Jul 25, 2009

Choir Boys and Rebels

Old picture of two choir boys in robesThe government meets web 2.0 conference circuit is getting tired.
All web 2.0 conferences are all starting to look exactly the same. Many speakers come from agencies that are boldly using social media in a new and exciting ways, and many more "believers," who are not allowed to use those same technologies, come to hear about it. But the status quo remains the same. NASA and DoD get to successfully use social media, and the rest of us, for the most part, don't. This is the divide that needs to be overcome. I understand that agencies like the IRS and SSA have intensely sensitive data and need to be extremely cautious. But there are a great many agencies that do not fall into this category that are prevented from using these technologies, despite any prior approval GSA may have gotten. My agency isn't even officially allowed to use Twitter yet...One panelist at a breakout session described how DoD is using "other transactions" to quickly fund new ideas to address current problems. While very interesting, this was less than helpful since DoD is the only agency that I know of with this kind of authority - everyone else has to use the traditional and time-consuming procurement system. For an expo, these are excellent speakers. DoD, NASA, The White House are getting things done, but as a method to further collaboration and expand the use of social media, it failed. We need specifics: case studies, business case strategies that succeeded to support any/all of these tools, etc. [emphasis mine]--More from Jaime Maynard on her GovLoop* blog.
The robust discussion that followed Jamie's post included more than a few frustrated voices lamenting the lack of process and policy that can allow and encourage the use of social media tools in government agencies. Bottom line, it's not fun to see what everyone is doing if there appears to be no light at the end of your own tunnel.

So, tunnel!

Here's the thing. We are just at the beginning of a social information revolution. The roads are more like ruts in the ground. There are no traffic signals. And, yes, in many cases, it's the blind leading the blind.

But, it's not just government. The private sector--outside of the social technology companies themselves--is also wrestling with the upheaval that social media brings.

The ultimate issue is, How do hierarchical, risk adverse and change-fearing organizations incorporate tools that are anti-hierarchy, risky, game-changers?

Funny thing, these conferences that are causing frustrations--what with all the preaching to the choir--are the venues to create and build the networks and common language that choir members take back to their day jobs. And, the rebellious choir members are singing to colleagues, bosses, and compliance professionals from this same hymnal. And, some of the people who hear the music feel the joy and join the choir, too. This process repeats.

This is a sea change that is disrupting the basic structures of our systems, from contracting and buying services to shining bright lights on moldy laws to upending command and control structures. These institutions--acquisitions, legal, management--are meant to withstand fads and the winds of change. But the change is happening from within.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, blogged on this earlier in the week.
We’re seeing movement from mere words to reality, and by bearing witness to that progress, I hope to help accelerate that progress, with actual results. Our goal involves:
  • Increasing government accountability
  • Everyday engagement between government workers and the public for customer service
  • Everyday engagement between the public and their representatives regarding ongoing government policy
As a nation, we’re already heading to our shared goals, mostly via many grassroots, spontaneous efforts, often involving informal collaborations between the citizens and government workers. --[emphasis mine] Read more on FedScoop.
So, take heart and channel any impatience towards improving your own knowledge and networking with other choir members. See, for example, the terrific follow-on post by Jeffrey Levy with practical suggestions to build the community and help usher in the change.

Raise your voices. This is a choir like none we've seen in a very long time.

[* If you're not a member of GovLoop you can't see Jaimies post. So join GovLoop, it's a great social network tool connecting the government (local, state, fed, contractor) community.]

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