Sep 13, 2009

Searching for My Inner Craig

Topic One at the big Government 2.0 Summit here in Washington last week was "What is Gov 2.0, and how do we get there?"

This isn't a new question. Twenty-seven months after HHS launched the first Cabinet-level public discussion via a blog, we are still trying to define both the destination and the journey.

My own embrace of a new, open, transparent, participatory and collaborative era of government is shackled by the fact that I am an implementer. I don't get to sit on the sidelines and make smack-talk. I have to figure out how to make this work operationally, legally, and effectively for a federal agency. And, I would be a big, fat liar if I didn't admit that it is harder than it looks and more than a little scary [insert your favorite "not safe for work" link here].

This is where my unknowing mentor Craig comes in. Craig, the man who put the Craig in Craigslist, has been successfully herding cats--by not trying to herd them--on the humongous, world-wide online classified ad site and community he founded in 1995. He's also an active advocate of improving government services.

I've been studying Craig's zen-like approach to service and communities as a model to help me with Gov 2.0. In searching for my inner-Craig I've begun to identify some "truths" to help in actualizing open, transparent, participatory and collaborative government.

Truth 1 Trust. Craig says, "Most people are trustworthy and good and want to treat other people like they want to be treated." While this seems easy, in a bureaucratic, conservative command and control organization--like the government--it's easy to get stuck on the word "most." Since not everyone is a good guy, risk-averse organizations develop structures and policies to treat all comers as if they were "bad." Michele Weslander Quaid, CTO for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said that ODNI hired a risk manager to help make decisions based on risk/reward. By identifying potential risks and the chance the event will occur, government can develop policies that make sense. Working from fact, not fear, lets us trust people to do the right thing--even when it's something we didn't expect--and get out of their way.

Truth 2 Patience. Government social media and transparency efforts are in their infancy. We need to take the time to build out a process. It won't happen overnight. Craigslist grew organically in the Bay Area for years. There were trials and lessons learned to apply to new cities as it gradually expanded over a decade. This isn't to say that we need to slow down efforts, but that there will be successes and failures. We need to learn from both. It's like a three act play. After the heady first act of new blogs, video sharing and wikis, we are now in the long second act where the heroes are tested and do battle, make mistakes and learn how this works. We are still a ways from the climax and dénouement of Act III. We can't rush the story.

Truth 3 Customer service is public service. It's easier to have all the answers than to spend time listening to your audience. It's also not a successful strategy. For government, our audience--our customers--are the American people. We don't make government for the sake of government. We make government on behalf of, and in service of the people. So, its up to us to get out of our cubbies, our jargon, and our assumptions and get out of the way of the information and services people need. Behind Craigslist is the philosophy that people are basically good and their needs fairly simple (see trust above) so a minimal structure led by user needs will let people work things out by themselves. Government should not direct the user, the user directs the government to meet their needs.

Danielle Blumenthal is getting at this in her recent blog post.
Silence is not the answer. Jargon is not the answer. Long sentences and self promotion are not the answer. Let's stop talking to ourselves in a haze of groupthink and fear and start having real conversations about who the customer is (the public) what they want and need to hear (the truth) and how we need to say it so that they really get the message (any method of communication that works).--More from Branding and Social Media.
Knowing the truths is not the same as truly incorporating the truths. I am not all the way there, but I have a path. And I am working on it.

Thanks Master Craig, from Grasshopper Gwynne.

[For more on Craig, check out his blog or the recent Wired Magazine feature on him. ]

1 comment:

  1. The above post is really very interesting and towards the way to believe. The points discussed here are again very dramatic and true with its potential... I like to read this post.. keep updating..


I hope that you will read and comment, ask questions and make suggestions. I just ask that you simply stay on topic, respect other people’s opinions, avoid profanity, offensive statements, illegal content, and other unpleasantries. Since this is my personal blog, I reserve the right to delete any comment.