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DorobekINSIDER: Assessing transparency and open government

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Last weekend, open government advocates gathered in Washington, DC for the second Transparency Camp — an un-conference, which is one of these events where bright people come together and decide what they want to talk about. Read the Twitter feed from that event by checking out #tcamp2010 — and even the Washington Post wrote a story about the event this year.

I could only be there on the second day, but there were great folks with great ideas…

I have been fascinated by the Obama administration’s transparency and open government initiative. Among previous posts:

The DorobekInsider transparency, openness and data.gov reader [May 22, 2009]

DorobekInsider: The first draft from the Open Government and Innovations conference [July 21, 2009]

DorobekINSIDER: On NewsChannel 8 talking government openness and transparency — the liner notes [February 25, 2010]

Signal magazine column: Why Transparency Matters [May 2009]

Signal magazine column: Contract Transparency Poised to Open Up [September 2009]

And O’Reilly media has just published a book Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice. I’ve just started it, but… the early parts of the book are well worth reading.

And this coming week will be a big week for the open government as the Office of Management and Budget and agencies will issue their open government plans.

There were several interesting aspects that came out of transparency camp.

* Most agencies get transparency: Most of the employees I know get transparency and open government. They understand why it matters and how it can help. In theory, they get that one of the powerful parts of transparency is the acknowledgment that more wisdom exists outside any organization than it does inside an organization. That being said, there is a difference between theory and practice. At Transparency Camp 2010, there were a number of staffers from Capitol Hill, which, by and large, is horrible at transparency. And some of the Hill staffers even suggested that if bills are created in a more open framework, well, that’s what staffers do. And the argument is that they know more then… well, those people out there.

Even still, the theory of transparency is one of those ideas that goes against the grain. It’s akin to the Mike Causey example that he uses for investing: When a car starts sliding on ice, you’re supposed to turn into the slide. It just doesn’t feel natural. In many ways, transparency is unnatural.

Furthermore…

* Transparency and open government still isn’t fully defined: As I said last year, transparency continues something akin to a Rorschach test — everybody sees transparency very differently. Each person has very different ways of defining what transparency means and how it can be implemented. A lot of that is good at this point — it is important to note that we are still very early in this and everybody is still learning. But it will be interesting to see how it actually gets implemented.

* Transparency and open government moves a lot of cheese around… and I’ll take a simple example: Freedom of Information Act Requests. It has always seemed to me that this is a process that is just made for openness and transparency. Why can’t all FOIA requests be posted in a public fashion… and agency responses be posted online. One reason: We journalists don’t want others knowing what we are working on.

* Open government and transparency needs to help government operate better: If this is going to take hold — if this is going to be real, I continue to believe that it needs to help agencies do their jobs better.

* Open government and transparency aren’t just a bludgeon: In many ways, Recovery.gov is the poster child for transparency and open government. In fact, Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board told Federal News Radio that the transparency of the site actually has helped the Recovery Board operate more effectively. But it has been difficult at times. We remember the stories about the recovery dollars that were listed in phantom congressional districts. And everybody went nuts. The fact is that incorrect data was probably always there. We just didn’t know it before. Now we know — and it has been fixed. In fact, that is the power of open government, transparency and collaboration. Yet too often we use it as a bludgeon.

The fact is, this is new — and there are going to be mistakes.

But there are real opportunities out there. One of my favorites is the Better Buy Project. This is an innovative initiative by GSA, the National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project, and the Industry Advisory Council. And the goal is to build a better acquisition process by tapping the wisdom of the crowds, something I had discussed last year. They are actually trying it. The Better Buy Project started in the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community, then evolved to a way of having people suggest ideas (hear GSA’s Mary Davie talk about it on Federal News Radio) … and it is now a wiki where you can actually help GSA build a better contract both for Data.gov and for the replacement of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s mainframe computers. More on this later this week, but… it is such a remarkable way of seeking people’s ideas.

We’ll be talking to the folks at GSA who are leading this project later this week. You can also read more on the Better Buy blog.

There are many examples and ideas how transparency and open government can help agencies do their jobs better. It is fun to watch!

DorobekInsider: Germain to lead NAPA’s Collaboration Project, while NAPA’s Munz joins GSA

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We told you yesterday that Danielle Germain decided to step down as the General Services Administration’s chief of staff for “other opportunities.” Her last day was yesterday.

That left many questions about what those opportunities are. The DorobekInsider has learned that Germain will return to the National Academy of Public Administration as the director of it’s innovative Collaboration Project, which helps federal agencies use these collaborative tools to accomplish their missions. The Collaboration Project has really been one of the remarkable under-reported stories. In fact, back in 2008 when NAPA launched the Collaboration Project, I thought it was important enough to put on the cover of Federal Computer Week. And I think the NAPA team have proven that was a good decision. The Collaboration Project has enabled some of the very innovative ideas ranging from the Bush administration’s dialogue around health IT security and privacy the the current Better Buy Project with the General Services Administration. The Collaboration Project also highlighted wonderful projects such as Virtual Alabama, which is becoming a prototype for a Virtual USA, and TSA’s Idea Factory, which the Homeland Security Department has just decided to use across the agency.

Meanwhile, NAPA’s Dan Munz, who has been working with NAPA’s Collaboration Project, has announced that he is joining GSA’s Office of Citizen Services And Communications.

In my new role, I’ll be helping to build an initiative that’s still in its developing stages, but couldn’t come at a more important time: the GSA citizen engagement program.

The note he sent to friends:

If you’re getting this note, it might be because you, like me, have spent some portion of your life — maybe years, maybe weeks — being interested in how collaboration and social media can bring people together and help build a better government from the outside in. “Government 2.0,” as it’s sometimes called, has a lot of different moving parts to it. For about the past two years, my interest and passion have been particularly drawn to public engagement: The question of how technology can enable leaders in government to hear the voices of citizens and leverage the wisdom of crowds.

That’s why I’m so excited to share the news that, as of January 11th, I’ll be joining the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications. In my new role, I’ll be helping to build an initiative that’s still in its developing stages, but couldn’t come at a more important time: the GSA citizen engagement program.

GSA has long been a leader in connecting citizens to government using the Internet, and some of GSA’s recent initiatives — like go.USA.gov and the Apps.gov portal — have been some of the coolest innovations I’ve seen in enabling government to really take advantage of the ubiquity of social platforms. I’m so excited to be joining an incredible team with an incredible mission.

So what, exactly, is the mission? Well, it’s rapidly evolving — that’s part of the fun! — but it’s basically this: Over the past few years, I’ve been honored to meet hundreds of public servants who are passionate about engaging people in the work of government, and leveraging their effort and expertise to make government better. That passion deserves to be matched by easy access to the tools, resources, and best practices that can make this vision a reality. That, broadly, is our mission: Connecting people with each other, challenges with solutions, and citizens with their government.

The team is also, as the great philosopher Peter Griffin once put it, friggin’ sweet. I get to work with Bev Godwin, Dave McClure, Martha Dorris, and tons of other great folks at GSA. And, of course, the thousands of innovators across and outside of government who share this mission. I count among my colleagues a pretty amazing community.

So while it was a big decision to leave my current home at the awesome National Academy of Public Administration, I’m really excited about this new opportunity — I think I have a lot to share, and I know I have a ton to learn. It’s been an honor to be part of the Gov 2.0 movement so far, not least because of the incredible partnerships and friendships that I’ve built and hope to keep building. I can’t wait to get started.

Written by cdorobek

January 7, 2010 at 12:15 PM

The DorobekInsider reader: Howard Schmidt as cybersecurity coordinator

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Somehow it feels that the White House it clearing off its desk before the end of the year. What else would explain Tuesday’s announcement that Howard Schmidt would be the Obama administration’s cybersecurity coordinator — just shy of seven months after the creation of the post was originally announced.

The announcement is curious because Schmidt was one of the first names that was tossed around — and in so many ways, he seems to have the skills necessary for this still-being-defined post.

But this strikes me as an important — and complex — job. So, as we often do around these kinds of big events, I like to pull together resources, analysis and opinions around key topics. (Previous DorobekInsider readers: Obama cyber-security policy review, the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System pay-for-performance reports and Veterans Day.)

Obama-Schmidt

President Obama meets with cyber-coordinator Howard Schmidt

Right at the top, I should note that the DorobekInsider reader: Obama cyber-security policy review has links to the administration’s policy review and much more.

From the White House itself:

* WhiteHouse blog: Introducing the New Cybersecurity Coordinator, which includes a short video with Howard Schmidt.

* To see how Schmidt’s thinking has evolved, read the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which he helped craft before he left the Bush administration. Find the report from DHS here.

Federal News Radio 1500 AM and FederalNewsRadio.com coverage

Federal News Radio 1500 AM has has team coverage of the announcement.

* On Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris… we spoke with Karen Evans, former administrator of e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, and Randy Sabett, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, where he is a member of the Internet, Communications & Data Protection Practice. Sabett served on the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, which had recommended the creation of the cyber-coordinator post.

Evans:

Now, think about it. He was doing cybersecurity in Microsoft when it wasn’t cool. So, for him to be able to do that — that experience there within a company as big as that company is and the focus that they had, which was at that point pretty consumer-oriented, [but] has now switched to a very comprehensive type of cybersecurity strategy going forward with solutions for consumers, as well as other folks — that’s due to Howard’s insight and education. That experience will really help when he’s talking with private industry people and what their part is in this.

Sabett:

The difference between the two relates to the areas where the frustration has been felt in the past. The so-called cyber czars — many of them, including Howard — have expressed the idea that they had all of the responsibility but they didn’t have the authority. I think the difference here is the emphasis on coordination, which is a recognition that that there are many pockets, both within the government and within the private sector, of excellence — of people doing really good things in the cybersecurity area. Those don’t need to be shaken up. At the same time, they do need to be coordinated and . . . having this position be the Executive Office of the President is, I think, a significant difference from where the so-called cyber czar positions have been in the past.

You can hear and read parts of those interviews here.

* Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller culled reaction from industry, while Federal News Radio’s Max Cacas got the reaction from Capitol Hill — Cacas notes that one of the more interesting comments came from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Ranking minority member of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Susan Collins from Maine, was even more blunt, releasing a statement outlining her “disappointment at the Administration’s decision to add yet another czar at the White House.” Collins wants Schmidt’s new job elevated to one that would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Read and hear Cacas’s full story here.

* Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller is hearing Sameer Bhalotra, a staff member from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is a leading candidate to be the deputy cyber coordinator. Miller also spoke to Melissa Hathaway, the former senior director for cyberspace for the National Security Council under President Obama and now president of Hathaway Global Strategies:

“I would advise him to visit those centers and know what they are doing and have a good operational understanding of what’s out there,” she says. “He should know how the partnership is growing between the different departments and agencies.”

Read and hear Miller’s full report here.

Just as an aside, something worth reading: Hathaway’s Five Myths about Cybersecurity. Number 3: Government has the solutions and will protect me. Not necessarily, Hathaway says. Read more here.

* The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Jane Norris, soon after the announcement, Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, praised Schmidt’s appointment.

Paller:

Of all the people they were looking at, only two had on the ground experience, and this is a field you can’t do without on the ground experience. This is a job you can’t do without on the ground experience because you get lied to by people, and if you don’t have the experience of having actually managed security, you just can’t do the job.

Read more and hear the full interivew here.

And this morning on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Jane Norris, Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies spoke about the appointment. Hear that interview here.

Other coverage…

Needless to say, there was a whole lot of coverage of Schmidt’s appointment, so if you’re looking for everything, Google News can do that. I’m just pulling some of the more interesting stories that have some above-and-beyond insights to highlight here.

* As attacks increase, U.S. struggles to recruit computer security experts [WP, 12.22.2009]
My favorite quote was right at the end from Bob Gourley, the former CTO at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Cybersecurity lawyers, researchers and policymakers are also in short supply. The Pentagon, for instance, lacks a career path to develop “expert decision-making in the cyber field,” said Robert D. Gourley, a former Defense Intelligence Agency chief technology officer. “The great cyber-generals are few and far between.”

* Workforce Hurdles for New Cyber Czar [NextGov’s WiredWorkplace blog, 12.22.2009]
Along the lines of Gourley’s comments:

Underlying all of these goals is the challenge of improving the recruitment and retention of a top-notch federal cyber workforce. In July, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service released a report that found that the federal government faces major human resource challenges, such as difficulty in recruiting and retaining high-skilled workers, poor management and a lack of coordination that leaves some agencies competing against one another for talent. Such problems are particularly acute within the federal cybersecurity workforce, the Partnership found.

* Obama cyber czar pick looks to secure smartphones, social nets [ComputerWorld, 12.22.2009]
Calls on social media firms to alert users about various security threats

* Finally, A Cyber Czar [Forbes.com, 12.22.2009]
The new U.S. cybersecurity coordinator, Howard Schmidt, is an impressive leader in government and industry. He’s also Obama’s fourth choice at best

At least three other candidates had been privately offered the position and turned it down, as Forbes reported in July (see: “Obama’s Unwilling Cyber Czars“). Cybersecurity industry watchers told Forbes at the time that was because the position had been stripped of much of its power in an effort to ensure that new cyber regulations didn’t hamper economic recovery.

In a campaign speech at Indiana’s Purdue University in July of 2008, Obama promised to “declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset, and appoint a national cyber advisor who will report directly to me.” In the year that followed, cybersecurity has only grown as a public issue following a steady drumbeat of foreign hacking incidents that have allowed cyberspies to steal military information and breach the power grid.

But Schmidt will hardly report directly to Obama. Instead, according to a report that resulted from a 60-day government cybersecurity review ending in May, the cyber coordinator position will be “dual-hatted,” reporting to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council under Obama’s economic advisor Larry Summers.

How Dangerous is the Cyber Crime Threat? [PBS’s NewsHour, 12.22.2009]
Talking to Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

* National cybersecurity coordinator choice widely applauded [GCN.com, 12.22.2009]

* Obama’s New Cyber Security Chief, Howard A. Schmidt, Speaks in Gibberish, but Not the Highly Technical Kind [Seattle Weekly, 12.22.2009]

DorobekInsider: The liner notes: Why blog — or Web 2.0 — anyway?

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On Monday, I am part of an event focused on the use of Web 2.0 in the government market hosted by government marketing guru Mark Amtower titled, Social Networking for B2G: Who’s Doing What, Why and How Can It Create a Fuller Pipeline for your Company in 2010. Specifically, I’m on a panel talking about blogging with Debbie Weil and Mark Drapeau. Other topics through the day include Twitter and Amtower favorite LinkedIn.

As I said, they have me scheduled to talk about blogging — and I guess it is because I’ve been doing it for a long time now, at least for this market and in terms of this market. I started blogging at Federal Computer Week more than four years ago… that blog has now morphed into theDorobekInsider. And more than a 17 months ago, I wrote a post headlined, Some tips to bloggers. I’ll amplify on it here… and alter some because, as we know, 17 months is near a lifetime in the Web 2.0 world… even the gov 2.0 world… And in January, even before theDorobekInsider moved to FederalNewsRadio.com, I wrote: Why blog? And welcome to another government CIO blogger: GSA’s Casey Coleman.

So in preparation for the Amtower event, I’ll just review the ‘why blog’ question… and then update some of my tips… and I’d love to hear your take on them.

First — why blogs?

Blogs have been around for awhile — at least I don’t have to explain what a blog is anymore.

They seem so simple, but from a journalistic standpoint, what an absolute revolution — putting publishing into the hands of… anybody… everybody. Absolutely remarkable.

But blogs also fit into the Dorobek definition of Web 2.0 — these are tools that enable information sharing. We have always understood that information is power, but what we are learning is that the real power of information comes when that information is shared. Blogs are one way to broaden that conversation. And in the government space, we have seen that with Rob Carey, the CIO at the Department of the Navy, the first government CIO to blog… Linda Cureton, now the NASA CIO, who is a regular blogger… and GSA CIO Casey Coleman, who has both a private blog within GSA and a public blog titled, Around the Corner : Innovation in the Business of Government: A GSA Blog. We spoke to Coleman on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris about the blog and why she does it.

In fact, Cureton wrote a very thoughtful blog post about blogging… and that spurred me to invite her to chat about it on Federal News Radio 1500 AM. Cureton clearly uses her blog as a way of thinking about issues in a very public — and very transparent — way. Again — my definition of Web 2.0: These are merely tools that tap into the theory that all of us are smarter then each of us individually. They tap into the theory that information is power — and that shared information becomes exponentially more valuable when it is shared. So Cureton thinks about issues and problems — and decisions that might otherwise seem out of the blue are suddenly clear… there can be buy-in… and it makes our decisions very human. Transparency and accountability — and, I would argue, leadership — require courage. It takes intestinal fortitude to step out and make your ideas very public. People can disagree — and there is still the ‘got ya’ culture out there. So I give these leaders a lot of credit. Carey and Cureton and Coleman are demonstrating that this tool can be an important part of leadership.

So I think blogs are an important step towards transparency and tapping into the wisdom of the crowds.

Cureton listed her reasons for blogging:

The truth of the matter … that I am not comfortable and I am afraid.  So, why do I blog?  Here are my reasons:

  • To learn and demonstrate the value of Web 2.0 technologies supporting the spirit of innovation that should be required of a NASA CIO
  • To communicate to stakeholders and customers the activities and issues related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IT Transformation
  • To focus my thoughts and learning to the things that matter in my role as the CIO

A very different example is the TSA blog, which has helped TSA improve their processes.

How to actually do it?

As  I mentioned, more than 17 months ago while at Federal Computer Week, I posted tips for bloggers. I have tweaked them below:

* Content is king… Write about something that matters — to you, to the community, to your organization — I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, but…

* Have a notion… Have an idea why you’re doing this and what you want to get across and the audience you’re trying to reach. Who are you writing this for? It makes a big difference.

* Understand that notion will change… My experience is that blogs evolve. And how you use them will evolve.

* Post regularly… If a blog is going to work, you have to post regularly. Find some regular interval and make the time. But realize that this does take time. The corollary to that is… And yes, regularly can mean daily… or monthly, but do it regularly.

* Integrate your blog into your life… This one is important. If it is going to work and be sustainable, you need to work it into your life. So, for example, if you are working on a security policy, blog about it. What better way to show people that you are pondering the issue — and get others insights. The same can be true about whatever you are working on. Ponder how much time you spend on documents and — god help us — e-mail messages responding to one issue or another. Rather then just sending an e-mail message, turn it into a blog post and send others the link to that post. Blogs are an opportunity to be real — and I think people will appreciate the work you do and the challenges you face much more.

* Don’t let perfection get in the way of the good… We hear this so often, but it is particularly true in the blogging world. Blogs are iterative. I often kick myself because I’ll think about some post several times. Well, just break it up into pieces. Don’t write the great American novel. Write the OK chapter or the not-bad paragraph. It is about sharing thoughts — and the people who are expecting perfection in a blog have come to the wrong place and, frankly, should go somewhere else.

* Appreciate comments… Even critical ones. Yes, bosses. It isn’t always easy, but… relish in the discussion. It is going on. It’s it better to be a part of that discussion rather then having it go on without yo ? (And in the government world, comments can be hard to come by. Know your audience and realize that feds have been burned before for speaking. It takes time.)

* Time management… The one thing you will hear from any blogger is frustration about time. And you need to realize and understand that this does take time. I have found that it works best if I have a time that I blog — each and every day. Some people have done multiple-user blogs to defray the time cost.

* Don’t discount what you do… This one frustrates me the most — and I’ve heard it from CIOs. They say, ‘Who would want to read what I work on?’ And most government folks will probably have this notion. Have you looked at some of the blogs out there? If you build a community of even a few hundred people and get a few new notions of a better way of doing your job or creating a policy, it could be worth it. This community works on important issues and important programs. Please don’t discount that.

* Just do it… Really — just do it. By doing it, you will learn… and this stuff isn’t as difficult as you make it out to be.

* Share… Share your lessons learned, share your ideas, share your thoughts. Be open to what might happen.

Written by cdorobek

December 7, 2009 at 10:44 AM

DorobekInsider on DC’s NewsChannel 8 tonight talking about the war on “social networking”

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Regular readers know that I am not of a fan of the term “social media” — and I like “social networking” even less. I originally wrote about it back in September under the headline The era of social media is over – long live collaboration tools — and then last month, following a wonderful event by Web 2.0 guru Debbie Weil titled Social Networking: the Two Dirtiest Words in Gov 2.0 (a Sweets and Tweets event), I wrote Gov 2.0 moves beyond ’social media’ — and why it’s more than semantics.

And just out today, my December column in AFCEA’s SIGNAL magazine has been posted headlined The War on Social Media: The term does not represent the real value of these tools—collaboration.

Tonight, I’ll be on DC’s News Channel 8‘s Federal News Tonight at 7:30p ET talking about this issue.

To be honest, this idea largely came from Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee, in his upcoming book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges. The book is just out today — and McAfee spoke about the book, how these tools can help organizations accomplish their mission better, and why he is not a fan of the term “social networking” today on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. Read more and hear the full conversation here.

“Most of the organizations that I teach don’t feel that they are running a social club, and that adjective actually turns them off,” McAfee tells Federal News Radio. These tools are about empowering people, not getting them out of the way, he said, so there is a social aspect to them, but the term just doesn’t end up being helpful.

Too often, we think about e-mail as a our collaboration tool, McAfee notes — and as I have written about, The First Step Toward Collaboration Is to Stop E-Mailing. But these collaboration tools are very different — information sharing is the reason they were created. It isn’t an afterthought.

There has been an extensive discussion about this subject online. Tomorrow, we’ll cull some of that discussion.

Written by cdorobek

December 1, 2009 at 6:45 PM

DorobekInsider: What are the stories that shaped the government’s world in the past decade? Federal News Radio is asking…

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Shockingly enough, we are nearing the end of the year — and we are also nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st century. I actually forgot all of this until I was reading a New York Times story Naming the ’00s, where people are struggling about what to call this decade that we’re about to finish up. But it got me to thinking: It is remarkable how many events happen day to day, month to month… year to year. Some of the events that seemed big and important at the time end up being unimportant in hindsight. Other events seemed unimportant but grow in stature over time.

For the month of December on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris is taking a look back at the past decade — and a look forward to the years ahead — and we are asking a somewhat simple question: What was the big issue/event/theme that defined the past 10 years… and what are some of the issues we should watch for the years ahead.

We will have all the conversations archived on Federal News Radio’s Stories of the Decade page, which you can find here.

We are reaching out to many of our regulars to get their insights — we kick of the Stories of the Decade series today with Federal News Radio’s senior correspondent Mike Causey. Read more and hear our conversation with Causey here — and who better to kick off the series then somebody who has followed these issues so closely. He tells us that one of the biggest events to happen in the past decade actually got its start in 1986 when Congress passed the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act creating the Thrift Savings Plan, but the TSP has seen big innovation in the past decade.

In the coming weeks, we will talk to people for their thoughts — certainly the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be discussed, but… Web 2.0… the Internet… pay-for-performance…

As always, I’d like to get your insights — what issues should we cover? Or is there a person who would have good insights on the events or issues that impact government? I’d love to get your thoughts.

And we will be bringing you our conversations over the next few weeks, so… as we say, stay tuned.

Written by cdorobek

November 30, 2009 at 2:22 PM

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 FederalNewsRadio.com 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.