Oct 18, 2009

Talk Talk vs. Do Do

Hot air balloonJust what we need to move the policy discussion forward, another conference?

Back in March, Mark Drapeau from National Defense University wrote about the mid-life crisis of gov 2.0.
Government 2.0 has reached its midlife crisis. Despite some leadership from influential individuals on using social software in government, there is still in many cases a disconnect between authorities issuing directives and ground troops carrying them out...Resistant to change and adhering strictly to doctrine even when nonsensical, people in the clay layer can halt progress. Despite their intentions and being in a strategic position, they often stop the progress being called for.-- Read more on ReadWriteWeb
The solution? A conference. The wonderful Government 2.0 Camp in March attracted a huge number of government (federal, state and local as well as some international) and private sector attendees to talk about government 2.0 and learn from each other.

In July, Jaimie Maynard, a federal staffer, blogged about her post-conference low after the Open Government and Innovations Conference.
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...DoD, NASA, The White House are getting things done, but as a method to further collaboration and expand the use of social media, [the conference] failed. We need specifics: case studies, business case strategies that succeeded to support any/all of these tools, etc.
So, now it's October and there is another lament that Government 2.0 is failing or flailing. The Gov 2.0 conferences of the fall--O'Reilly's Expo and Summit--felt like just alot of talk by the same people about the same things.

Brian Drake from Deloitte blogs,
How we can get more people, enthusiasm, and get some tough issues on the table. The one group we continue to not hear from are the detractors or skeptics of social software...In addition to the slim number of public, cogent arguments against Government 2.0, our own discussions about failures are truncated. I’m noticing our Government 2.0 conferences either trumpet the achievements of the few or recast a failure as a success.--Read more on Brian's blog.
So the wrong people are coming to the conference. The solution? Another conference. This one to focus on the "Shortfalls of Gov 2.0" and attract people who aren't coming.

Steve Radick, from Booz Allen and a member of the "Goverati," offers a three part solution.
  1. Realize that not all is perfect in the land of Gov 2.0
  2. Identify the skeptics and open up a dialogue with them
  3. Hear the war stories of the people who have gone before us --Read more from Steve's blog.
And, a conference about Government 2.0 Shortfalls.

Underlying this most recent discussion is the idea that people are unaware of the barriers, arguments against, downsides to Government 2.0. I want to clarify that assumption.

People who actually work in government are well aware of the barriers and arguments against Government 2.0.

Yes, we already know. We don't need to talk about it at another conference. We need to fix it. The problems and issues have been defined and discussed since last year. A few quick examples,
  • In December 2008, the Federal Web Managers' Council published, "Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions" (pdf) This paper identified challenges with strategy, access, legal, privacy, advertising, ethics, accessibility, and the Paperwork Reduction Act. The paper also offered concrete recommendations to overcome these barriers.
  • In June, the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security held a two-day workshop to explore best practices to implement the President’s January 2009, Transparency and Open Government Memorandum. In addition to Gov 2.0 advocates, panelists included a variety of viewpoints including privacy advocates, civil liberties organizations, security professionals, and differing legal opinions.
  • Last month, the Federal CIO Council security workgroup published Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies identifying issues and recommendations to address security issues in social media.
While government 2.0 is bigger than social media much of the privacy, security, procurement, ethics, and laws and regulations issues are the same.

AND, many of us in government also know that there are some "successes" that have leap-frogged some hurdles and were implemented because leadership demanded that something be stood up. Agencies are playing catch up.

Gartner's Andrea DeMaio blogs very thoughtfully on government and technology changes. He recently said,
I am still amazed to see how little employee-centricity there is in today’s government 2.0 conferences, debates, positions and articles. It is as if employees were considered legacy, just part of an organization that will be transformed, and not the real fuel and soul of those organizations.

Until when their role will be given equal dignity as “citizens”, government 2.0 will remain an interesting subject for discussion, will marginally contribute to service improvement, but won’t realize a fraction of its potential.--More on Andrea's blog
I think that Brian and Steve make excellent points in their posts. I am not opposed to a conference to discuss the shortfalls of Government 2.0, but I am unsure about the payoff. What do we gain? How does it affect the policy? That's where the rubber meets the road. When will we have guidance on records? Can we make better sense out of the limits on advertising? Why does each agency need to do a privacy impact assessment on YouTube or FaceBook? Are the issues the same across government? How can we move the incentives (i.e. money) to reward cross-agency efforts? To gain efficiencies and reduce redundancies? To break down silos? To improve innovation?

Here's the challenge, because if we aren't getting to these solutions, it's just more hot air.


  1. Your post is right to the point! Outdated policies and requirements are definitely the biggest hurdles. Although changing the policies is critical and is a barrier, the real barrier is the process by which policies are changed. That is what needs changed. If we chnage the process, make it simpler, then we might be able to change outdated policies faster. Solving the problem has to start from where the problem is created.

    But how do we change the process? It's certainly harder when you're creating policy that has an effect on every Federal, State, or Local government. Why don't we have one group of representatives for each level of Government that examines policies based on current needs? There's only so many Departments in Fed Gov't. So why not have 1, and only 1, representative from each Department to be solely responsible for examining, rewriting, and making law policies? Then the Fed policy can be reviewed/modified if needed for State and Local. Maybe? I don't know.

    How do we change the process of policy development? How do we make it work faster?

  2. Surprise, surprise - talking about massive culture change in long standing, large bureacratic organizations haven't led to fundemental changes! Seriously though, anyone who thought shifted Federal agencies' fundemental methods of communication would be easy probably were having a day dream.

    Bottom line, this is really hard work. All the stuff that has always been required for massive change efforts (top leadership support, solid communication & change management, etc.) are also necessary here. Simply opening up a twitter account for the agency doesn't cut the mustard. Nor do small advances like actually soliciting comments on policy decisions - the organizations still have to figure out what to do with them, and integrate this approach into their actual policy making processes.

    As an avid and enthusiastic member of the goverati (I hate that term), I think its still an open question whether this Gov20 stuff will ever amount to anything. At least we're up at bat - but its unclear whether we hit a grounder to 1st base, a home run, or a fly ball that gets called out shortly after hitting it.

  3. Thoughtful post. The recent blog postings have whipped people's heads around, but really, the march of digital democracy is all about making small, steady bits of progress and sharing information and methods. Conferences allow people to share information. It's certainly correct they don't 'fix.' They enable collaboration. When all is said and done, there's no substitute for eye contact. None.
    Govy is on to something. I can't believe my issues as a city councilman in Washington state are that different from a city councilman in Florida or Texas. The laws of the state and city are different, and then of course our constituents may come from different backgrounds. But that's it. I wish we could all collaborate in better ways. I've probably said this too much, but it's what we attempted with the Washington state social media guide...seems to me a wiki approach is still pretty solid. http://citycouncilbloghandbook.wikispaces.com/

  4. Gwynne - good, thought-provoking post and I agree with a lot of your points. However, I don't think the problem is necessarily having yet another conference (although there are a LOT of them), but in how the conference is structured. What Brian and I want to do is get away from highlighting the latest and greatest in Gov 2.0 and dig into the "how" of Gov 2.0. All too often, I leave our Gov 2.0 conferences with a feeling of, "that program X is really cool - I wish we could do something like that at my organization, but I wouldn't even know where to start" instead of "wow, now I have some concrete actions to take when I get back to my office and some clear expectations of what I'm going to go through."

    As leaders in the space, we need to do a better job of driving conference attendees to action and we can do that by equipping them with the tools and knowledge they need to take that first step. That's the hope that I have with this new idea that Brian and I have been discussing - I want people to leave the event feeling empowered, not overwhelmed.

  5. Thanks @steve for chiming in! I spent the first part of my career building conferences for member associations, so I have seen the transformative power of a good workshop, session, speaker, discussion leader. I am with you! It can be just what the doctor ordered.

    But I think that @Govy and @Noel are, in part, asking, "What is the underlying condition?" Maybe we are treating the symptoms--and that isn't a bad thing--but not solving the problem. So we just solve the same symptom again and again. Not too efficient. Not very transformative.

    If we believe that Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 can change the world (and I think it already has), then what do we do to not just clear the brush but to break down silos?

    And @Walter raises what I think is our critical success so far. We are engaging with each other with more ease than ever before. The change has already happened. Can we shape it?

    Looking forward to discussing the conference idea some more!

  6. @Gwynne - I agree that a conference, workshop, seminar, etc. isn't going to solve the "underlying condition." There are definitely a LOT of things causing these symptoms, but if we are to solve those issues, it has to happen within. We need 100 more Gwynne Kostins, Noel Dickovers, Steve Radicks, etc. to get out there, put their necks on the line, and push the envelope every single day. We need to continue this thought process every day, and with everyone we work with, not just with each other. We need to seek out the skeptics and opponents whom we work with and make it our individual missions to "get them to see the light."

  7. Gwynne--great post. I especially liked your thought-provoking questions at the end. Thus, I respond to your question with a question of my own, as well as a bit of a favor.

    I am chairing ALI's December conference about social media and government, and I've had many of the same thoughts that you, Steve and Brian have all expressed in your blog posts--basically, how can we get to talking about creating changes, makeing things happen and talk about new topics--that aren't just around new successes and new tools?

    One approach that I think would help is talking about related topics and how they affect the government. Let me elaborate by referencing academia. For years, the economists studied economy, the accountants studied accounting and psychology studied psychology. Now however, new insights and academic theories are coming out of multi-variant research. Today--more economists are also studying psychology and anthropology and drawing together new conclusions and insights.

    Thus, perhaps one approach is to look at our core purposes and functions within government and look to other areas to help draw new solutions. For example, more dipping into organizational management theory and cultutral studies could help us communicate better interally. Reading about behaviorial economics could help us understand how to better connect with expecting mothers, etc. In essence, Government 2.0 isn't just about communicating, but also understanding.

    I hope to expand on these thoughts during my keynote, and to suggest, that we start with perhaps looking at behavior and that the field of social marketing may have added insights and lessons than can apply not just to "Gov 2.0" but to a variety of government applications. In your opnion as someone on the government side, do you think this is a useful discussion? What advice might you give so it's not more of the same, but something that offers added value?

  8. @alex, thanks for your very good comments (and kind words!) From my perspective, you are on to something in looking at government from another prism. But, let it be known that I have an academic/theoretical bent, and part of the critique is that there is a lack of actual how-tos and a roadmap to results.

    People will say that government is it's own animal--and there is definitely much truth to that. There is a huge value, though, to looking at economic behavior, anthropology and sociology for insights.

  9. Let me ask this question...what exactly are we talking about when we say "Gov 2.0?" Seriously. Are we referring to some grand vision of open and participatory interactions between the Government and The People where ideas flow freely between both and the Government is significantly shaped by the direct word of mouth from "The Person" or the collective voice of "The People?"

    Are we talking about the ability for government to open up their data to be freely available to the public and put data into a format which can be consumed by any machine-readable device to be mish-mashed-potatoed up?

    Do we mean Gov 2.0 as when the Government is finally using the same third-party services that private industry and the public uses without and repercussions?

    Or do we mean Gov 2.0 is the changing, ending, and/or improving policies that drive everything we do?

    What do we mean? What are we really trying to accomplish here? Because, if we're trying to make ALL of those things happen at once then we'll NEVER get there. We need, as a collective voice across the "Gov 2.0 community" to agree to focus all of our energy on one thing. Do we focus on data first? Do we focus on participation? Do we focus on services? Or do we focus on improving the root processes that get us from conception to implementation (like policies development)?

    I don't know. I don't have an answer. But until we can all agree to focus on one thing at a time and have a strategy for reaching that end goal, we're just going to continue attending conferences that list out successes with no solutions.

  10. @Govy - I think the answer is all of the above. Gov 2.0 encompasses everything you mentioned. BUT, I don't think that means that we, as a collective voice, need to focus all of our energy on policy, or transparency, or legal, or any one other thing either. I think we all need to focus on those issues that impact our individual organization. For some, that might be the policy part of this discussion. For others, that may not be an issue right now. I think Gov 2.0 is very much defined at an organizational level - what does it mean to your organization and your mission?

    I like Alex's interdisciplinary approach - this falls in line with what my teams tend to focus on when working with clients and social media, which is the change management aspects of this technology. I've leaned heavily on my change management training to help deal with the multitude of issues I've faced, whether that's getting leadership buy-in, building community, or making the business case. There's a lot to be said for looking at these changes through the lens of a psychologist or socialogist as well.

  11. @Govy - it's all of those things because what we really have here is several different groups all latching onto the same set of tools to accomplish their various goals. Some want 100% transparency. Some want the data so they can play around and see what they find. Some want more participation by citizens. Some want to use social media to improve outreach and education.

    It's more a less a coincidence that social media helps solve all of those problems.

    @Alex - you know how much I appreciate your spirit and generosity, and your personal devotion to making this stuff work. But to me, ALI is part of the problem, not the solution. They charge incredibly high prices, leading people to think "this is going to cost an arm and a leg, so I can't afford it." There are lots of free and low-cost ways to learn and implement beginner-level soial media projects, and the best learning is by doing. For example, I teach a couple of free webinars myself.

    So I just can't abide by private companies making huge sums off of gov't speakers talking to gov't attendees.

    @Gwynne and @Steve - I think we're in violent agreement that well-designed conferences can help but aren't the only thing we need. I support the "talk about the pitfalls" conference almost as an antidote to the previous conferences, where all we do is extol the virtues without ever diving into the meat.

    BTW, we had more than 500 people sign up for Gov 2.0 camp, and more than 400 actually came, including on a Saturday. To my mind, part of that was that it was free. Suddenly, many people from a team could go, instead of picking the one "lucky winner." I'd much rather have a few sponsors than charge huge attendance fees.


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