Tag Archive | "government"

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The Human Side of Government Collaboration, IDEO Style


At the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference, I just heard a panel about “innovation” that included David Haygood, a partner at the design firm IDEO. They’ve worked on something that’s touched your life: the Apple mouse, the Motorola VoIP phone, the design of Acela trains for Amtrak, and the Bank of America “change back” products and services are all things they’ve had a major hand in designing.

They’ve also worked with the government, and Haygood mentioned work they’ve done with the Intelligence Community (IC) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). One big theme of his was including the end user early in the process. As he related what one intelligence analyst told him, “Development happens to us, not for us.”

Haywood outlined some fundamentals of the “human side of collaboration,” having empathy for the end user. One, a design thinking process that includes enlightened trial and error and an easy-to-share narrative for senior executives. Two, a tangible working process. Three, a shared experience of a team that bonds together.

There’s so much more about design that I can’t possibly put in this brief post. But if you’re in government, or work with it, and are interested in the process of innovation, check out IDEO: http://ideo.com

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Public Diplomacy 2.0


Tero Ojanperä wants to rule the world. Well, perhaps the September cover of geeky Fast Company magazine goes a little too far with that pronouncement. But despite all the media buzz about Apple’s iPhone and the fact that nearly everyone in Washington has a Blackberry attached to their thumbs, those two devices combined account for only three percent of the global phone market. Nokia, on the other hand – the company that Tero Ojanperä  is the Executive Vice President of Entertainment and Communities for – owns nearly 40%. If he who controls the medium controls the message, Nokia might very well control the future of mobile text, video, music, and other things you want to have on-the-go. And this in turn may affect international diplomacy.

But such global ambitions do not happen without good public relations and influencer outreach. Fast Company describes Ojanperä as a Warhol-meets-Bond-villain businessman wooing music industry executives at a fashionable Tribeca hotel. But this kind of public-outreach-meets-global-domination is certainly not unique to corporations. In fact, governments and empires havehad the lead on that score for centuries as they fight for and strive to maintain influence in the world, and Finland is no exception. Thanks to a new “sister city” marriage of Washington and Helsinki, a program called Invitation to Helsinki brought some District influencers to meet counterparts and exchange knowledge. With backing from Finland’s U.S. Ambassador, this brainchild of the Finnish Embassy’s cultural counselor Pekka Hako blossomed into a collection of relationships that may last far beyond the week-long trip that people like Government 2.0 Club co-founder Peter Corbett, Georgetown student body president Patrick Dowd, and political communications expert Blake Zeff took.

Read more about Diplomacy 2.0 in my full-length article at Washington Life magazine.

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The Five-Minute Citizen Engagement Plan


Ben Huh is an expert on audience engagement who’s best known for creating a platform where people can post photos of cute cats and funny captions. If you’re wondering what this has to do with the government and information technology, don’t worry — until recently, I didn’t understand either. But as I’ve spent time thinking about what citizen engagement means, I’ve become convinced that Huh might be on to something.

Huh’s company is named Cheezburger Networks, and its goal is to “make people happy for five minutes a day.” Not only does its Web sites have more than 11 million monthly visitors and more than 10,000 daily submissions, the commentary level in some cases rivals the number of votes cast in congressional elections. People undeniably enjoy participating because it’s fun and engaging.

So why doesn’t a federal agency have the informal goal of, say, “helping students learn for five minutes a day” or “teaching Americans about foreign policy for five minutes a day” by creating something equally fun and engaging?

Cheezburger Networks makes participation simple. There is a low barrier to entry for participation on its sites, and indeed, when prompted at a question-and-answer session held recently at Google’s Washington offices, Huh suggested that combining participation with humor could make the government more engaging. However, there’s definitely resistance to that idea.

When chatting with another attendee immediately after the event, I received feedback to the effect of “that’s not the government’s job.” What, being interesting? I’d like someone to show me the rule that says the government can’t use some engaging, tasteful humor to engage citizens and, in the process, convey information. The Forest Service still has SmokeyBear.com, after all.

True, a Web site like ICanHasCheezburger.com might be too far outside the box for the government. But what about another popular Cheezburger Networks site, GraphJam.com? GraphJam is a fascinating Web site that consists entirely of user-generated graphs like you’d make using data in Microsoft Excel — except they’re hilarious. The site lets you upload your own files and even has a proprietary chart builder for pie charts, Venn diagrams and so forth. Some graphs certainly take liberties with the facts, but they’re primarily fun and informative.

The government has so much data that it often can’t see novel applications for it. Engaging Web sites where people could create simple visual interpretations of government data and submit them for others to learn from, discuss and, yes, even be amused would be valuable. Why does all government data have to be treated so seriously? Does portraying it in a boring fashion somehow make it seem more important?

The key to building big, fun communities that can accomplish something useful is making it simple to belong and get involved. Narrowing the number of variables involved in the decision process to initially getting involved is critical to drawing people in. I wonder what people could collectively accomplish if they voluntarily engaged with government data for five minutes a day.

This post originally appeared at Federal Computer Week.

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GovLoop Hires Government 2.0 Evangelist for Community Management as it Hits 20,000 Members


Following the recent major news of its acquisition by Minnesota-based GovDelivery, Inc., the premier social network for the government community, GovLoop.com will annouce tomorrow that it has filled a key leadership position – that of community manager.  And it has hired a visionary, tireless advocate for the application of social networking tools in the government – Andrew Krzmarzick.

Andy (He’s casual! Tweet him at @krazykriz or email him at andrew@govloop.com) will be responsible for encouraging outreach, partnership, and engagement to help the GovLoop community grow and deliver greater value to its members.  The expansion of GovLoop’s team reinforces its momentum of this so-called “Facebook for Government” and puts it heads and tails above any competition – including most of the government’s own internal tools, which often don’t cross between levels of government or different agencies within the same government.

In the last four months, GovLoop has added 10,000 new members, bringing the total over 20,000 – that’s more people than the Department of Energy employs, or more people than can fit into Boston’s TD Garden (you know, where the Celtics play).  It’s possible they might have over 100,000 members by next year at that rate!

Andy related, “I’ve watched with admiration…as the [GovLoop] community has grown and the members have connected with one another to share information and ideas generously.  I see its potential as a place where people in and around government can turn in real time to get linked with the people and information they need to perform their jobs more effectively.”

The president of GovLoop, Steve Ressler, has known Andy for quite some time, and when you can work with people you mutually admire, that can be a very strong move.  Since I know and admire both of them, I think this is a great move by the world leader in government-to-citizen communications solutions GovDelivery, Inc. (and GovLoop) and I expect great things from this social network for govies moving into 2010.  I have been a member of GovLoop.com for a long time, and you should be one too!

See also coverage of this story at Dorobek Insider.

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Social Networking is the Means to Achieve Collaboration


Yesterday I live-blogged a bit from the terrific Government 2.0 event produced by FedScoop.com at the Newseum in Washington, DC. I wrote a post about how collaboration was not the means, but rather an end made possible by the means of social networking tools.  You can read my original writing and some initial comments here.  Below, I expand a bit on these ideas.

My post was initially inspired by one speaker’s (WFED’s Chris Dorobek) notion, shared by some others (Justin Houk commented that, “Taxpayers don’t want to think about those in government sitting around on twitter all day even thought that might be an effective way to collaborate.”), that social networking tools come across as too social or “fun” and that being social is not what people are truly doing (in the government) when they use them – they’re collaborating.  Thus, when marketing Government 2.0 to wider audiences, he feels that a term like “collaboration tools” is more appropriate.

In my opinion, while this might sound better to the traditionalist, untrained ear, I think it is factually wrong to say that things like Facebook or Intellipedia are collaboration tools.  True, collaboration often happens with these tools.  And perhaps one could argue that collaboration is mainly what people hope to accomplish with them in the workplace.  Fair enough.  But I think that collaboration is the end result of leveraging social networks, which is in actuality what the social networking tools are for.

In other words, social networks are the means by which to accomplish something.  This something might very well be collaboration.  It might also be putting together an office softball team, or a study group of employees all learning Arabic.  Is that “collaboration”?  I don’t think so.  There are many things that happen in workplaces based around social networks that are not strictly collaboration on work projects.  One big thing I’ve been thinking about lately is “leveraging social networking to accomplish important things” and no one can deny that personal relationships can influence collaboration.  How well you know someone, how much you identify with them, how much you trust them, their level of reliability or transparency – all of these are values derived from social networking that then, when leveraged, can influence collaboration.  Collaboration is not an end in itself, of course – it is a means to accomplish some end (finishing a draft report, etc.).  So, social networking is a means to collaboration, which is a means to achiving some work or personal goal.

I also completely reject the notion that there is something wrong with having some fun at work.  The idea that having fun with social software shouldn’t be allowed in serious workplaces is ridiculous.  And of course, anyone who’s ever passed around a joke-of-the-week email, celebrated a colleague’s birthday with a cake in the break room, or ended work at 4pm for an informal happy hour with the office would surely agree with me on this.  Work can be fun, and be productive, too.  The head of the OPM recently visited Google for a reason.

So, briefly, I think social networking tools are not necessarily collaboration tools.  They are social software that allows social networks to be leveraged to accomplish things you find important.  That might be collaboration on a National Intelligence Estimate, or arranging a carpool with people in your agency (getting to work, being more green), or finding a racquetball partner (staying healthy, living well) – all of which postitively influence the workplace, in government and in the private sector as well.   As Fred Wellman commented on my original post, “I can’t help but wonder if Chris [Dorobek] is seeking a more politically correct or business sounding name of the same tools with the goal of breaking down barriers to implementation and usage as opposed to a lack of understanding of the power of social networking applications in the business of government.”  I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  But I also think that, as an academic, this is actually not what we are doing.  This may sound esoteric, but from an academic standpoint I think it’s an important distinction.

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Government Ambassadors For Citizen Engagement


To the average person, government is represented by an anonymous person on the other end of the phone, a pile of mandatory paperwork, and perhaps at best a friendly neighborhood postal carrier. If you ask the average American not living inside the Beltway to name a single individual who works in the federal government, how would they reply? My guess is that the broad majority of them couldn’t give you the first and last name of a federal government employee; In reality they would find it much easier to name their local pharmacist, garage owner, or supermarket manager. And from the perspective of the government, this is a shame. How might emerging social technologies help to bridge that gap, in combination with a modification in thinking about government public relations?

The ideal end state when a citizen is asked to name a government employee would be that a person working in a micro-niche of interest to them – finance, farming, foot-and-mouth disease – immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately though, interesting and talented people working at Treasury, USDA, NIH and other places are not well-known to the public, despite the great effects their work has on everyday life in America. Why is this? Partly, it is a vestige from the days when communications were controlled by professionally trained public relations staff and mainstream journalism teams. This was understandable – equipment was expensive, channels were few, and citizens trusted authenticated, official sources for their information. But this media structure that worked well for 40 years is now outdated.

In the Web 2.0 world, every individual is empowered to be not only a consumer of information, but a producer of it. Writing is searchable, discoverable, sharable, usable, and yes, even alterable. The proverbial “pajama mafia” of bloggers has morphed into a powerful society class of listeners, questioners, writers, editors, publishers, and distributors. And in some outlying examples from the federal government, such as the TSA’s blog, we see this same power being harnessed by individual employees (with their agency’s approval, naturally) – Individuals from the TSA not only blog, but interact with citizens who comment on the articles. But this form of government-citizen interaction is, honestly, a primitive version of how social technologies can empower citizen engagement with government.

The modern citizen is not a vessel waiting to receive press releases and government website updates. Even a sophisticated government website like the White House’s new blog can only expect to attract a subset of citizens a subset of the time. Why? Simply, there are simply too many avenues of information flowing towards these people formerly known as a captive audience. No matter how compelling your government information, they are not waiting to hear from you about it. Nor are they necessarily waiting to hear from the New York Times, MSNBC, or any other mainstream organization.

Read more about how governments can harness the power of social media to reach the modern citizen at O’Reilly Radar.

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Cheezburger Network as a Model for Citizen Engagement?


I was fortunate enough to attend a talk series at Google DC earlier today featuring Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger Networks. These are the folks responsible for fun, engaging, user-generated content sites like FAILblog, LOLcatz, GraphJam, ThereIFixedIt, and ThisIsPhotoBomb.com – good stuff. They get over 11 million viewers a month, and have more people vote on an average LOLcat than people that vote in a typical Congressional election.

The government and other large organizations, who typically are not great at engaging their citizens and customers, might want to take this stuff more seriously. Their motto, to “make people happy for five minutes a day” isn’t a bad one. Wouldn’t you like to work for an agency that had that motto?

Someone actually asked Ben a question about the topic of Government 2.0, being in DC as we were. What is the role of concepts like these websites contain in a participatory government? Paraphrasing greatly, to build big, fun communities that can accomplish something, the government must make it very simple to get involved. They have to “narrow the number of variables involved in the decision process,” Ben said. Then, people who want to get more involved can take a second and a third step in a process if they want. I think the key takeaway for getting busy people involved in something within five minutes is: “low barrier to entry.”  Does your government website meet that standard?

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The President’s Peace Prize Problem


The same week that Saturday Night Live skewers President Barack Obama for accomplishing absolutely nothing, he has won the Nobel Peace Prize? Spin this: President Obama was 11 days into his presidency when nominations closed for the Peace Prize.  What exactly was he nominated for? Forget Jimmy Carter waiting over two decades for his – One could argue that George W. Bush should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize, since he literally may have done more for world peace by leaving office than Obama did by entering it.

I like President Obama, and I suppose I’m proud that the U.S. President won the Nobel Peace Prize.  But I don’t think I’m going to go to parties at the Swedish Embassy for a while.  In the meantime, I’m sure Kanye West plans to disrupt Obama ’s Nobel ceremony, saying that the award should have gone to Beyonce.

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Conversations Are Intelligence, Not Invitation


Fox’s recent experiment of overlaying live tweets on an episode of Fringe was an epic failure unwelcome to Twitter enthusiasts and traditional viewers alike.  It’s hard to imagine anyone who understands social technology thinking that this was a good idea. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone working in entertainment thinking that this would add to, and not detract from, a fictional television drama. Conversations that happen via social media are not necessarily an invitation for businesses to join them. They are, however, business intelligence that can be collected, analyzed, and adapted to. In one of the best simple articles I’ve read on this topic, media and entertainment entrepreneur Patricia Handschiegel writes that,

If TV wants to have a presence online or integrate its offerings online, it needs to think like a user. Not BE a user, not be “part of the conversation,” but understand what is valuable to the user and deliver it. You all should be on Twitter telling us when your shows are going to air and what we can expect, showing trailers, driving us to YOUR website for contests, special footage, etc…Your job is to entertain and inform your audience. Nobody cares what people think of your shows but you, and nobody cares what people have to say about your shows but you… Just because you can “hear” the direct conversations about your brand via the web today doesn’t mean you have to go bananas with it. Listen, use it for insight, adapt your offerings around it, etc. Brands of all kinds are taking all of this way, way too seriously. Your message has always been reshaped and shared among people — the only difference now is that you can see and hear it. This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to use to your advantage.

This is related to what I’ve previously written about on O’Reilly Radar how for businesses and brands (including personal brands) Twitter should mainly be viewed not as a conversation to be involved in, but as a mechanism for providing great content to people. This can be derided by critics as “broadcasting” but there is a happy medium between being in a multiplex chatroom “engaging” with people and merely broadcasting. Listening, understanding, and some interacting is important – but it is not an end goal in itself. This is also related to what I’ve recently written about on PR 2.0, something I call proactive social media (or offensive social media) – filling the information space with great content that people will find if they’re looking for information about your area of expertise or your business sector. This is the strategy that I am beginning to talk about with individuals, government employees, and large and small companies that ask for my advice about how they should best be using social media to interact with the public.

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Proactive Social Media: Filling the Information Space With Great Content


I recently gave a talk titled Free the People! at the Potomac Forum’s Government 2.0 Leadership, Collaboration, and Public Engagement Symposium in Washington, DC that generated enough interest for me to post my slide deck and write a summary for a wider audience. These thoughts constitute some of my early ideas about “offensive social media” for organizations (this talk was particularly geared towards a government audience, but the fundamentals apply to the private and public sectors more broadly).

Read the rest of this article at the PR 2.0 blog!

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