Nov 25, 2009


cornucopiaYesterday I posted a bit of frustration to my social networks. In about 10 or 15 minutes, I received support and encouragement from all over the place. From colleagues and friends in dot-gov, from college chums, from buddies and family. Made me feel thankful.

So here's some thanks.

Thanks to you guys, the people who read and comment on this blog. You on the Google Reader, thanks! Friendfeed folks, thanks! You, coming here from a Twitter link, thanks! You, from Governing People, thanks! My buddies at GovLoop, where I repost, thanks! Facebook friends, thanks! You from the comfort of your email, thanks! You, who came here randomly from a Google Search, thanks, hope you got some of what you were looking for! You, who followed a link from a blog, thanks!

Thanks for the inspiration. Thanks for taking chances and trying new things out. Thanks for the constructive criticism. Thanks for participating in dot-gov and working to make the world a better place. (Yes, I do think that's what we're doing.)

Now I am off to make cranberry sauce.

Nov 21, 2009

YouTube Captioning Makes Video More Accessible for All


Dear Google/YouTube,
We want it. We want it NOW!
Your Dot-gov Buddies

Johnny's hearing aids. Johnny is  my son.A big barrier to making video content available to people who can't hear is creating captions for the audio--like the closed captioning you see on TV. This is especially important to government because we are required-- by law and by mission--to make content available to all people, regardless of their abilities. So, the dot-gov space was a-flutter [I almost said a-twitter, and that was true too] when Google announced two new features to make videos on YouTube accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired.

First, and available to EVERYONE now, YouTube account holders can upload a transcript with a video and YouTube will be automatically generate, time stamp, and incorporate captions into your video.

What does this mean? Well, in order for captions to make sense, they need to be coded to match up with the audio on the video. Bottom line, using current technologies, it takes more than a few painstaking staff hours to time code a 15 minute video. This delays posting the video--or fosters a reluctance to create video content or, even worse, encourages posting video that people who are deaf can't access. This is a huge problem for time sensitive, safety messages.

Why is this extra cool? The generated YouTube caption file can be downloaded from YouTube and used in other versions of the video. Most federal agencies post their video on a dot-gov site in addition to posting on YouTube. This will turn around processes and let us create the timestamp file on YouTube to post with our videos. Yay! I know at least one hard working captioner who will be ecstatic to turn her attention to more video production and less caption production. Breaking news: IT WORKS!!

[Google has] combined Google's automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. The captions will not always be perfect, but even when they're off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time. --Read more on the Google Blog.
Auto-caps is being piloted withUC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke, UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic, Demand Media, UNSW and most Google & YouTube channels.

This is pure awesomeness--despite any imperfections in machine generated captions--because unscripted events require a transcriptionist at cost of time and money. If the captioner is also transcribing it can take an hour to get a minute or two of captioning done. Google's auto-caps is a game changer with the potential to make more video more accessible to everyone.

Let's let Google explain the service:

This is great news for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. This is great news for government agencies that struggle with the cost and expertise required to make video accessible to everyone. This is great news because government can't be transparent for most of the people--open government is only meaningful when it's available to all.

Dear Google/YouTube,
Thanks for this new service! We are happy to help beta test your auto-captioning feature. Give us a call!
Your Dot-gov Buddies

Nov 8, 2009

Ripe for Change: Compliance and Hiring

Aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis making a sharp clockwise U-turn on the deep blue ocean. Picture by Tina Lamb, USNGovernment 2.0 is more than social software. It's also updating processes that are barriers to a nimble, effective, collaborative government. Processes like hiring and compliance.

A hearing last week focused on yearly cybersecurity reporting and compliance versus protecting systems. NextGov reported on challenges with FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act, which requires agencies to identify and inventory their IT systems and determine how sensitive the information is that is stored on those systems.
"It seems like OMB thinks that a snapshot of agency preparedness every three years will defend our critical networks," said Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., during a hearing of the Senate Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, which he chairs. "But instead, billions of dollars are spent every year on ineffective and useless reports. Meanwhile, we continue to get attacked."
Efforts at more realtime, and effective, cybersecurity were cited at Department of State.
To supplement FISMA reporting requirements, State implemented a widely lauded risk-scoring program that scans every computer and server connected to the department's network no less than every 36 hours to identify security vulnerabilities and twice a month to check software configurations. The program assigns points on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the riskiest security threats. Points are deducted once issues are resolved. Since July, overall risk on the department's key unclassified network measured by the scoring program has been reduced by nearly 90 percent at overseas sites and 89 percent at domestic sites.

"These methods have allowed one critical piece of the department's information security program to move from the snapshot in time previously available under FISMA to a program that scans for weaknesses continuously, identifies weak configurations [every] 15 days, recalculates the most important problems to fix in priority order daily, and issues letter grades monthly to senior managers tracking progress for their organization," Streufert said.--
Read more in NextGov
On the hiring side, John Berry, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) boss, said that "cracks are showing" in the personnel system. According to Government Executive, he outlined a number of areas that might be ready for updating. Berry said that
Reformers must realign personnel systems to recognize, reward and promote merit within the federal workforce, while making the merit system principles a matter not simply of fairness but of job performance.
While not making specific policy edicts, he offered a few focus areas like
  • Expanding the eligibility for big bonuses--beyond the Senior Executive Service
  • Helping agencies pilot and incorporate telework
  • Working to better recognize and reward star performers
  • Focusing on training managers and workers to help adopt change
  • Reviewing the current 15 grade system for a more flexible and simplified promotion path
  • Creating "results-only" work environments, removing time and place from performance. Read more on GovExec.
Are these the "right" areas to focus on? I don't know. Frankly, the emphasis on big bonuses seems a caricature of the private sector. And, I would like to add changing the hiring process to allow more fluidity between the public and private sectors--the two systems are currently incompatible. But I do believe, like Berry says, "we can seize this moment to build something new."

It takes a while to turn around a large, complex vehicle like government. These efforts are helping to turn in the right direction.

Nov 1, 2009

Yellow Brick Roadmap: Five Examples of Getting Gov 2.0 Done

The Ruby Slippers and Dorothy from Wizard of OzSince my post talking about the frustration in talking about making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative, I had an epiphany. We are all Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, wore magical ruby slippers that empowered her to do what she most wanted--return home to Kansas. BUT she couldn't unleash their power until she believed that she could. Crazy, no?

How did our heroine get to believing? Via real life experiences. So, for Halloween I will be a Good Witch and provide guidance in the form of examples of real agencies solving the problems in becoming the government that we want to be. Call it the Yellow Brick Roadmap.

So, what are the barriers and what are solutions that agencies have found?

Privacy: The Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled a new website and a set of social media tools at the end of September. They addressed privacy issues in 3rd party web tools--like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter--head on with a comprehensive Privacy Impact Assessment. DOJ writes that
[T]hese third-party websites are not a part of the Department’s internal information systems nor will they be operated by a contractor of the Department, the Department does not and will not collect information from individuals when individuals interact with the Department’s social web accounts. While it may appear that information posted by third parties on the Department’s accounts is the Department’s information, such third-party postings are technically and factually under the dominion of the third-party social websites.
DOJ's construct may be a good model for other agencies. Read the PDF of Justice's Privacy Impact Assessment.

Employee Use of Social Media: The Government Services Administration (GSA) is a Federal agency that provides services and support to other government agencies. They published a social media employee use policy in July. This policy addresses agency expectations,
As the technology evolves, this order and its accompanying handbook will evolve, but in general terms, this order defines guiding principles for use of these technologies by GSA employees. The use of social media technology follows the same standards of professional practice and conduct associated with everything else we do. Common sense and sound judgment help avoid the most vexing issues.
Read the PDF of the GSA Policy for Employee Use of Social Media.

Legal barriers in standard 3rd-party terms of service agreements: This was the original show-stopper for many agencies trying to use social networks. The federal government could not agree to some clauses in standard agreements with social media service providers.

Since this problem was identified a year ago, government-wide agreements have been negotiated with You Tube, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and more with additional agreements in the works. This has been a collaborative effort with many agencies contributing time and lawyers including EPA, Commerce, GSA, Library of Congress and the White House.

While each agency will decide when and how to implement social media and social networking tools based on their priorities and strategies, a basic legal hurdle for all government has been cleared. See more on the process for using standard terms of service agreements on

Strategy and process: Frankly, another barrier has been, how do you get started? A terrific model for people to learn from is provided by The Smithsonian, the world's largest museum complex and research organization.
This Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy was created through a fast and transparent process that directly involved, and continues to involve, hundreds of stakeholders inside and outside the Institution. This strategy will feed into the Smithsonian’s comprehensive strategic plan, currently under development.
I'll quick stipulate that the Smithsonian is not a typical government agency, yet their approach can be modified to fit the culture and needs of any agency. First, tie new media to the agency strategy. Second, appoint a leader with decision-making authority. Third, create a tactical road map. Fourth, create a funded unit that will implement the strategy.

Before people [you!] start to moan about how hard this is, nobody said it would be easy. The Smithsonian, however, is showing a way. See all the details at the Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy Wiki.

Transparency & Open Government. While the long-awaited Open Government Directive is not yet published, the President's January 21st call for a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government has already made an impact.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security have undertaken dialogues with stakeholders to strengthen not only services but also strategy. The Open Government Directive development process itself has included public brainstorming and a wiki to help develop the policy. Each of these projects and tools are part of the learning process to make open government robust and meaningful. It's already happening.

This Yellow Brick Roadmap to real accomplishments is meant to help people [you!] believe that we are making progress opening up government. And, to show concrete examples that can be leveraged by people [you!] trying to make progress in your own agencies.

The path to success is recognizing that we [you!] are already on the path, that you have the tools/ruby slippers and it's up to you to make it happen. Got it?

Have more examples with enough resources for folks to replicate? Add to the comments below. Then, pick up your basket and your little dog, too, and follow the Yellow Brick Road!