About Ines Mergel

I am an Associate Professor of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research projects I am focusing on informal social networks in the public sector and the use of social media applications by government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

Implementing Open Innovation in the Public Sector (new article)

ImageKevin Desouza and I just published an article in the Public Administration Review (PAR) highlighting how federal government agencies are implementing Open Innovation approaches. We used interviews conducted with two public manager, Tammi Marcoullier and Karen Trebon at GSA, who are supporting agencies in their efforts to use Challenge.gov, a platform to implement prizes and challenges.

The article is available in Early View online.

Here is the abstract:

As part of the Open Government Initiative, the Barack Obama administration has called for new forms of collaboration with stakeholders to increase the innovativeness of public service delivery. Federal managers are employing a new policy instrument called Challenge.gov to implement open innovation concepts invented in the private sector to crowdsource solutions from previously untapped problem solvers and to leverage collective intelligence to tackle complex social and technical public management problems. The authors highlight the work conducted by the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the General Services Administration, the administrator of the Challenge.gov platform. Specifically, this Administrative Profile features the work of Tammi Marcoullier, program manager for Challenge.gov, and Karen Trebon, deputy program manager, and their role as change agents who mediate collaborative practices between policy makers and public agencies as they navigate the political and legal environments of their local agencies. The profile provides insights into the implementation process of crowdsourcing solutions for public management problems, as well as lessons learned for designing open innovation processes in the public sector.

Full reference:

Mergel, I. and Desouza, K. (2013): Implementing Open Innovation in the Public Sector: The Case of Challenge.gov, in: Public Administration Review, doi: 10.1111/puar.12141.

The new C-Class – article in German about Chief Data Officers in the U.S.

I wrote a short piece for the German magazine of the “Deutscher Staedte und Gemeindebund” (rough translation: German Cities and Communities Association). I talked about insights I gained when I interviewed Mark Headd, the Chief Data Officer of the City of Philadelphia and his amazing work connecting government data with audiences who want to innovate using the data. The article is written in German, but an earlier version appeared here on my blog and on NextGov.com.

Social media innovations: Wake County provides sanitation scores to Yelp

Bill Greeves, CIO of Wake County, has joined my ‘Social Media in the Public Sector’ class this week (follow along on Twitter #maxmedia13). He talked about how the county seeks to innovate with social media and make government data available in places of high value for citizens.

One example he showed was the county’s new partnership with Yelp, an “online urban city guide that helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know.”

The county provides sanitation scores to Yelp that are calculated based on routine inspections by the county’s inspectors of restaurants. At the same time, citizens who are visiting restaurants are leaving their own reviews and in combination with the formal county scores future restaurant visitors might gain a more complete picture than using individual insights from citizens only.

This looks like a great use of already collected and published government data: The county makes an effort to move the data from a government website that citizens might not readily find to an online destination where citizens are already talking about restaurants scores and where government data can gain additional value.

However, on Yelp a restaurant owner mentioned that score might not be reported correctly. This gives business owners an opportunity  to review scores and directly interact with government:

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Make social media part of your standard operating procedure

I came across an interesting Twitter exchange between a user and the official account of the National Transportation Safety Board after one of the recent airline crashes. The user was wondering if NTSB is always using their Twitter account to update the public and it turns out that the NTSB has already adopted this tactics into their existing standard operating procedures:

“Take a Risk, Save a Life”: Social Media in Emergency Management

PA Times Logo

The PA Times, published by the American Society for Public Administration, has just published a short article I wrote that is based on what I observed during Hurricane Sandy and the flooding in Calgary.

I uploaded the article to Slideshare:

Here is the full reference:
Mergel, I.: “Take a Risk, Save a Life”: Social Media in Emergency Management, in: PA Times, 36:3, p. 13.

American Review of Public Administration – Best article 2012 award

ARPA

Maria Christina Binz-Scharf, David Lazer and I were just awarded the 2012 Best Article Award by the American Review of Public Administration for our article “Searching for Answers: Networks of Practice Among Public Administrators“.

An earlier version of the paper is available on SSRN.

Abstract:

How do public administrators find information about the problems they confront at work? In particular, how and when do they reach across organizational boundaries to find answers? There are substantial potential obstacles to such searches for answers, especially in a system of decentralized governance such as the U.S. government. In this article, we examine the alternative mechanisms within the public sector that compensate for this dispersion of expertise, focusing on knowledge sharing across public DNA forensics laboratories. In particular, we propose that the emergence of informal interpersonal networks plays an important role in providing access to necessary expertise within a highly decentralized system. Our findings point both to the need for further research on knowledge sharing networks within the public sector as well as practical implications around the value of investments into facilitating the creation and maintenance of networks of practice.

Full reference:

Binz-Scharf, M. C., Lazer, D., Mergel, I. (2012): Searching for answers: Networks of practice among public administrators, in: ARPA – The American Review of Public Administration, 42(2), pp. 202-225.

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Calgary Police’s Twitter account displays #SMEM best practices during #yycflood

During the floods in Calgary, Canada, this weekend, the social media manager of Calgary’s police did a fantastic job answering questions, diffusing rumors, using social media to pull in additional information from citizens, point people to volunteer opportunities, and to activate officers to work extra shifts via Twitter. It was important to get information into the social awareness streams, where citizens were looking for information they were not able to get access to through regular government communication channels (like the emergency phone numbers). The Calgary Police added the Twitter hashtag #yycflood to every tweet they sent.

And then a remarkable thing happened, that I haven’t seen in any other context so far: After sending out hundreds of tweets, the police has reached the tweet limit per day and had to stop updating the public.  They had to work with Canada’s Twitter representatives to expand the rate limit:

The news spread rapidly and was labelled by some as a major fail in emergency management, which indicates the reliance on resilient communication infrastructures that people trust and turn to in crisis situations.

In a pretty genius stroke, the police redirected their official communication through the Twitter account of their own Digital Communications Officer, Jeremy Shaw, who took over tweeting from his personal Twitter account on behalf of the official police Twitter account:

After a few hours the account was restored:

Responding, directing, informing, calming down, diffusing rumors:

Recent social media experiences of first responders and utility companies have shown, that citizens need to know that they are heard, that their issues are taken care of and that help is on the way during a crisis. Cst. Jeremy Shaw tweeted with them through two long night shifts and did a fantastic job handling repeated requests for information in a very calm and polite way.

Here are some of the tasks the Calgary Police Twitter account was able to fulfill using Twitter as a parallel and resilient communication infrastructure, while the formal communication channels were used for live-threatening situations and to direct first responders to the scenes.

1. Dealing with volunteers

In a very polite way, volunteers were informed that the police did not want to put them in danger and prevented them from showing up on the scene:

2. People were pointed to alternative information sources, such as the city’s frequent blog updates:

Or the utility company’s updates:

And also that other reliable sources people had trusted were temporarily not available:

3. Assuring people that officials are listening, that they are being heard

It looks to me as if every single citizen tweet was responded to, either by directly answering a question about the flooding situation in a specific area or even just to thank people for their feedback. An important direct lifeline, when all other channels are overwhelmed.

4. Asking officers to work extra shifts:

Off-duty officers were asked to work additional shifts and were asked to check in:

5. Asking citizens to verify updates on the ground

I was also happy to see that the police was open for citizen first responder reports and updates, however I only saw one tweet of this sort. The potential is obviously enormous: Some of the reporting responsibility can be distributed across the shoulders of citizens who are observing impact first hand. It’s impossible for one social media manager to fullfill all these different roles. I believe what the Calgary Police did was smart: They focused on direct feedback and on providing the lifeline that obviously many citizens needed at this point. They also served as a connector among many different first responders and different information sources. Adding on the task of pulling in citizen reports to this role is almost impossible: The sheer volume of incoming information needs to be automatically processed and directed. For future purposes, they could use other types of reporting platforms such as SeeClickFix to monitor impact or automatically analyze impact similar to USGS’ Internet Intensity Map.

6. Diffusing rumors to avoid panics, lower anxiety

Here is an example of promptly responding to the rumor that a dam broke, but I also saw a few updates in response to concerned citizens who were worried about a rumor that the zoo had to kill its animals:

Or diffuse rumors about looting: