceforth for influencing new policies and programs.

Last but certainly not least, the people of America should be engaged in knowing about what is happening during the presidential transition process, and what increased risks (if any) there are during that period. Historical incidents, like the World Trade Center bombings, tell us that there are increased risks. In an increasingly fragmented media and information society, that level of engagement requires more than a press release on the White House website and stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. It means full multimedia engagement in a myriad of locations and times using a blizzard of tools including blogging, speeches, informal gatherings, mobile technologies, podcasts, online video, and widgets. In addition, the outreach should use social tools that allow not just message “push” but rather bidirectional conversation—increasing citizen participation and interest in government.

Dr. Mark Drapeau (mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov) is an Associate Research Fellow directing the Social Software for Security (S3) project at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.

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Government 2.0: The Presidential Transition


This post was originally published on Mashable on November 3, 2008, the day before President Obama was elected.

The day after the presidential election, when everyone else is celebrating or mourning, a transition team will be working to prepare for the day the new president will take office. The process itself is extremely complex and will happen during a short, three-month period.

With this handover of power involving an unprecedented amount of information and requiring fast, effective communication, the team must make the most of modern social technology to shape, coordinate, and run the transition process.

What’s the Transition Team?

The transition team has many responsibilities. These include staffing the White House, vetting potential cabinet members, developing advisory councils, and recruiting lower-level personnel. Also, coordinating with the outgoing administration, communicating with key outside advisors and leaders in government and the private sector, and drafting an initial presidential agenda.

In the executive branch agencies, team members have three main jobs: analyzing the overall organization and function of parts of the executive branch, reassessing key senior personnel positions and responsibilities, and looking at pressing and long-term issues in specific subject-matter areas.

Previous administrations – and ultimately the American people – have suffered from poor communication and coordination during transition periods.  For example, the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident occurred in Somalia at the time of the Bush 41-to-Clinton transition, and the “Bay of Pigs” occurred during the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition. Ultimately, it can be argued that these crises, and numerous others, boil down to a lack of communication, coordination, and collaboration between old and new administrations.

Technology in the Transition

During the Clinton-Bush transition to the 43rd presidency, we were just past the Y2K confusion and at the peak of the dot-com bubble; Time-Warner purchased AOL; Microsoft released Windows 2000 and was in the middle of an antitrust case; Netscape launched its open-source Navigator 6.0 browser; Wikipedia did not yet exist; and the first true online short film debuted.

Now, presidential campaigns are longer, pricier, and more stressful, and the government is larger. The U.S. is also in the middle of numerous critical world events.  In this transitory period, personal connections between the people involved are all-important.  How might social technologies, which inherently act to bring people and ideas together (for example, Tip’d, a community for exchanging finance news), improve the transition process?

The Transparent Transition

The transition team will face many challenges. They need to understand the institutional memory of the Office of the President and the executive branch agencies. The president-elect must be made aware of issues that could affect national security and other vital interests.

There will be a large recruitment effort – up to 70,000 applications will come in – to seek out individuals with required expertise to staff the incoming administration.  The transition team will be overwhelmed with advice from think tanks, experts, interest groups, lobbyists, governors, legislators, and donors.  And within cabinet departments, small teams will be preparing materials for cabinet and sub-cabinet heads, teeing up important upcoming issues, and reorganizing resources and personnel.

Social software has many applications here.  Tools like blogs, wikis, and collaborative software can be useful internally to make information more widely available, searchable, and discoverable, and it can also promote and aid discussions between relevant transition personnel with areas of overlap.

Experts can now also conduct briefings remotely using video teleconferencing, present information via secure webpages and internal wikis, and conduct real-time discussions and make document modifications using collaborative software and chat tools.  Private social networks with blogging, etc. are readily available, whether highly secure like INTELINK, or more casual like the GovLoop community built using Ning.

Social software like knowledge management tools, collaborative software, advanced Internet search algorithms, and knowledge of online social networks like the increasingly popular Facebook could also facilitate the vetting of job candidates from outside the government, and possible recruitment and promotion from within it.  A new report from Gartner suggests that citizen social networks will enhance or possibly even replace some functions of government – at lower cost – in the near future.  Could ad hoc social networks be the new government contractors?

With regard to handling all the incoming “advice,” some social tools like CreateDebate allow coordination of formal debates so as to allow actionable conclusions from what might at first seem like the chaos of many opinions. And the new administration might consider using social networks to reach out to stakeholders as well – HiveLive, for example, allows the creation of custom modular social communities.

Finally, social software would enable teams interacting with different departments to share information and advice while they perhaps struggle to obtain information or solve problems. Software like CollectiveX can also be used to coordinate informal social networks and organize advisory groups of outside-subject-matter experts to advise the transition team members, keep track of discussions, and include people who cannot attend in person.

Risks During the Transition

Once the president takes office, there is a very real chance of a crisis that will test the new administration. Both World Trade Center incidents occurred in the first year of a new presidency; there are numerous examples of other such incidents in the window around elections from other countries as well.

Social software could bolster formal and informal networks of communication that in turn could help to avert such incidents or react more efficiently to them.  This applies not just to intelligence analysts and disaster relief workers but also to “ordinary” government staff.

For example, each president organizes his staff in a very personal manner; while surely well-reasoned this has side effects.  Staff with insufficient titles cannot go to certain parts of the White House; e.g., the Mess. So, if (say) a senior policy advisor outranks a deputy speechwriter, they might not informally see each other very often.

Social media can help create more soft interactions that bypass physical separations. Similar to using Twitter, every morning each staff member could answer the question, “What are you working on?” in 140 characters or less, with the resulting internal data being simple, searchable, discoverable, and archivable.

Governing is very different from campaigning; the president must look out for the needs of the entire nation.  Social software can help with this too. Microblog websites – for example, this one dealing with the election – offer real-time information on public discussions people are having on the Internet.  Quantifying public sentiment is important for reaching out, listening, and engaging citizens post-election, and for influencing new policies.  New online technologies like PolicyPitch can accumulate and assess citizens’ ideas for new initiatives.

Finally, citizens should be engaged in the transition process, and understand what increased risks there may be during that period. In an increasingly fragmented media and information society, that level of engagement requires more than a press release and newspaper coverage.  It means full multimedia engagement using blogging, speeches, informal gatherings, mobile technologies, podcasts, online video, and widgets. The outreach should also use social tools that allow bidirectional conversation, increasing citizen participation and interest in government.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is an Associate Research Fellow directing the  Social Software for Security (S3) project at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.  Email: markd [at] mashable [dot] com

Imagery provided by iStockPhoto/nojustice

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Government 2.0: Ask What You Can Hack for Your Country


This post was originally published on Mashable on October 20, 2008.

“The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book, you either do it right or you get eliminated.”

- Gordon Gecko, Wall Street

Corporations exist in a continuously changing ecosystem, with behavior strategies, evolution, cooperation, competition, camouflage, mimicry, and yes, extinction. The environment is constantly changing; disequilibrium is the norm.

Similarly, the governments of countries exist in a complex global ecosystem of competition, trade, and war. Some countries are up, some are down, and many are in the middle – and these ranks evolve due to many factors. Even Gecko himself compares the fictional Teldar Paper to “that other malfunctioning corporation, the U.S. of A.”

If the federal government doesn’t want our country to go the way of the dodo, it needs to adapt to changing times – and changing technology, including the many emerging Web 2.0 tools. One Gecko-ish malfunction of government is that it collects a huge amount of data with which it does hardly anything truly useful. Crime statistics, labor trends, pothole locations and many other interesting bits haven’t often been easily accessible, and that strategy doesn’t serve the public well.

Information Innovation

No longer. Innovative people are finding interesting uses for government data. Witness just one example, SpotCrime, a comprehensive private sector mashup of crime reports and real-time interactive maps for not just every state in the U.S., but also many countries around the world.

Using SpotCrime-DC for about 5 minutes, I quickly learned of three recent robberies occurring very close to my home – all between 7:00 and 7:30 am. (Note to self, no morning jogs around the neighborhood.) No one is uninterested in this topic, whether you are protecting your family or just scoping out the competition – but without this simple to use mashup, the information would be overwhelming, confusing, and inaccessible (although technically it is “publicly available.”)

The U.S. government has more than just crime data, though. They have massive storehouses of geographic data, labor statistics, transportation information, census data, genealogies, environmental and ecological trends, economic indicators, and statistics on aging, to name a few. There is literally something for everyone.

Now, a lot of this data is already publicly available; but in what formats? Take this example of the top 100 growing counties in the U.S.. However, you have to download the data in an Excel spreadsheet or as a .CSV file – how many people even know what to do with a .CSV file? And what if you can’t afford Excel, or don’t have it handy when you want to use the public data?

Public Incentives, Private Competition

How can this data best be delivered to people? Here’s
one example. In what can only be described as a very hip initiative, the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer is collaborating with local interactive content agency iStrategyLabs to launch an innovation challenge called Apps for Democracy (disclosure: Mashable is a media sponsor).

This contest, open to absolutely anyone, aims primarily to visualize DC’s open, public data for the greater good of citizens, visitors, and local businesses. These public service developers will compete for both cash prizes and public recognition.

The District of Columbia is thinking very broadly about the products that will result from the innovation challenge – in play are Web applications, widgets, map mashups, iPhone apps, Facebook apps, and more. Unquestionably, this effort can serve as a model for the federal government to enhance its massive data stores by offering incentives for open-source efforts by outside developers.

Organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) already have public, fun competitions like the Urban Challenge, so why not something similar to build widgets, games, and apps?

Finally, a good reason to hack the country.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is an Associate Research Fellow studying Social Software for Security (S3) at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.

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Government 2.0: Where’s The Urgency?


This post was originally published on Mashable on October 1, 2008.

Recently I had the chance to attend an event called “Government 2.0 and Beyond… Harnessing Collective Intelligence,” which was hosted by the Department of Defense’s Information Resources Management College (IRMC). It had all the makings of a public relations boon: High-profile speakers like David Weinberger (who blogged from the event), corporate sponsorship, media coverage, and a new auditorium to show off. Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock, was even there. But what I didn’t see among the people in the room was urgency.

Much lip service was given to welcoming new technologies, openness, information sharing, transparency, and collaboration. But there was no talk of a strategy, a plan, or a roadmap. Frankly, there was no talk of anything concrete in the way of actual progress towards Government 2.0, as the title of the event would lead one to believe. And while I am certain that DOD Deputy CIO David Wennergren was genuine when he spoke about the future of command and control being a more agile system of “focus and converge,” I am also certain that people in my workplace have Dell laptops so old they have time for a power nap during boot up.

This is particularly embarrassing given that one of the speakers, Bruce Klein talked in detail about Cisco Connect, their “next-generation workforce environment” that includes an encyclopedia, feeds, blogs, chat, and virtual meetings. No one discussed why the Department of Defense didn’t have this capability, and no one asked. More embarrassing still, Cisco Connect is very similar in principle to something the government already has – the Intelligence Community-built INTELINK, that I have used and written about before; the word “INTELINK” was never uttered out loud.

As the event was winding down, I heard a line not unfamiliar to me at this point, about everyone in the room being an “agent of change” that had to help. I became a bit frustrated with this and Tweeted the following:

While it’s probably inappropriate to “benchmark our enemies” in a Mashable post, I think it’s safe to say that terrorist and criminal organizations don’t need pep talks in wood-paneled conference rooms to adopt new technologies and gain a competitive edge. In the battle of bloviating versus trial-and-error, who wins?

One of the panelists, the co-author of Wikinomics, Anthony Williams, quipped that “The Ontario Government blocked Facebook, so everyone moved to MySpace. It’s a futile exercise.” Many people in the audience snickered. I don’t know about them, but I still can’t access MySpace or YouTube from my work computer. This is not a complicated multinational treaty negotiation. If everyone is so aware of the problem, why can’t we just… fix it?

To be fair, the government has non-trivial security issues when it comes to information systems – they must function alone and with each other properly, cannot be infiltrated by outsiders, and they must provide trustworthy information (imagine hacking not to plant a computer virus, but rather false intelligence or misleading geographic coordinates). The big takeaway that federal officials had from DEFCON 16 in Las Vegas was that social software has created a “perfect storm” for hackers – lots of new software, largely untested security loopholes, and a changing definition of privacy in society. As part of my Social Software for Security (S3) research project at the National Defense University I am working with government “information assurance” professionals to determine which social technologies are {always, sometimes, never} safe to use with DOD systems.

Unfortunately, all of this is likely discouraging young people – digital natives, or the Gartner-dubbed “Generation V” – from choosing honorable work in public service as a profession, and it is encouraging bright people already in Washington, DC to move on to greener pastures. It may be appropriate that a group named “Foreigner” wrote the song I quoted at the beginning of this article, because from my standpoint “urgency” as it concerns adoption of social technology tools into the defense establishment is thus far largely a foreign concept.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is an Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington, DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.

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Government 2.0: Intelligence Renaissance Networks


This post was originally published on Mashable on September 22, 2008.

Future planning is a big part of what the national security apparatus of the United States does, and it is incredibly difficult to do well. As the national security writer William Arkin relates in his 2005 book Code Names: “Our Intelligence Community is constantly being surprised by events in the world and misreads what is happening.” Along the same lines, Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his must-read book The Black Swan explains why and how we are often surprised by rare, extraordinary events of huge consequence.

Such events elude the analysis of even the smartest person. Most have heard the term “Renaissance Man” – a person of many diverse talents like athletic prowess, intellectual power, musical ability, street smarts, and a way with the ladies. But we may not need them anymore, with access to “Renaissance Networks,” a term recently coined by a new media analyst at CIA’s Open Source Center. Why have a genius in a cubicle when a person who’s merely “smart” can utilize global crowd wisdom?

Recently, I attended a small conference about using social tools for information sharing hosted at Johns Hopkins University and sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Our hosts for three days were the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Intelligence Review (WIRe) and the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES). They were able to bring together the people who build social tools, those who evangelize about them, and influential end users to have candid and open discussions about them.

In the intelligence community, as in the defense community where I primarily work, there are what people call “cylinders of excellence” – different agencies and units that internally may perform their functions very well, but they do not necessarily have a culture of community leadership and partnership in something larger than themselves. Some in the IC have been promoting information sharing as opposed to keeping secrets. (What’s the joke about secrets? Only two people know, and one of them is dead.) Lately, a big part of information sharing has been the INTELINK system, which is closed to outsiders and includes terrific “clones” of Wikipedia, YouTube, Digg, Flickr, AIM, Wordpress, and more – “These tools have no respect for the formal org chart,” Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee put it to the audience.

And the toolkit is expanding. The big development in IC social networking tools hitting the news recently is A-Space, essentially a mashup of Facebook, LinkedIn, and GoogleDocs designed to be an addictive work environment for analysts with access to sensitive human intelligence (HUMINT). A-Space will have status updates a la Twitter, subscriptions to updates, feeds and friends, activity streams, content management a la Sharepoint, a community grid tag cloud, RSS feeds from outside, drag and drop capability, discussion/question threads, a ’scrapbook,’ and widgets. This system – frankly better than anything I know about in the private sector at the moment – should increase collaboration and analytical thinking.

All the talk about collaboration inspired an interesting formal debate among two IC thought leaders, Geoff Fowler of the WIRe, and Chris Rasmussen, an IC 2.0 evangelist based at NGA. In a fun twist, the debate was moderated using a public Twitter feed by Carmen Medina, a former CIA Associate Deputy Director (Intelligence). The debaters were influenced by Medina’s comments and also by the audience’s, and by the end, participants from outside the conference were asking questions – which for the very private IC is quite profound. Debate largely centered around the question, “Who is an expert?” with the general acknowledgement being that despite the need for subject matter experts, “Buford T. Justice is now involved in the national security process.”

More futuristically, analysts will be able to use A-Space feeds for more than news and personality information. One the government connects the huge number of sensors and other devices reading all sorts of information (temperature, heat, satellite imagery, sonar, radar, robotic sensors, RFID tags, biometric scanners, law enforcement raid cams, views from pilots’ cockpits…) to these feeds (for example, a Navy analyst could subscribe to a feed from underwater sensors looking for suspicious activity happening near maritime facilities), the possibilities are endless.

In the private sector, there is discussion about barriers to adopting social tools. These include concerns about computer and information security, side-effects due to using unproven technologies, and concerns about negative impacts on productivity. But, a recent Gartner study suggests that if IT departments do not implement social technology tool use, worker bees will find workarounds. Therefore, a fair amount of time at the WIRe/ICES conference was spent discussing how to change the culture of organizations to take best advantage of the inevitable use of these social tools.

At the end of the film The Good Shepherd, the new CIA director says to Matt Damon’s character, “A Senator once asked me, ‘Why don’t you say ‘the’ before CIA? And I asked him, Do you say ‘the’ before God?” With regard to integrating social technology tools into everyday intelligence operations and analysis the IC is not quite godlike yet… but they’re getting awfully close.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is an Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington, DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. If you think this commentary is weak sauce, find him on Twitter and tell him about it!

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Government 2.0: What’s Your Brand?


This post was originally published on Mashable on September 3, 2008.

I’m a member of Generation X, and it seems to me that when I was young the character of Uncle Sam was still used on television, radio, and in common conversation. What’s our brand now? Sam’s getting a little old, invented in the early 1800’s as he was – What’s Sam 2.0?

The larger issue as it relates to social media and the government is, what’s your brand? Some parts of the government have very good branding – the Marines have handsome men in dress uniform with gleaming swords, the USDA has the food pyramid, the Federal Reserve Bank has paper currency. Even the CIA has branding – Jennifer Garner from the fictional show Alias was used as a recruiting tool. But what is the brand of perhaps more obscure parts of the federal government: the Library of Congress, or the Department of Education, or the President’s Council on Environmental Quality?

As Chris Anderson points out in The Long Tail, micro-niches are the future for most of us. Perhaps it used to be the case in the era of “blockbusters” that an entire company, or an entire government or agency, needed one overarching brand. No longer. Because the long tail hypothesis states that regardless of how far down the tail one goes, someone (however rare) is always interested in it, anything can be branded.

What does this mean for the federal government? It means that any component, regardless of how small or seemingly insignificant, can have a unique, visible, and useful brand. This might be the Army’s 82nd Airborne, foreign affairs analysts who study Russia, or an office at USDA that is responsible for inspecting imported food. And as such groups in Washington move closer and closer to a vision of Government 2.0, new social tools can and should be used to develop and maintain these brands.

The first thing that government employees need to know about PR 2.0 is that everything put out there – video, blogs, tweets – is open to interpretation, comment, sharing, and re-use. It all affects your brand, and while you can direct and define things to some extent, it is largely out of your control. Get comfortable with it. Jack Holt, the Chief of the Department of Defense’s New Media Office, compares this to the “telephone game” in which people sit in a room and each whispers a message to the next one, gradually distorting the message over time; you can’t control the message itself, but if you stay engaged in the conversation (in the game, interrupting periodically), you could control the ultimate effect and understanding.

Once you’ve acknowledged what Web 2.0 is, you can think about using it to build a brand for your government organization. First, you have to ask yourself, what is my goal? What message do I want to get across? Where is my audience? It may in fact be the case that using social software ineffectively could be worse than not using it at all. Find out using a wide variety of search tools (Google Alerts, Twitter Search) whether people are talking about your entity online. Where are they talking about it? What are they saying? Who are the thought leaders? Regarding adopting social tools that you might not be familiar with, one reasonable approach is to watch what other government entities are trying, and ask them if it is working or not. Another is to try to use social tools internally before using them in a public relations effort.

Second, once you start using social tools, you need to decide how to present your brand to the world. One important decision, as I noted in my last article is, do you present yourself as an Enterprise, a nameless, faceless entity – or as a collective of Empowered Individuals that represent your entity, much like advocates for presidential candidates currently do on television talk shows? Another important decision is whether to simply “push” messages out to people, or whether to engage in conversations with interested persons, whether they view your entity positively or negatively. Again, the answers to these questions will depend on your overall mission and the policies and laws pertaining to your agency.

twitter-grader-logoCurrently, there is a dichotomy in government Twitter usage. Of the roughly 50 Enterprise and 25 Empowered Individual government users I keep track of (data available here ), while on average each has been using Twitter for three months, they have opposite usage patterns. The median number of followers that an Enterprise has is 127, versus 57 for an Empowered Individual. Similarly, the median “grade” given at the new site Twitter Grader was 58 vs. 35 (scale of 0-100).

The true spirit of 2.0, however, is listening and engaging – and here the Enterprises fall short. The median number of people they follow is 8, versus 58 for Empowered Individuals. Similarly, while the median percent of @ replies for Empowered Individuals is 37, the median for Enterprises is zero. So, more than half of the Enterprises have never engaged with a single person on Twitter. As I discussed previously, Enterprises using Twitter but not listening or engaging is more like Government 1.4, so to speak.

[Side note regarding Twitter Grader: From a sample of about 80 Twitter users, the rank order of grades and number of followers was nearly identical, and there was no relationship between grades and measures of engagement; thus: (1) calculation of grades is strongly based on number of followers, (2) grades have no relation to engagement, and (3) Twitter Grader adds little to understanding Twitter usage. Indeed, one government user, @pharmasat, has 42 followers, 0 updates, and a grade of 27. Is that meaningful?]

Finally, down the road, if you are using social tools for branding and decide that they are working well for you, the ideal situation is to have influencers advocate on your behalf, integrate conversations happening in different parts of the Web by cross-references or aggregating, and tracking how memes from your organization flow through 2.0 space over time.

If you work in the government and are interested in social tools, but are not doing all of this – that’s okay! As Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang points out specifically with regard to Twitter, many large corporations are struggling with these very same questions. Comcast is probably one of the best examples of PR 2.0 from the corporate world, but they are at present the exception to the rule. And although private companies have less restrictions than the government, they have not figured everything out yet. It’s new to everyone.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov via email.

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Government 2.0: Being Individually Empowerful


This post originally appeared on Mashable on August 26, 2008.

As a scientist, I have been trained to debate issues based on observed facts and to form generalities about the world while simultaneously acknowledging that exceptions are notable. This mentality carries over into all parts of my life. Often, I engage in debates with people about a variety of issues and one of my favorite lines is “the exception proves the rule.”

What I have observed after two years in the federal government is that it does not have an institutional culture accepting of the new social software tools it badly needs to adopt. Governments are notoriously slow to change, but additionally there is a general avoidance of new technologies by many employees during day-to-day work, and also by those who find social software a security threat best avoided.

Of course, exceptions abound. As I discussed in a previous article, the government has over a series of years developed an internal system called INTELINK, which provides social tools to intelligence, defense, security, diplomatic, and law enforcement personnel. Now, whether they use them is another discussion entirely, though there are serious and well-thought out efforts to increase understanding of the value these tools add to missions.

There are certainly other thought leaders in the government social software space who have whole-heartedly adopted a Government 2.0 mentality. But is everyone in the government using social software of the same mentality? Most definitely not.

evolution-of-security

With all the interest in social software, there are now handy lists of government offices and people using it. One, on USA.gov, keeps track of federal government blogs. There are some genuinely good ones; for example, Evolution of Security from five employees at the Transportation Security Administration. It is written in a personable style, with posts signed by “Blogger Bob” and such. This humanizes an organization that many people complain about. And complain they do, right in the comments section.

Other great examples include Gov Gab, the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ site, and the Library of Congress blog. These websites provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the U.S. government, its successes, failures, and people. But are they really Government 2.0?

The Web 2.0 mentality is that of a conversation. But these blogs, while great, are really just press releases. The occasional post racks up lots of comments, but considering the potential audience of 300 million people domestically, there is little conversing going on.

But another list might shed some light on this – the list of government entities on Twitter. Now, the modern Twitter is inherently social, but are the government people using it so? Interestingly, there are two categories of government Twitter usage. The first is a faceless entity complete with the office’s seal (“JFCOM” or “FEMA”) that I term the “Enterprise.” The second is an individual advocate representing an agency, most often using their real name and photo; I call this the “Empowered individual.”

Which type – which strategy – is more engaged in the conversation? At least two statistics shed light on this. First, I looked at how many people the entity was following, which can be taken as a measure of “listening to the conversation.” Second, I calculated the percentage of @ responses using TweetStats.

What I found was very revealing. The Enterprises rarely follow anyone, and when they do, those tend to be other Enterprises. In contrast, the Empowered follow many people, often those with no obvious relationship with the government. Empowered entities also tend to deliver messages related not only to work but about other aspects of their lives.

MarsPhoenix-Twitter

Enterprises also rarely converse with other Twitter users. Many just use TwitterFeed to re-post blog posts that already read like press releases – a 1.0 messaging system masquerading in 2.0 technology. Conversing is so rare that I was hard-pressed to find any good examples. NASA should really be singled out, because although entities like “MarsPhoenix” don’t follow anyone, they do converse quite a lot (MarsPhoenix has about 44% @ replies and 56% “push”).

My personal stat is about 53% conversing via @ replies, and I am not alone as an Empowered user (“cheeky_geeky”) representing my agency yet talking about more personal things. Maxine Teller from Department of Defense Public Affairs (“MixtMedia”) follows almost 100 people, tweets every day of the week, and has about 32% @ replies. Linda Cureton, the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (“curetonl”), follows about 50 people, also tweets seven days a week, and converses about 18% of the time. Andrea Baker of the Intelligence Community (“immunity”) follows over 300 people, has over 3000 tweets, and @ replies about 36% of the time.

Empowered individuals are like amateur sociologists, constantly talking with the community and learning what’s out there, building relationships, and in return are able to talk about what they are interested in as well; for the government this means that people are able to engage with employees as humans and not as bureaucrats – a PR boon if I ever heard one!

Twitter is not merely about pushing messaging but about engaging with others. Government is not alone in not fully grasping the power of crowd wisdom and social branding; that very issue is currently at the heart of corporate marketing and public relations. Luckily, the thought leaders in the community can be very forthright and helpful – for instance, Shel Israel, co-author of the popular book “naked conversations,” offers very helpful advice for those new to Twitter on his blog.

Government 2.0 is far less about technology than it is about the mindset of people. And ultimately, government is about people working together to resolve issues. Trying to change government policy on your own is like steering the Titanic. With an oar. But by forming social networks with each other, social software empowered individuals working with the government can slowly steer the huge ship to a dock where it can be loaded up with Enterprise 2.0 tools – and the institutional culture to go with them.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov via email.

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