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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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Presidential Transition 2.0: How to Use New Social Media

This post was originally published on TechPresident on November 3, 2008, just before election day and the Bush-Obama transition period.

[How will the new president use the web? And how will the web use him? As you might expect, with election day finally upon us, we're going to be shifting our attention here at techPresident and at our companion blog, PersonalDemocracy.com, to that question. Below, guest contributor Mark Drapeau offers a guide to the presidential transition, with some smart advice to whomever wins to make serious use of social media as they move through this critical period in our political process. As for techPresident.com and PersonalDemocracy.com we'll have more details soon on our planned changes in both sites; stay tuned. The Editors. ]

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 transition process itself is extremely complex and will happen during a short, three-month period. This handover of power will involve an unprecedented amount of information and will require fast, effective communication. This being the first time a transition occurs on the backdrop of a hyper-networked citizenry, more people than ever will be seeking to participate in or offer advice to the incoming administration. Thus, the transition team must make the most of modern social technology to shape, coordinate, and run the process of moving the next president into office. Here are some suggestions on how that can work.

What’s the transition team?

The transition team has many responsibilities. They 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. Also, 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 videoteleconferencing, 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 causal like GovLoop.

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.

Teams interacting with different departments could use social software 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.

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 like America Speaks and PolicyPitch to reach out to stakeholders as well. Such transparency can only serve as good public relations with citizens largely distrustful of their government.

More than ever, outside groups want in. Numerous organizations have created websites designed to help the transition personnel, ranging from the blog run by IBM’s Center for The Business of Government to the non-profit White House Transition Project. The WhiteHouse2.org project (“where YOU set the nation’s priorities”) also has the right idea of crowdsourcing the nation’s people for unfettered access to their ideas via a simple voting mechanism.

As entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has said, the new law of the jungle in the social media age is to be a RAT: real, authentic, and transparent. To dismiss tech-savvy sources of input is not only ignorant and bad PR, but also can have cascading backlashes in the new media blogosphere.

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,/a>, 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, Twitter’s Election page – offer real-time information on public discussions people are having on the Internet. Quantifying public sentiment is important for reaching out, listening, and engaging the citizens post-election, and for influencing new policies. Bidirectionality is the essence of Web 2.0, and it is what people increasingly demand from the organizations, companies, and local, state, and federal governments that they deal with. In a recent report, the consultancy Gartner suggested that citizen social networks will enhance or possibly even replace some functions of government – at lower cost – in the near future. Could experimental ad hoc social networks begin to replace government contractors?

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.

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