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Archive for November 18th, 2009

DorobekInsider: Gov 2.0 moves beyond ‘social media’ — and why it’s more than semantics

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Social networking — it is a term that has increasingly grown to make me cringe. And it is more then just semantics.

Regular DorobekInsider readers and listeners to Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris know it has been something of a campaign. In fact, I originally wrote about it back in September under the headline The era of social media is over – long live collaboration tools — and it is the subject of my column in AFCEA’s Signal magazine that will hit the streets on Dec. 1.

Last night, Web 2.0 guru Debbie Weil hosted a marvelous event titled Social Networking: the Two Dirtiest Words in Gov 2.0 (a Sweets and Tweets event) — the event was held at Baked & Wired in DC’s Georgetown, so we were surrounded by amazing cupcakes… and spirited yet very healthy debate. (David Harrity was kind enough to credit me with spurring the discussion, which is very kind. I actually credit Weil and Drapeau and the people in the room who were all interested in collaborating around this topic — in having a healthy debate.)

The main speaker was Mark Drapeau, who has an impressive bio — and an impressive following on Twitter. Drapeau is no stranger to listeners of Federal News Radio 1500 AM. He is one of a handful of government 2.0 thought leaders. And, as Drapeau acknowledged, he disagrees with me. (Drapeau and I disagree on things regularly — my guess is he does with many people — but he is also fascinated by a spirited debate on an issue and takes very little personally.  Additionally, he is unusually intelligent, which makes the debate even more refreshing.)

And I should say that Drapeau — and most of the people in the room — are interested in helping the government do its job better, and many of people there believe these tools offer real potential. The question at hand: Does the term “social media” and “social networking” help or hinder the cause of helping the government do its job better and more effectively.

Drapeau argued — and argues — that social networking is… well, social — and it is the socialness — the connections that people can make using these tools — and is empowering. In the end, these tools are much more then collaboration, he argues. It used to be about who you know, he says. Today, it’s about who knows you — and that, increasingly, the people who are the most connected are the most influential. And he argues that while social networking is… well, social, there is a lot of good and important work being done.

Further, he argued that these tools have connected him with many people he never would have met otherwise. But I would argue that comes from the sharing of information. That information sharing spurred collaboration. In work instances, the social aspects come later.

Both Drapeau and I agree that too often, people start with a tool or tactic. Instead, they need to have a goal in mind — what are you trying to accomplish, he said.

In many respects, Drapeau and I agree — but I continue to believe that the term “social networking” and “social media” are, in fact, detrimental. My co-anchor, Amy Morris, argues that my argument is largely about semantics. And, perhaps as a writer, I’m biased to believing that words are powerful and that they matter.

To me, the term social media is simply inaccurate. In the end, I don’t think that these tools are “media,” but beyond that, they aren’t really about being social.Socialness is the side benefit. Socialness is tantamount to the increased energy you get when you exercise — in the end, it isn’t the main purpose of exercise, but it sure is nice.

In the end, most organizations — and particularly agencies — aren’t interested in the social aspects of these tools. To the contrary, the social aspects hinder many organizations from using these tools, the same way it did with giving people e-mail addresses and putting the Internet oneverybody’s computer.

The fact is there isn’t a single agency that has the mission of being social. Even the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s HR organization, isn’t responsible forsocialness. For OPM — and for most organizations — these tools are a means to enable them to accomplish the mission more effectively and more efficiently.

But the term “social media” is, in fact, dangerous because it gives people the opportunity to discount these very powerful tools with a broad brush. (Giving credit where credit is due: This idea largely comes from Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee, the guy credited with “inventing” the term “enterprise 2.0” — and he mentions this in his upcoming book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges, due to be released Dec. 1. I should also note that we will talk to McAfee on Dec. 1 on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris.)

Dave Wennergren [PDF], the deputy CIO at the Defense Department, has a great line: “If you think Facebook is just for dating, you haven’t checked it out.” And he is exactly right. Yes — there is dating going on — and a whole lot of social stuff too — but the reason people are using these tools in droves is they let them do something that has been frustratingly out of reach: to share information. These tools — collaboration tools is my current preferred term, but I’m willing to take suggestions — these tools let people tap into the wisdom of the crowd… of their crowd. And people are learning that information is power — but that the real power of information comes when it is shared. That sharing helps everybody.

In the end, the power of these tools comes from their inherent ability to enable information sharing and collaboration, not from the social aspects. And I would point to the Better Buy Project, created by GSA, ACT/IAC and the National Academy of Public Administration. This site lets anybody, but particularly procurement officals, to share ideas and issues, propose solutions, and vote on other people’s ideas. And in the end, the site was created by sharing information in GovLoop’s Acquisition 2.0 group — by collaborating. Yes, there is a social aspect to all of that, but the question in the end — and the criteria that organization’s are going to judge the value — is whether these tools are helping people accomplish the organization’s mission. And that is something that bothDrapeau and I are in total agreement.

By the way, GSA’s Mary Davie tweeted that the Federal Acquisition Service is using the term “collaborative technologies.”

The phrase my be passe these days, but I still believe that content is still king — the ideas and thoughts matter. And while it is important who knows you, what is most important is the value of the information that you share — and how that information enables people to do their jobs better and faster.

(If I mischaracterized Drapeau’s thoughts and arguments, I know he — and others — will correct me and add their thoughts. You can also follow the #sweetevent Tweet stream here.)

A few other interesting comments from the event:

* Frederick Wellman, a former Army public affairs officer — his blog is titled Armed and Curious… Wellman argued that in many organizations, as government 2.0 has rolled out, the organizations are flattening. There is a greater ability for ideas to grow from the front lines. The traditional, hierarchical organizational structure is just changing. I think it is one of the scary parts of government 2.0, particularly for leaders — the loss of control, or, more accurately, the loss of perceived control. I recommendedWellman read the book What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, which was the subject of the March meeting of the Federal News Radio Book Club. Jarvis highlights a number of principles in his book. Among them, as detailed in a BusinessWeek excerpt:

  • give up control;
  • get out of the way;
  • make mistakes well.

* Dux Raymond Sy, a managing partner with Innovative-e said that in too many cases, agencies are enamored by the tools — they are lured by the technology — and often see these tools as silver bullets that will solve the organization’s challenges. In fact, he argued, they are tools and they can help an organization accomplish its mission, but they aren’t magic.

* Kathleen Smith, the Chief Marketing Officer of ClearedJobs.Net, argued that the next evolution — dare we say Gov 3.0 — will be when people — citizens — get fully engaged using these tools. My sense is we’re already starting to see some of that, but… if true, change could really be coming.

See photos from the event… including one of me

Finally, thanks to Internet Editor Dorothy Ramienski (@emrldcitychick) for joining me at the event tonight. While she is newlywed, I kept teasing her that it was our date night. She got to be a part of what I think was a interesting, educational, informative and fun discussion.

DorobekInsider: USDA gets push back on massive management reorg, GovExec reports; USDA remains silent

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We have been telling you about a number of management reorganizations going on at a number of federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services… the Department of Veterans Affairs has named W. Todd Grams to be VA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management… and just yesterday, Federal News Radio’s Max Cacas was on the Daily Debrief with an update from OPM Director John Berry on that organization’s management shuffle, which I assume is tied to a yet-to-be-named OPM CIO, who will apparently get more authority at the Office of Personnel Management. (I’m not hearing a name yet. You?)

But the one that has created the most consternation is the massive reorganization at the Agriculture Department that essentially create a uber-USDA “Departmental Administration” — including operations such as procurement, IT, human resources and finance. You can read the documents and the new organization chart here… and read the USDA statement on the management reorg here.

I’ve been pushing USDA to talk about it — to no avail. But I have been getting all sorts of e-mail about it — and it was the subject of much discussion at ACT/IAC’s Executive Leadership Conference recently — even for the short time I was there. The big concern: Unlike the other reorganizations that are going on, the USDA plan seems to be a significant downgrade for both the CIO and the CFO — without any real explanation. And there had already been concern when the Obama administration decided to downgrade the USDA CIO from a political to a career post — again, without explanation.

And Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky has a good get — apparently the USDA CFO, Evan Segal, has “left his position, at least temporarily,” GovExec reports. Segal had been nominated in July.

From the GovExec story:

…Shortly after the [reorg] announcement, Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed, who will run the new office, told Government Executive the plan has the support of the workforce and “the vast majority of employees feels that this was the right thing to do.”

But some employees oppose the effort. In November, Evan Segal, who became chief financial officer in July, objected to the management structure during a meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, according to sources whose offices are affected by the reorganization. Those sources spoke on condition they not be identified…

Segal has left his position, at least temporarily. “Mr. Segal has requested a leave of absence and he may choose to leave USDA to pursue other opportunities, but we have granted him time away to decide what he wants to do,” a USDA spokesperson told Government Executive. Segal did not respond to requests for comment, and an automated reply to his USDA e-mail account said he is “out of the office and will not have regular access to this account.”

Employees in the offices of Operations, Civil Rights and Human Capital Management — now renamed the Office of Human Resource Management — also have spoken out against the changes.

“Things are absolutely chaotic,” said one veteran USDA staffer whose office is affected by the restructuring. “I lived through previous reorganizations, and they are usually clear-cut. But there is no plan in place here. It seems to change day by day.” Another employee, who has been with the agency for several decades, said people are “unbelievably rattled, upset and disoriented.”

Read the full GovExec story here.

USDA has done an awful job of handling this entire process — and it is failing because of that. Their press organization, frankly, ought to be embarrassed.

They argue that they have been transparent — and, to be fair, USDA has created a portal with information about the management reorganization. But it is not available publicly — and despite numerous attempts to offer up a platform for officials to talk about what they are doing and why, they simply refuse. And the hole just keeps getting deeper.

Inherently, this seems to violate the upcoming, soon-to-be-released Obama administration openness and transparency initiative, which suggests that information should be released publicly unless there is a legitimate reason. What possible reason is there to not discuss these moves in a open and public way?

The USDA CIO and CFO organizations have been widely seen as in disarray for years now — and they are widely seen as the place nobody wants to work. And none of this is helping.

I continue to hope that USDA officials will try a different strategy and talk about what they are trying to do openly… tap into the remarkable wisdom of USDA — and of this community.

Federal News Radio continues to offer an open platform for USDA officials to talk about their strategy. As we always do, we will bend intopretzel shapes to be fair — but at this point, there are real questions out there that need to be answered.

Written by cdorobek

November 18, 2009 at 9:00 AM