New article: Social Media Institutionalization in the U.S. Federal Government

Government Information Quarterly just published in pre-print status a new article that I wrote with the title: “Social Media Institutionalization in the U.S. Federal Government“.

Social media adoption changes the existing organizational technology paradigm of public sector organizations. This paper explains the internal decisions that are necessary before new technologies can be used to support the strategic mission of a government organization and which behavioral and technological changes are integrated into the organization’s standard operating procedures. This is an important theoretical contribution, because social media technologies are developed and hosted by third parties outside of government, with government’s role limited to reactively evaluating their internal needs, strategic alignment, and existing routines. Evidence from qualitative interviews with social media directors in the U.S. federal government and a digital ethnography of their online practices expand the existing theory of social media adoption by adding two distinct activities: strategic alignment and routinization which lead to the institutionalization of new technologies.

New technology adoption; Institutionalization; Social media; U.S. federal government

Mergel, I. (2015): Social Media Institutionalization in the U.S. Federal Government, in: Government Information Quarterly, doi:10.1016/j.giq.2015.09.002

Please let me know in case you like to see a copy of the full article!

New article: Open collaboration in the public sector – The case of social coding on GitHub

Cover imageGovernment Information Quarterly has just published a new article titled “Open collaboration in the public sector – the case of social coding on Github“.


Open collaboration has evolved as a new form of innovation creation in the public sector. Government organizations are using online platforms to collaborative create or contribute to public sector innovations with the help of external and internal problem solvers. Most recently the U.S. federal government has encouraged agencies to collaboratively create and share open source code on the social coding platform GitHub and allow third parties to share their changes to the code. A community of government employees is using the social coding site GitHub to share open source code for software and website development, distribution of data sets and research results, or to seek input to draft policy documents. Quantitative data extracted from GitHub’s application programming interface is used to analyze the collaboration ties between contributors to government repositories and their reuse of digital products developed on GitHub by other government entities in the U.S. federal government. In addition, qualitative interviews with government contributors in this social coding environment provide insights into new forms of co-development of open source digital products in the public sector.


  • Open collaboration is introduced as a new form of innovation creation to code, share, and improve government software code.
  • Quantitative data about contributions and reuse of software code is analyzed using a social network analysis approach.
  • Contributors to the government social coding process have the intention to improve existing code for inhouse reuse.
  • Contributors mostly hail from within government, while code reuse is distributed across the world.
  • Code is not limited to website elements or online platforms, but also includes datasets and draft policy document.


Mergel, I. (2015): Open collaboration in the public: The case of social coding on GitHub, in: Government Information Quarterly, doi: 10.1016/j.giq.2015.09.004.

New paper: Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets

Clayton Wukich and I have a new paper as part of a special issue on “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Crisis, Disaster, and Catastrophe Management” edited by Christopher G. Reddick and Akemi Takeoka Chatfield in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Our paper with the title: “Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets” uses tweets from State Emergency Managers to understand who is paying attention to official government tweets and how these tweets are reused by social media users.


A key task in emergency management is the timely dissemination of information to decision makers across different scales of operations, particularly to individual citizens. Incidents over the past decade highlight communication gaps between government and constituents that have led to suboptimal outcomes. Social media can provide valuable tools to reduce those gaps. This article contributes to the existing literature on social media use by empirically demonstrating how and to what extent state-level emergency management agencies employ social media to increase public participation and promote behavioral changes intended to reduce household and community risk. Research to this point has empirically examined only response and recovery phases related to this process. This article addresses each phase of emergency management through the analysis of Twitter messages posted over a 3-month period. Our research demonstrates that while most messages conformed to traditional one-to-manygovernment communication tactics, a number of agencies employed interactive approaches including one-to-one and many-to-many strategies.

Full reference:

Wukich, Clayton, and Ines Mergel. 2015. “Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets.” Journal of Homeland Security & Emergency Management 12 (3):707-735.

Social media monitoring in emergency management (student report)

Last spring semester I worked with a group of students on a Capstone project sponsored by the Office of Emergency Management here in Syracuse. The task was to understand what practices are currently used to monitor social media interactions during an incident.

The students reached out to virtual operation support teams, usually volunteers who donate their free time to help during an emergency. The following report summarizes the students’ findings and focuses mostly on free tools and practices on how to identify rumors, vet information and participating volunteers.

Social media monitoring for emergency managers

A full list of social media reports for public managers is available on the Social Technologies for Emergency Management website.

Ready to Govern: Planning the transition into public management (fast)

Last week, my colleagues Tina Nabatchi, Sean O’Keefe, David Van Slyke and I participated in the initial “Ready to Govern” event organized by the Partnership for Public Service and IBM’s Center for the Business of Government. Among the participants were colleagues from other Public Management departments around the country, practitioners from technology and consulting companies, as well as former career civil servants. The goal of the event was to identify the main management issues a new administration needs to know as soon as they take office. We were asked to take a bipartisan approach. The event was off the record, but we were encouraged to blog without attribution.

The event started out with a keynote by a high-ranking government official who reported about the second-term management innovations that are worth keeping. The current Presidential management agenda focuses on customer service, shared services, open data, smarter IT delivery, strategic sourcing, and benchmarking. While the agenda might not have changed, she highlighted that the current context in which government is operating has completely changed. She pointed especially to cybersecurity threats as well as the need to attract the brightest and smartest talent to public service. Using a new HR instrument, the current administration has created a new on-boarding tool to bring talent into government for short-term 2-year stints. These Presidential Innovation Fellows usually move back into their previous positions or might stay in government, however this tool is different than the Presidential Management Fellowship that is designed to provide a career path into government.

I was very excited to learn that especially the innovative and agile delivery of IT services through 18F plays a very prominent role in moving the Presidential management agenda forward. 18F is (located at 18th and F street in DC) home to many Presidential Innovation Fellows. I like to call them a ‘digital swat’ team. They helped for example to fix, created DOD’s Blue Button health records access, or the recent soft launch with improvements to FOIA. It is also interesting to note – at least from my perspective – that the federal government has accomplished to change the perception and potentially even the culture of government. Granted, this happens in a very small pocket of government, but it’s exciting to see that 18F attracts the best IT talent in the country. For example, the senior software architect of the NYT left the industry to join 18F recently, because his own industry is not innovating fast enough. Implied here is that he believes the federal government is a more attractive employer that is able to innovative faster. Obviously given the current arrangement the 18F fellows have to work on high profile/high impact projects, it is difficult to transfer the same environment easily to other federal agencies. But I like to think that change and innovation needs to start somewhere.

As part of the recent developments to improve basic public management practices, our keynote speaker highlighted also the strategic sourcing initiatives to make government a smarter buyer by changing the incentives to buy in bulk. One goal is to use existing data and analytics better and bring on more expertise to leverage the buying power of the federal government.

For the current administration open data plays a central role for economic development. With currently over 120,000 federal data sets published on, the administration sees huge potential for economic development. The effort will continue to publish more data and shift the focus from mere publication to actual better use of the data. There are many (almost already ‘traditional’) success stories, such as NOAA’s weather data sets that are adding value with new business models outside of government. As an example, pilots and farmers are creating applications that are useful to them and are moving them on the market. However, the federal government wants more people to pick up the data and come up with meaningful applications.

In a world of big data analytics and the Internet of Things, I believe that government has barely scratched the surface of real-time collection and interpretation of data in the moment they are created and to use them to improve government decision-making. One of the problems to tackle is the existing data quality, (slow) decision making where to pull the data from, how to clean it up and get approval to publish the data. However, most of the issues with the data can only become apparent when people actually start to work with the data and use it. I have high hopes for the recently appointed White House Chief Data Scientist that he will have the time to make a meaningful contribution and initiate changes before the current administration rotates out of government.

After the initial keynote, it was time for us as a group to focus on getting the next management transition ‘righter’. One of the participants who was sitting next to me made a powerful statement: He said he has been part of eight Presidential transitions and it never goes smoothly. Another colleague, a former political appointee, raised the concern that every department head receives 18 binders with super urgent issues to immediately tackle, which bogs down initiatives and changes for the first six months of each administration. His wish was that each new public manager receives a short list of 3-5 issues to tackle and hit the road running, put together a team s/he trusts, focus on the department’s core mission, and get ready to tackle (new) national priorities from the start.

Our group then discussed the main management challenges a new administration has to face. We compiled an initial list that focused on those practices that we think should be kept and moved over to the next administration. We also identified a list of gaps that we think can be tackled by smart public management researchers.

I’m sure the list will come out soon – I am actually not sure if I am aloud to publish it, but there is significant overlap with the Presidential management agenda: we were concerned about fundamental management practices, such as recruiting and retaining talent, innovative management practices, etc.

My main concern is however: what if we work – in different constellations and with the input of many smart public management researchers and public managers on recommendations for the next Presidential management team and no one is listening? How do we accomplish the task to inform both Presidential candidate’s teams before they take office? Can they even communicate with us or are they too occupied to focus on political campaigning and don’t have the capacity to think beyond election day? I trust that the Partnership for Public Service and IBM’s Center for the Business of Government have the connections to communicate with future decision makers. My concern also highlights the wide gap between current public management research that is usually published with a 2-3 year time lag and the actual need for just-in-time research and information by policy makers and decision makers. We – researchers – need to get better at communicating more directly with the administration.

I would love to see a smooth transition that builds on the past strengths and quickly moves public management forward without losing the momentum that I have observed – especially in smart IT delivery.

Nepal earthquake – Facebook safety check, Google public alerts #smem

Today, a 7.8 earthquake with multiple aftershocks hit Nepal. In the past, Google and Red Cross offered the opportunity with their apps to check in on people and to mark oneself with “I’m ok”.

Google Public Alerts page
Google Public Alerts

When you search on Google for Nepal earthquake, the site displays a public alert in bright orange featuring the main pieces of information needed: impact, tips from, selected tweets related to the tweets from vetted sources, such as the Indian Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,  and major news outlets.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, posted a note indicating the launch of a new feature as well. I am connected to people who are in the region  it truly provided peace of mind when they both checked themselves in as safe. My notifications popped up with a green button allowing me to see that they marked themselves as safe. The good people at Twitter didn’t seem to jump on the bandwagon. They usually they set up pages to display all relevant information in one place for big events, such as elections or the Superbowl. Disappointed that they are not supportive.

Facebook Safety Check
Facebook Safety Check 


The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.44.06 PMThe Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) just published my article “The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government“. I analyzed mobile apps and their functions, as well as their development process. In addition, I interviewed public managers in the U.S. federal government to understand how they overcame institutional barriers to reuse open data and build mobile apps:


Background: Government agencies in the United States are creating mobile health (mHealth) apps as part of recent policy changes initiated by the White House’s Digital Government Strategy.

Objective: The objective of the study was to understand the institutional and managerial barriers for the implementation of mHealth, as well as the resulting adoption pathways of mHealth.

Methods: This article is based on insights derived from qualitative interview data with 35 public managers in charge of promoting the reuse of open data through, the platform created to run prizes, challenges, and the vetting and implementation of the winning and vendor-created apps.

Results: The process of designing apps follows three different pathways: (1) entrepreneurs start to see opportunities for mobile apps, and develop either in-house or contract out to already vetted Web design vendors; (2) a top-down policy mandates agencies to adopt at least two customer-facing mobile apps; and (3) the federal government uses a policy instrument called “Prizes and Challenges”, encouraging civic hackers to design health-related mobile apps using open government data from, in combination with citizen needs. All pathways of the development process incur a set of major obstacles that have to be actively managed before agencies can promote mobile apps on their websites and app stores.

Conclusions: Beyond the cultural paradigm shift to design interactive apps and to open health-related data to the public, the managerial challenges include accessibility, interoperability, security, privacy, and legal concerns using interactive apps tracking citizen.


Mergel I.: The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government, JMIR mHealth uHealth 2014;2(4):e58, URL:, DOI: 10.2196/mhealth.3694


mobile apps;
open data;
prizes and challenges