Tag Archive | "transparency"

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Gov 2.0 Event – “Open Government: Pages From the Playbook”


Today I’m attending a Government 2.0 unconference called Open Government: Pages From the Playbook at the MLK library in DC. If you’re not here, you’re missing out. Attendees are hearing from govies and contractors about how they are adopting the Administration’s directive on open government. I hear and read a lot in this area, and I’ve definitely heard some new stuff.

My favorite five-minute talk so far was from Virginia Hill of NIH-NIDA, who spoke about a project called “Drug Facts Chat Day,” which leverages the brand and scientific expertise of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to answer teens’ questions about substance abuse. It’s hard to reach audiences (of citizens) that are, shall we say, “shy” but they seem to be doing a great job.

Primary organizer Lucas Cioffi tells me that many govies who wanted to speak couldn’t make it for this initial event, and so there almost certainly will be another one. This is not only a great opportunity to hear a lot of quick talks from people working on open government in the trenches, but also a great opportunity for sponsors to get involved at a modest level.

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Does Andrew Ross Sorkin worry about his quarterlife crisis?


I just finished reading a great New York magazine article about New York Times writer and now book author Andrew Ross Sorkin. There’s a lot of interesting information in the article about Wall Street’s evolution during the past year, the tensions between Sorkin and other financial reporters (even at his own paper), and questions about where you draw the line of being too close to your sources.

But what was really interesting to me was the depiction of Sorkin (who’s about my age, by the way) as a breathe of fresh air with an entrepreneurial spirit working within (some might say, trapped within) a traditional business that’s losing money. From very aggressively and socially courting valuable sources, to capitalizing on his personal brand and news trends to get into management at the Times and get a 600 page book published, to devising new ways to drive traffic and make money (like a daily morning newsletter for finance and mergers and acquisitions geeks), he’s a killer. He hustles.

There’s a growing trend I see in the blogosphere, particularly among women (not sure why that is), of talking about a so-called “quarterlife crisis” that people have in their late twenties. Just because someone writes a book about something – especially something bad or depressing – doesn’t mean you have to believe it! And just because someone generalizes about your gender or race or place where you live or age group or career path – doesn’t mean you have to be part of that stereotype!

So: Boo hoo. If everybody spent the time they think, talk, and blog about their perceived quarterlife crises and put it instead into doing something productive, maybe you’d be a little more like Andrew Ross Sorkin or Gary Vaynerchuk. You know, successful people who have built personal brands through hard work, talent, and marketing that open doors they never thought possible. Vaynerchuk signed a ten-book deal for eight figures. Sorkin has a standing offer to move to Vanity Fair. Who had really heard of these guys three years ago?

Sorkin hustles to crush it every day, and when he’s not doing that, he’s probably thinking up new ways he can do it tomorrow. He outflanks his boring competition. He exceeds people’s expectations. Sure, he steps on some toes, and sure, he takes a few wrong turns. But to quote one of his (presumed) Wall Street sources, Jamie Dimon, “It’s better to do ten things and get eight right, than to do five things and get them all right.”

If you don’t believe that, enjoy your quarterlife crisis.

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Amtrak Irresponsibility at Washington DC’s Union Station


Today, I’m taking a train to Williamsburg, VA from Washington, DC to attend a conference. Train #99, in fact, which was scheduled to depart Union Station at 5pm. In fact, it didn’t. As I type this we’re late, and still not moving.

Oh, I’m not writing about how an Amtrak regional train was late; I’ve been experiencing that pleasure since about 1993. What was interesting to observe was the way computer technology interacted with the actual train being late.

You see, a few weeks ago, someon installed new screens around Union Station that give gates and updated information about trains You know, “On Time,” “Boarding,” and so forth. They’re nice screens. You can find summary boards around the train station, and individual boards near the gates. They’re coordinated, and most likely run by some central software.

Sounds great, right? Well, anyone who’s taken trains knows that the big board says “On Time” until the second they switch it to something like “30 min late” (how can they not see that coming?). This doesn’t really happen with the Acela trains, but for the longer, slower regionals, they’re often off by a few minutes at least.

As we were running a few minutes late to board train #99 to Newport News, VA, the automatic screen at the gate (where I was standing at the front of the line) switched from “On Time” to “Boarding.”. Except we weren’t boarding at all. The attendant said it would be just a few minutes, and the door was shut with a fabric rope in from of that.

The attendant went in the back with his walkie talkie to check on something and we quietly stood by the gate, about a hundred of us. Jumbled. You know how these train lines go.

Suddenly, we hear a shriek. A middle-aged woman is running at us, yelling a bit about how her train is boarding, hurdling over people and their bags. “Where’s the train to Newport News?! My train is boarding!!” Before anyone could say two words to her, she quickly glanced at the sign that said “Boarding,” tore off the fabric barrier, barged through the door, and started running towards the escalator to the train.

Now, she bumped into the Amtrak attendant quickly, and he calmed her down and walked her back to us, and we all boarded a few minutes later. But what if this had happened on (say) October 15th, 2001? Would we have not taken this more seriously? Everyone was totally complacent today.

More importantly, this is a good example of how updated technology not only can be merely a cosmetic improvement (I don’t recall people asking for help reading the boards, or wandering aimlessly looking for gate E, before the new signs.) but also can be harmful when used improperly. In this case, Amtrak personnel clearly knew we were not boarding, yet the signs said we were.

In the minds of people these days, virtual boarding is as good as the truth, and we saw this with the middle-aged woman, who ran by a hundred people waiting to board because a digital display convinced her that her train was boarding. (We all must have been waiting for something else, maybe Balloon Boy?) This is a similar problem to the “celebrity death hoax” phenomena whereby Kanye West or a similar high-profile person is declared “RIP” by an enterprising Twitter user – and the information spreads like wildfire. Being dead on Twitter is now equivalent to actually being dead, unless you literally “resurrect” yourself via a YouTube video (Zach Braff) or a late-night TV appearance (Jeff Goldblum). How can we blame this pleasant woman for thinking she was going to miss her train?

So, I don’t know if Amtrak, Union Station, or some third party is working these signs, and I don’t care (It is a good question for a local journalist, though.). What I do know is that whomever is running this system doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing, or even worse, does know what they’re doing but is too lazt to give a shit. After all, it’s just a Sunday afternoon; football’s on…what could possibly happen?

Amtrak is not totally immune from blame. Even if they’re not working the software running the signs, they have employees standing right next to them. Is checking the signs for accuracy in anybody’s job description? Today’s incident could have been prevented in a number of ways. It was very minor, but it serves as an example of what happens when half-assed technology is involuntarily injected into our daily lives by people we don’t know, who don’t care about us.

Boarding 10 minutes late may not seem like a lot, but to that woman it was. If we don’t have standards about making digital information match reality, where does that logically leave society? Working bathrooms declared closed? Incorrect pricing on lattes? Misleading highway directions during an emergency?

What I want to know is: Who’s going to be in charge of coordinating the digital and the real as our country moves toward a more technocratic future?

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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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Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra’s Priorities


This morning at the IAC/ACT Management of Change Conference in Norfolk, VA the newly confirmed Federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Aneesh Chopra outlined his priorities.  Based on personal notes taken during the talk, here they are.  What do you think of them?

I.  Use rigorous policy changes to transform the economy through tech-based innovation.  Harness federal/state/local collaboration.

II.  Address the President’s major priorities like growing the economy, improving education, and changing the health care cost curve, through innovation platforms – game changers that make government better/cheaper/faster.   The private sector needs to lead within a culture of open standards, basic research and development may be shifted to some more advanced work, and we must learn how to better crowdsource public sector innovation.

III.  Driving reliable, resilient, and trustworthy broadband infrastructure.  The FCC should take the lead on this.  Cybersecurity plays an important role as well, and we need to have a bug-free software development process (cybersecurity is “baked in” to the software, as federal CIO Vivek Kundra says).

IV.  Create a cultural change in participatory democracy, open government, and collaboration.  We should thoughtfully incorporate the public’s thoughts at the start of the policy process rather than just at the end (”for comment”) to harness the brainpower of the American people.  Every main Cabinet agency should create on signature program in this area within one year, and focus on top policy priorities.  Finally, the CTO, CIO, and the GSA will create an “innovation sandbox” that is a set of products on a menu that agencies can “order up” for use.

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The A to Z of New Media


Authentic: “corporate speak” will doom you to failure

Be yourself: make sure there’s a real person behind your efforts

Connect: meld the organization with old and new stakeholders

Direct contact: with stakeholders and the public

Evangelists: they spread word to their loyal followers

Frontier: unless you play on the edge you don’t know what’s new

Glocal:  it’s local but still global, and global but still local

Honest: and it’s okay to say no as well

Immediacy: enables real time communication

Jump in: don’t be afraid to try; others are

Keep at it: don’t give up, there’s a learning curve

Listening: hear what your stakeholders say

Mobile: take your Web 2.0 to go

Nimble: no manual – be ready to shift approaches

Old media: traditional routes increasing online presence

Personal: more meaningful one to one relationships

Quickly respond: or the perception is that you don’t care

Reputation: perception of the organization

Systemic: put content on multiple channels

Take risks: and enjoy the larger rewards

Useful: make the information pertinent

Viral: spreading information rapidly

Where have you been?: communities expect your participation

Xchange: stakeholder ideas lead to improvements

Youth: but don’t neglect others; 35+ fastest growing demographic

Zeitgeist: social media

Adapted from a Marriott handout at a Washington, D.C. event called “New & Social Media: Leading the Way”

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Reviving the Reality Television Genre


Last night, the lovely Joan Rivers was awarded the title of “The Apprentice” on Donald Trump’s show, now in it’s…hmm, well, I don’t know what season they’re in anymore. I stopped watching years ago. Frankly, the only people I remember are Bill someone-or-other (because he won the first season and smokes cigars), Omarosa no-last-name-needed (because I met her again recently and she is fierce), and Rebecca Jarvis (who I crush on when I watch her report on CNBC).

Reality television programming is dying a very, very slow death. Who can’t see this coming? Older brands like The Apprentice, Survivor, and American Idol simply have lost their buzz, and many others are completely gone from our minds (remember Paradise Hotel?) Even a relatively good, relatively new show like The Hills is based on an older show, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, practically a distant memory now. (Trust me, I used to live in Orange County, and I loved it, but once you get past talking about blondes, the beach, and beer there’s little more material to build on.)  Sure, some of these shows still make money, but which direction are the trendlines pointing? The reality television bubble is ready to pop.

But is reality entertainment played out, as well? Not hardly. Most everyone loves people watching. Freelancers sitting in Starbucks looking at each other pretending to work on laptops practically passes for a reasonable business model. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers mine Twitter for gossip and news and jobs and the newest battle-of-the-geeks-they-don’t-know. Facebook is making it easier and easier to stalk your best friends, your worst enemies, and people you’d like to know in cities you don’t live in. Television channels like E! remain popular, Ryan Seacrest has four jobs, and magazines like People still fly off the shelves as they report on every triviality of celebrity life. No extra pound is too small, no frenemy too obscure, no vacation too remote to report on.

Let’s face it. We love reality, and the masters of the genre know it. Ashton Kutcher has a million Twitter followers, yes, but others are quickly catching on to the new interface between emerging personal media technologies and personalized public relations. None other than Paris Hilton has recently been Twittering her way through a weeklong beach paradise vacation with her boyfriend. Reporting that the paparazzi hadn’t found her yet, she herself was photographing and publishing their experience for thousands of her fans. How long before she is using a Flip cam or live streaming on Qik? (How long until her publicist has to take a pay cut?)

Less popular but still interesting people are doing the same things. Blogger and Air America Radio personality Ana Marie Cox spent her weekend reporting live from the events surrounding the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner – just using her phone. Her photos and witty comments are sent to nearly 500,000 followers – more than the average cable television news program has tuning in. Even a relatively less famous blogger like me has an amusing, snarky impersonator, who in a bizzaro fashion is really just publicizing my brand of writing to an audience of non-traditional fans.

One can only conclude from this that reality entertainment is raging, but not in the usual places. It’s hard to imagine a reality television show in its current form based around me, or Ana Marie Cox – yet we’re popular, at least in microniches. Television doesn’t yet exploit that fact.

It’s time for an infusion of new media technology into the medium formerly known as television. Here’s the current strategy: TV networks record attractive people facing hard challenges under interesting circumstances 24 hours a day for months and then air less than one hour of that a week. Whose bright idea was this for 2009?

It’s hard to believe that nothing interesting happens during the other 167.4 hours. The viewers don’t care about TV producers, directors, and editors. They don’t care about production costs and marketing deals and advertising tie-ins and intellectual property. They watch shows because they want to know what people are doing, and traditional networks are withholding that information. Viewers now want to decide what’s interesting and useful in those “extra” hours. They want that power, as unreasonable as it may seem.

Reality television shows are carefully crafted into storylines and so arguably they are not showing “true reality,” which the raw footage would then reveal. But does anyone care? Would this spoil some grand surprise? Maybe from time to time, but surely at this point most people have pulled the wool back from their eyes. Viewers know it’s altered reality – but they are willing to suspend logic in the interest of being entertained and distracted from their own reality.

Moreover, the all-important Gen Y viewership wants to reinterpret everything, mash it up with other video clips, add soundtracks of hip hop music, share their creations with friends, mine it for ideas and innuendo, and use it in amateur films. Viewers want to “democratize” the footage. Fair or not – that’s what increasingly tech-savvy audiences want – they want to participate in reality.  Although this cult of the amateur produces a lot of garbage, it’s also true that there are diamonds in the rough – and struggling entertainment companies always on the lookout for the next thing should be keen to polish those rare gems.

What’s my advice? Free the footage, I say to television networks and production companies and movie studios. Break down the barriers to participation and collaboration. Create repositories where hours of raw footage can live and be reused ad infinitum under a Creative Commons license. Even better, provide a platform like YouTube where these amateur film directors can upload the creations they’ve made with your footage. Better still, have them create user profiles and recruit the cream of the crop for an internship program within the company. Create the next generation of employees and let them have fun during an informal application process that gets their creative juices flowing. Because my wager is that they’ve got your next great idea.

This article originally appeared in my column at True/Slant.

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Trend Preadaptation and Bandwagon Warfare


Life is a series of bandwagons, especially if you’re a successful person. Environments that you operate within change constantly, and if you don’t evolve with them you’ll probably go extinct. Working as an academic scientist for about a decade, I saw such environmental shifts all the time. Most professors, especially if they wanted spending money, worked on topics that they could obtain federal grant money to support.  Sure, other topics were important and interesting, but the realities of running an expensive laboratory cannot be forgotten. 

Trends in funding different topic areas come and go. Have you heard about research in “translational medicine” lately? That’s a hot topic. What about “functional MRI”? Sure, that’s hot too. Okay, how about “anatomy and physiology”? Yeah, thought so. It’s not that there aren’t any important questions left in anatomy and physiology, it’s just that it’s not perceived as cutting-edge anymore.

Some researchers follow these trends and evolve with them, and some don’t, with consequences to either choice. People who are great at exploiting trends in science funding often band together into collaborative packs, sharing data with each other, recommending others for panels at conferences, peer-reviewing each others’ work, and generally being collegial. It’s tribal behavior. It can certainly be hard to become part of a new tribe being the right person in the right place at the right time; but when you are it allows you to do more research than you could previously.

Meanwhile, have-nots without great research funding are noble loners without a powerful tribe. They’re doing equally good work perhaps, but feel overshadowed by more trendy researchers. And so often a good dose of spite separates these two sets of tribes. But why? The first group is mainly doing good science that Congress, the National Science Foundation, and so on feel is important now, and the latter group is sticking to their traditional topic and has maintained an academic freedom to pursue it. There really is no productive reason for warfare between these bandwagons. Yet it exists.

In my experience, people who exploit a changing environment successfully are often preadapted to it in some way. In science, people may have already been reading widely on the topic, interested in it for some other reason besides funding. Perhaps one lab fortuitously collected speculative preliminary results when a grad student rotated through the lab for three months, and those results proved critical to a later grant application. Rarely do I think a professor of physical chemistry wakes up in the morning, sits in front of his computer with a cup of coffee, sees new funding for breast cancer research, and starts carpetbagging on their turf. It just doesn’t work that way – you’ve “gotta have the chops” to go up against the competition.

Of course, none of this is limited to the practice of academic science. I would postulate it is unlimited because humans have banded together in tribes based around ideas for as long as recorded history. Lately, I’ve been writing a fair amount about the now-trendy topic of Government 2.0, or how emerging Web technologies are changing how government operates. And as this writing has garnered attention it’s also been implied that I’m carpetbagging the field rather than being a practitioner of its topic matter. In an interesting bit of co-evolution, even as an increasing number of people are finding my writing and public speaking useful, a bandwagon has formed to critique the bandwagon of people who have published “pop” writing about Gov 2.0 - and there has been a tiny bit of tribal bandwagon warfare.  

I don’t remember Gov 2.0 being a trendy topic in April 2008 when I started working on it. To the contrary, in my travels to Web 2.0 events of all kinds that started over a year ago, no one from government was there, and very few attendees at events outside the DC area knew anyone from the government, never mind someone who wanted to hear about their start-up company. My partial bridging of that gap led to writing some interesting articlesand allowed me to network with other thought leaders both inside and outside government who have certainly taught me a lot. Like the scientist with fortuitous preliminary data, I was preadapted to the new-found Gov 2.0 craze facilitated by an exciting presidential election season last fall.

This week, the hot topic around my office is pandemic flu. Why? Because it turns out that my research center distributed wildly successful pandemic flu preparedness posters in 2005 and a planning guide to operating a large organization during a pandemic in 2006.  A few months ago, I designed and printed a new poster that summarized the best of what we knew and made it more graphically palatable. Now, in the middle of a seemingly global swine flu outbreak, a lot of people suddenly want it. Am I again carpetbagging for personal gain, strategically moving from exploiting Gov 2.0 to exploiting pandemic flu? This hypothesis would be amusing if it weren’t so ridiculous.

The problem with bandwagon warfare is that it doesn’t help anyone. It annoys the trendy without affecting them, it satisfies the criticizers while effectively wasting their time, and it doesn’t do anything for the greater good; in the case of this article, that greater good involves citizens who want scientists conducting medical research, a military that puts an end to insurgencies, and a government that communicates better with them on health issues. Not unlike old arguments about the logic behind nuclear warfare, tribal bandwagon warfare is a useless stalemate that shouldn’t escalate. But when it is so easy to write something harmful online, what is the deterrent?

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The Boy Who Cheered Wolf


Everyone has bad days, right?

Well, not everyone. There’s always that person who says every day should be the BEST EVER. They think that you’re a WINNER. They want you to SUCCEED. And all of their friends are AWESOME.

When you shower too much unconditional praise, it ceases to be meaningful. Not every party was the best ever, not every day is terrific, and not everyone you meet is interchangably awesome.

Use praise sparingly. Then, when you give someone a shoutout, they feel more special and your audience is more likely to pay attention to them. When you announce a great event, people are more likely to believe you, and register for it. And when you say that you’re having the BEST day of your life, everyone will help you to celebrate it.

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Twitter is a PR Platform That Screens Your Calls


Nearly every day I get asked a version of the question: “Why do you like Twitter so much”?

The answer is complicated, and I have written about this in a number of different ways. But I’ve been trying to think of a great soundbite to sum up why I love Twitter.

Here it is: Twitter is a PR platform that screens your incoming calls.

What do I mean by that? Twitter is a versatile, powerful way to publicize things of interest to you. But it’s not just a push – it’s bidirectional. Just like a traditional press release will have a contact person and a phone number or email address at the bottom, a person on Twitter has a handle or nickname – and that is how people can get in touch with you and ask you questions.

Here’s the difference. When someone calls you, it’s immediate – you either answer within 10 seconds or you do not; and you probably have no information about the person on the other end. Email’s slightly better because incoming email goes into a holding bin – your inbox – but you still may know very little about the sender.

When someone tweets you, not only does the tweet effectively go into a holding bin, but their entire usage of Twitter is also public. You can quickly see their mini-biography, a link to their homepage, how many times they’ve tweeted, who they follow, and even mine the topic matter or other information about their tweets. You can know a lot about the persons you will deal with, before you actually have to deal with them.

So the very nature of Twitter makes it a de facto ‘call screener’ – you can monitor the conversation about your topic, scope out incoming traffic, and selectively join conversations on your terms. That’s a really powerful approach to public relations, and it has ramifications not just for individuals, but also for businesses and the government.

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