New article “The social media innovation challenge in the public sector”, in: Information Polity

Albert Meijer, Frank Bannister and Marcel Thaens edited a special issue of “Information Polity” with the topic “ICT, Public Administration and Democracy in the Coming Decade”. They put together a tremendous group of international e-Government researchers and today the special issue was posted online. The articles included in the special issue include:

  1. ICT, Public Administration and Democracy in the Coming Decade, by Albert MeijerFrank Bannister and Marcel Thaens
  2. Forward to the past: Lessons for the future of e-government from the story so far, by Frank Bannister and Regina Connolly
  3. The Information Polity: Towards a two speed future? by John A. Taylor
  4. E-Government is dead: Long live Public Administration 2.0 by Miriam Lips
  5. Surveillance as X-ray by C. William R. Webster
  6. Towards a smart State? Inter-agency collaboration, information integration, and beyond by J. Ramon Gil-Garcia
  7. The social media innovation challenge in the public sector by Ines Mergel
  8. A good man but a bad wizard. About the limits and future of transparency of democratic governments by Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen
  9. The Do It Yourself State by Albert J. Meijer
  10. Five trends that matter: Challenges to 21st century electronic government by Hans Jochen Scholl
  11. Why does e-government looks as it does? looking beyond the explanatory emptiness of the e-government concept by Victor Bekkers
  12. Big questions of e-government research by Mete Yıldız

My own article focuses on the innovation challenges government agencies are facing when they are implementing social media:

Abstract: The use of social media applications has been widely accepted in the U.S. government. Many of the social media strategies and day-to-day tactics have also been adopted around the world as part of local Open Government Initiatives and the worldwide Open Government Partnership. Nevertheless, the acceptance and broader adoption of sophisticated tactics that go beyond information and education paradigm such as true engagement or networking strategies are still in its infancy. Rapid diffusion is challenged by informal bottom-up experimentation that meets institutional and organizational challenges hindering innovative tactics. Going forward governments and bureaucratic organizations are also facing the challenge to show the impact of their social media interactions. Each of these challenges is discussed in this article and extraordinary examples, that are not widely adopted yet, are provided to show how government organizations can potentially overcome these challenges.

Full reference: 

Mergel, I. (2012): The social media innovation challenge in the public sector, in: Information Polity,  Vol. 17, No. 3-4, pp. 281–292, DOI 10.3233/IP-2012-000281

Feel free to email me (ines_mergel (at) yahoo dot com) in case you can’t access a digital copy through your library!

Social media and the 2012 election: Class syllabus online

My new class “Social media and the 2012 election” starts next week and I wanted to post my syllabus for public comment.

This is a class that I taught for the first time in 2008 during the Obama campaign. After the election the president was praised for his Internet strategy that complemented his traditional campaigning and many scholars have pointed out that he was able to motivate non-voters via social media to go to the polling booths.

Between 2009 and 2012 I spent a lot of time trying to understand how the lessons learned during the successful presidential campaign can be used for day-to-day governing activities. While the Open Government mandate pushed a lot of efforts in the U.S. federal agencies forward to invest time and resources into harnessing new technologies, government agencies are also facing many challenges when using social media. For that purpose, I observed and interview social media directors in the U.S. federal government to understand their strategic, managerial, and administrative decision making and the resulting social media tactics.

This class is therefore based on my research on social media in the public sector. It observes in real-time who the public, news organizations and the candidates are using social media until election day. It grounds the observations in theoretical sociological and information management concepts. The goal is to teach the underlying concepts and managerial skills future social media managers need – not only in government, but also in the nonprofit and corporate world. Guest speakers will complement lectures and class discussions.

Here is the syllabus. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for improvements!

Policy Informatics Book Chapter: Knowledge Incubation in the Public Sector – Ines Mergel

Policy Informatics Book Chapter: Knowledge Incubation in the Public Sector – Ines Mergel.

I am participating in a book project that is featured over on the “Policy Informatics” blog. Here is the abstract for my chapter to be published in 2012:

The use of social media applications has become acceptable practice and is adopted by many government agencies. Public sector organizations are experimenting with the use of Facebook pages to represent their agency, Twitter for short updates, Wikis for collaborative co-production of content, YouTube and Flickr to share and incorporate videos and photos, online contests and challenges to access innovative ideas and solutions from government’s diverse audiences, or collaborative practices on virtual worlds such as Second Life. The main strategy of current observable use of social media applications is targeted toward broadcasting and educating government’s audiences – pushing information out, instead of actively integrating innovative knowledge extracted out of interactions on social media channels.

Managing the influx of innovative knowledge that flows into government and between government agencies through social media channels has posed unsolvable challenges for government. It is unclear how knowledge provided by the public is incorporated into new policies, change perceptions of citizens about the degree of responsiveness, accountability or transparency of government, or otherwise impact the effectiveness and efficiency of government’s standard operating procedures. What prevents the incorporation of innovative knowledge into government are two main barriers: First, the current information paradigm formulated in form of press-release style communication missions prevents active incorporation of innovative knowledge. Second, information vetting processes are not designed for bi-directional knowledge flows. This chapter provides insights into effective knowledge incubation mechanisms that emerged in some selected pockets of government. It highlights measurement mechanisms for effective knowledge incubation of each of the social media channels and innovative initiatives are presented.

Social media network panel at #pmrc2011

On June 2-4, 2011, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University has hosted the biannual Public Management Research Conference. You can find full papers on the conference program page.

I was part of Panel 20 “Social Media Networks” together with Professors Jane Fountain (UMass Amherst) and David Landsbergen (Ohio State). Jane presented here theoretical framework on how technology can introduce change into government organizations: “Layering in Public Management: Stability and Change in Digitally Mediated Institutions“. It provided a great framework for the following papers (kudos to the program committee).

I presented my study with the title “A Mandate for Change”: Diffusion of Social Media Technologies Among Federal Departments and Agencies“. In this paper, I present first findings of my interviews with Social Media Directors from the Executive branch of the U.S. federal government. The aim in this paper is to understand how and why social media directors make the decision to adopt social media practices. The Open Government and Transparency memo provided the motivation for this question: The memo states explicitly that government has to become more participatory, transparent and collaborative – and to harness new technologies to accomplish this goal. The memo itself is a very broad mandate and in the first two years public managers had very little formal guidance to understand what best practices are, how to organize day-to-day practices, how to fit the use of social media into the existing mission and standard operating procedures when communicating information. Given this lack of formal guidance, I found that public managers are looking at their informal network and use what I call their passive attention network. They are looking at other agencies and departments and emulate practices from other agencies. Based on this finding, I was also able to tease out three different adoption pathways for the use of social media applications: 1) Representation and broadcasting (push); 2) Engagement (pull); and 3) Networking and mingling.

Open questions, that I will address in other papers will include: a) Measuring impact of social media activities; b) Organizational change for the use of social media practices; c) Necessary organizational capabilities for the use of social media applications. I have also collected data from social media directors in the non-profit sector and the corporate sector, so that I will be able to write a comparative study on the use of social media applications.

The last panelist, Professor David Landsbergen (Ohio State), presented a research and teaching project in which he analyzed social media policies of nine cities. What I observed – and received proof for with David’s presentation – was that while the federal government has now access to guidance, such as HowTo.gov or the Federal Web Managers Forum, local government officials are struggling immensely with the use of social media applications. There is no guidance, it is unclear to what extent the use of social media makes sense, what the right tools are for what kind of activities, etc.

We will keep the conversation going and are submitting another panel proposal to the upcoming ASPA 2012 conference in Las Vegas.

Govt 2.0: From Tools to Policy to Convergence (crossposting)

Crossposted from Bill Greeves’ blog:

As I think back over the past two years, specifically with my involvement in the world of Government 2.0, I can’t help but think its adoption has coalesced into three phases. Nearly all of us have experienced some aspect of Phase I: Tools. What is Government 2.0? How does Twitter work? What good is Facebook? Phase I is very hands-on and experiential. It consists of learning the technologies that provide a foundation for Govt2.0 adoption. Many of the 2.0 movers and shakers might consider Phase I old news. But the truth is that when you look at government organizations as whole, particularly those of us at the local level, most are still in this phase – conducting experiments, discussing with peers, working on buy-in from our organizations, etc.

A small percentage of us have taken the next big step to Phase II: Policy. Phase II, which I highlighted in an entry a few months back, is focused on the larger, more extensive issue of the “how” of government 2.0. The effective policies cover such delicate topics as ownership, legal responsibilities, message consistency, etc. It answers sometimes difficult questions. Who will manage these tools? What can we tolerate in terms of two-way communication and feedback? Which tools will we deploy? The numbers of social media “policies” that address these issues continue to expand at a slow but steady rate.

This brings us to the relatively uncharted waters of Phase III: Convergence – a merger of these tools and concepts with our larger organizational strategy. How do we keep the momentum going? What’s next for us if we want to truly institutionalize the use of not just the tools but more importantly the concepts and the potential they represent, such as collaboration, open government and knowledge management? How do we take that next step to integrate these tools into our organizations’ larger communications or development strategy? These are all excellent questions. And no, I don’t know the answers…yet.

That’s where you come in! Together with Ines Mergel, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University (and fellow MuniGover!), I’d like to request your participation in a very brief online survey to help us develop some empirical data on this very subject. Once we can get a snapshot of where we are today, we intend to develop some analysis on where the gaps are and how we can overcome them.

When completed, we plan to do a seminar to review and discuss the results with anyone interested. I expect that we’ll also be able to share some best practices and lessons learned from the experience that will likely also help you take your own organization to the next level of engagement and implementation.

So please, take a moment to answer these few simple questions – share your pain, share your success!

https://survey.maxwell.syr.edu/Survey.aspx?s=4b8afaec1ec74d5dac1d6ebde704bd35