All posts by Ines Mergel

About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

Social Technologies in Local Government Emergency Management #SMEM

Over Social Technologies in Emergency Managementthe summer we discovered and analyzed over 400 social media accounts of local government emergency managers in the five counties around Syracuse, NY. We included fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical care providers, public health organizations, and executive emergency management departments. The goal is to understand how (social media tactics) and what (social media content) emergency managers communicate online before, during and after an incident.

Social Technologies in Emergency ManagementThis week we presented our initial findings to the counties and had a very interesting conversation about local government needs and concerns when it comes to social media use.

We put together a draft report for practitioners highlighting their own good practices and practices we observed in other local governments following FEMA’s and DHS’ guidelines on how to use social media. The report and website will be continuously updated to reflect our newest findings.

Github for Government paper

I just returned from Germany where I presented a paper at the European Group of Public Administration Annual Conference (EGPA) at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer.

I participated in a track on innovation in public administration and shared my paper titled “Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github“. The paper is based on a series of interviews I conducted over the summer with Github users in the U.S. federal government and quantitative data downloaded from Github’s API.

Here is the abstract:

Open collaboration has evolved as a new venue for innovation creation in the public sector. Government organizations are using online platforms to crowdsource and co-produce public sector innovations with the help of external and internal problem solvers. Most recently the U.S. federal government has allowed agencies to collaboratively create and share open source code on the social coding platform Github. A community of government employees is sharing open source code for website development, data sources, but also draft policy documents on Github. Quantitative data extracted from Github’s application programming interface is used to analyze the social network relationships between contributors to government code and the reuse of open government tools developed on Github. In addition, qualitative interviews with government contributors in this social coding environment provide practical insights into new forms of co-development of open source code and policy drafting in the public sector.

I also posted the full paper to SSRN. I’m still adding more interview data and need to do a more sophisticated network analysis before I can send this paper out for review. I would appreciate any feedback people might have to improve the paper.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, Ines A., Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github (September 16, 2014). Available at SSRN:

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APSA conference paper: Twitter use in state emergency management #SMEM

Clayton Wukich and I presented a paper at the annual American Political Science Conference (APSA) in DC last week. We analyzed three communication modes state emergency managers use in all phases of emergency management. The working paper is available on SSRN:

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Wukich, Clayton and Mergel, Ines A., Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets (August 28, 2014). Available at SSRN:

New article: Social media adoption: Toward a representative, responsive, or interactive government?

I wrote a paper providing empirical evidence for a phased adoption framework of social media adoption in government that we published in 2013 in PAR. This new paper shows how government agencies move through stages of institutionalizing new technologies and how they adapt their internal standard operating procedures to reflect the changes in the way citizens interact with government.

The paper is available through the ACM Digital Library.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, I. (2014): Social media adoption: toward a representative, responsive or interactive government?, in: dg.o ’14 Proceedings of the 15th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, pp. 163-170, doi>10.1145/2612733.2612740.


Social media adoption is oftentimes seen as technologically determined by third parties outside of government, with government’s role limited to reactively jump on the bandwagon and respond to citizen preferences. However, social media interactions are emergent and challenging existing bureaucratic norms and regulations. This paper provides empirical evidence for the institutionalization stages government agencies’ move through when they are adopting new technologies. Adoption occurs at varying degrees of formalization and not all departments in the U.S. executive branch regulate and restrict the use of new technologies in the same way. The internal procedural and organizational changes that occur during the adoption process are extracted using qualitative interviews with social media directors in the 15 departments which received the executive order to “harness new technologies” in order to make the U.S. government more transparent, participatory and collaborative. In addition to the perceptions of federal social media directors, a process tracing approach was used to map the accompanying governance and institutional changes and follow-up orders to direct the adoption of social media. Tracing both the behavior of individual organizations as well as the institutional top-down responses, this paper is both relevant for academics as well as practitioners. It provides the basis for future large-scale research studies across all levels of government, as well as insights into the black box of organizational responses to a top-down political mandate.

New IBM Report: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

IBM’s Center for the Business of Government has published a new report: “A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions“.IBM Center for the Business of Government: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

This new report addresses the key question of how government should measure the impact of its social media use.

Social media data – as part of the big data landscape – has important signaling function for government organizations. Public managers can quickly assess what citizens think about draft policies, understand the impact they will have on citizens or actively pull citizens ideas into the government innovation process. However, big data collection and analysis are for many government organizations still a barrier and it is important to understand how to make sense of the massive amount of data that is produced on social media every day.

This report guides public managers step-by-step through the process of slicing and dicing big data into small data sets that provide important mission-relevant insights to public managers.

First, I offer a survey of the social media measurement landscape showing what free tools are used and the type of insights they can quickly provide through constant monitoring and for reporting purposes. Then I review the White House’s digital services measurement framework which is part of the overall Digital Government Strategy. Next, I discuss the design steps for a social media strategy which will be basis for all social media efforts and should include the mission and goals which can then be operationalized and measured. Finally, I provide insights how the social media metrics can be aligned with the social media strategic goals and how these numbers and other qualitative insights can be reported to make a business case for the impact of social media interactions in government.

I interviewed social media managers in the federal government, observed their online discussions about social media metrics, and reviewed GSA’s best practices recommendations and practitioner videos to understand what the current measurement practices are. Based on these insights, I put together a comprehensive report that guides managers through the process of setting up a mission-driven social media strategy and policy as the basis for all future measurement activities, and provided insights on how they can build a business with insights derived from both quantitative and qualitative social media data.


Media coverage:


#MyNYPD hastag failure: A sign that without trust Twitter does not serve as a resilient infrastructure during emergency reporting

By now the major social media failure of New York Police’s social media department has made it around the world. The well-intended pull tactic to ask citizens to tweet their best memories and share pictures with NYPD using the hashtag #MyNYPD was by an overwhelming majority of Twitter users used to send in pictures of their worst memories:

The hashtag was trending for two days in the US and created spin-off initiatives around the country and around the world:

I believe it was an honest attempt to use a tactic to actively engage citizens. Other government departments are extremely successful in asking citizens for their input or for sending in pictures, like the Department of Interior for example. There is research out there that shows that citizens feel more engaged and ‘heard’ when have options to directly get in touch with government officials through unofficial channels, such as social media.

However, what is interesting about this story is not so much that NYPD was surprised by the flood of negative images or might have misjudged the open culture of the Web. Instead, I find it much more interesting that NYPD won’t be able to rely on Twitter as a resilient infrastructure during emergency situations. Clearly, thousands of people in NY don’t trust the police in the first place and that has significant implications for outreach and preparedness messaging. If no one listens to you or even makes fun of you, how will you be able to create a trusted voice online? Who will listen in case of another hurricane that shuts down power lines? A recent Congressional hearing has shown that citizens’s cellphones were still connected to the Web and served as a lifeline during the power outage.

I believe this is an important lesson for NYPD to build a trustworthy online presence – in combination with the same offline trust of course – so that they can rely on social media during emergency situations. This has to be done between major events and not at times when citizens actually have be reached in an emergency. A tough road ahead for NYPD.

Open Government Platforms in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government

[updated on 04/15/2014]

I put together a list of open government platforms that I used in my Digital Government class this semester at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. The list is sorted by their contributions to the three dimensions of the 2009 Open Government and Transparency memo (transparency, participation, and collaboration). In addition, for each platform I thought about the main goals, the target audience (or engaged crowd), the process(es), and the potential outcomes.

I included even though it is an online marketplace and might not be considered as an Open Government initiative. However, I believe it increased transparency for both the (uninsured) public and journalists, as well as the providers in each state.

Addition: Alex Howard prompted me on Twitter to think about what kind of transparency the platform might provide. I include it in the class, because the platform served as a broker to help citizens understand their local marketplace and provide information about plans as well as providers. I believe it is a valuable and trusted government service and private marketplaces might not have the same level of trust. Take a look at Alex’s article on TechPresident where he discusses private healthcare markets.

I am posting it here as a summary for my class, but also to ask for feedback from anyone interested in this topic. Did I forget an important platform? Is the classification and my analysis of the dimensions reasonable? Should I add more dimensions to describe the platforms? Curious what you think, Internet!

Turkey’s political decision to blackout Twitter

Will the revolution be tweeted in Turkey even though the prime minister has decided to block the microblogging service Twitter? It sure looks like it. However, it seems to have backfired big time as this Twitter map of the hashtag #TwitterIsBlockedInTurkey shows:

An upside of this political decision is, that it has in my opinion increased the digital literacy among the Turkish people. They had to learn about proxies, VPNs, anonymous surfing, and other work-arounds to gain access to Twitter, read about what the world outside thinks about the developments and keep posting to Twitter. In a world where physical access is no longer a hurdle, digital literacy – know _how_ to access content and understand cultural differences of social networking sites has become an important issue. As one of my friends reports from Turkey,  this article on has become an important source to teach people how to reconnect or stay connected.

Even though the Turkish president (who mostly has representative functions) had to sign the law prime minister Erdogan put forward, he himself kept tweeting and posted a memorable update condemning the blockade of social media platforms (translation: “Closing of social media platforms can not be approved of.”

In the past, EMPA students from the Turkish prime minister’s office, other cabinet offices, and the presidential office attended my social media classes at the Maxwell School. Looking back at our class conversations I am still surprised – and I know I shouldn’t – how little political power the president has and how much his office focuses on representative aspects. My students from both offices were eager to learn how to use social media in professional ways to support their bosses, but it was also clear to me that the political elite represented in the classroom was disconnected from the technological and cultural developments surrounding social media. A fact that I also observe when I talk to high-level public managers from other countries or the U.S.

While this certainly does not justify the Twitter blackout, I do believe it is an important factor to understand why government officials may feel threatened by a free and open online conversation they can’t control. The result is that they are oftentimes surprised by what is now called leaks of their own behavior and learn about it when issues are starting to be covered in the press – bridging the boundary between online conversations and mainstream media attention.

HICCS 2014 conference paper: The Challenges of Adopting Private Sector Business Innovations in the Federal Government

Our HICCS 2014 conference paper titled “The Challenges of Adopting Private Sector Business Innovations in the Federal Government” is now available online. Here is the abstract:

As part of the Open Government Initiative in the U.S. federal government, the White House has introduced a new policy instrument called “Challenges and Prizes”, implemented as that allows federal departments to run Open Innovation (OI) contests. This initiative was motivated by similar OI initiatives in the private sector and to enhance innovativeness and performance among federal agencies. Here we first define the underlying theoretical concepts of OI, crowd sourcing and contests and apply them to the existing theory of public ness and the creation of public goods. We then analyze over 200 crowd sourcing contests on CHALLENGE.GOV and conclude that federal departments and agencies use this policy instrument for four different purpose: awareness, service, knowledge and technical solutions. We conclude that is currently used as an innovative format to inform and educate the public about public management problems and less frequently to solicit complex technological solutions from problem solvers.

Published in: Proceeding HICSS ’14 Proceedings of the 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences
Pages 2073-2082

Romanian Journal of Public Administration: Interview on social media in the public sector

Ines Mergel, social media specialist: „Government agencies are not used to liking, sharing”

In order to highlight a few of the major aspects regarding the use of social media instruments at the level of public administrations, we tried to obtain a specialist’s opinion. Therefore, we talked to Ines Mergel, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, and a Senior Research Associate in the Center for Technology and Information Policy, at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In the next lines, you can read about Ines Mergel’s advice regarding the use of social media instruments.

1. What could be the main advantages and risks, for the public administration, of using social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter?

Generally, I would say that government has more to gain from the use of social media than to lose. However, the problem is that government agencies are not used to ‘friending’, ‘liking’, ‘sharing’ or even just proactively pointing citizens to government content. The information and communication paradigm in the public sector is usually limited to low frequency of information sharing. That means in a press release-style an agency shares information when it actually has something to say. The fast and furious online exchanges on social networking sites are oftentimes very challenging to the bureaucracy: government officials are bound to their internal policies and regulations, have to keep the hierarchy in mind and get confirmation before they share information.

The advantages are pretty clear – not just to me – but for government organizations. In the U.S., 90% of local government agencies have a Twitter account and 94% have a Facebook account. Many also maintain other content creation sites, such as Instagram accounts or blogs, so that citizens are notified in case there is new information. On the federal government level all agencies maintain a presence on social media and they “want to be where the people”: To represent themselves, but also to reach citizens where they prefer to receive their information. Social media channels have become an important part of the communication tool kit to test the ‘temperature’ (how people feel about policy changes), increase public awareness for programs and pull people in to government information on an agency’s website. Another important part is that government does not always have to be actively involved in online network exchanges, it oftentimes helps them to listen in and share correct information in case people are spreading rumors.

The risks are unfortunately always present and every time something goes wrong on social media, internal policies are tightened to prevent missteps in the future. I believe the greatest risk is over-communication and not understanding the individual culture of each social networking site. Oftentimes, government agencies simply replicate their standard communication to Web 2.0 applications, completely ignoring citizens’ needs. This is certainly a reflection of government employees’ digital literacy. But also a function of the fast changing nature of the sites. People can’t handle the amount of comments they receive once the floodgates on social media are opened and tend to ignore comments – a practice that can backlash as well. The result is that citizens see a confirmation of their bias that government is slow to respond and might even make fun of agencies. Another huge risk is to abandon social media sites or not moving on when a social networking site clearly does not attract the stakeholders an agency wants to reach. A great example is ironically enough the FBI’s Facebook page. There is no moderator, no commenting policy enforcement or active responses to citizens.

2. What kind of resources does an institution need in order to benefit from the advantages of social media?

I believe the greatest challenge is cultural and not so much monetary. First, an agency needs to understand the new information paradigm and get top management buy-in to allow employees to experiment with new technologies. My main concern is always that agencies might leave it up to the interns, the young guns who grew up with the technology and know where to click. However, they don’t know what is appropriate to share or how the agency prefers to communicate.

There are different models out there. Some agency make social media part of the public affairs or communication responsibilities and they quickly share their once created content out to social networking sites. Others decentralize the efforts and let teams or campaigns create their own social media channels. I would always advocate for a dedicated social media person who bridges the organization’s members and the public and sees herself/himself as an advocate for both. Start with a task force and include those who really want to innovate, legal counsel to be sure you are covered, and create a business case for your top management to get the resources you need.

3. Can institutions use social media for communicating information in the case of emergencies (natural hazards for example)? Can you provide such an example?

One of the most interesting applications of social media is during emergency situations. Even during power blackouts, cellphone towers are still sending signals to wireless cellphones, because they are operating on a different power grid and usually don’t go down during an emergency situation. Here in the U.S. the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an extremely social media-savvy director who included social media use into the first responder instructions. Citizens are seen as “first first-responders”, those who are at the scene first, even before the actual first responders show up and they help to inform both authorities as well as other citizens by live-tweeting or sharing their photos, impressions of severity and impact. Social media has become a true resilient digital infrastructure, when the actual infrastructure, such as phone lines, TV networks, and power grids are not available.

Excellent examples include the earthquakes in Haiti, where cellphone coverage was restored before any other government service, such as hospitals were back in place. Another recent example here in the U.S. is the government information sharing before, during and after the super-storm Sandy. NYC mayor’s office sent break-through messages to those citizens located in the evacuation areas. While it is difficult in this case to say whether lives were saved, government has truly embraced new technologies to inform the public.

The U.S. Geological Service now uses citizen Twitter updates to measure the impact they feel during earthquakes and posts them on an Internet Intensity map. The information from citizens is now used in combination with scientific information collected by the agency and helps to coordinate government responses.

There are many less tactical or less intrusive emergencies that citizens experience on a day-to-day basis where social media platforms help out. For example, the U.S. experiences unforeseen amounts of snow fall currently, and volunteers create online support groups to coordinate volunteer snow crews and help each other out. New social interaction platforms are used to coordinate these responses. is one of these remarkable platforms.

4. Do you have a prediction regarding the future of social media in the public administration sector?

Predicting the social media future is difficult. The tools are not designed for day-to-day governance and citizens main purpose to use social media tools is not to stay in touch with government. I would even say on the contrary. I believe we have another 2-3 years with new tools constantly popping up and government’s changing ability to use them for their own purposes. For example, I believe that content curation tools, such as Storify (n.r. social network which was launched in 2010, it allows its users to create stories using sites such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) are very helpful for agencies that are running temporary campaigns and try to gain attention of the public in a very short amount of time. These tools help to pull together information from across different social media platforms. Government has an opportunity to innovate, but it needs to let the public in.

Quotes used in the article:

  1. ‘In the U.S., 90% of local government agencies have a Twitter account and 94% have a Facebook account’.
  2. ‘My main concern is always that agencies might leave it up to the interns, the young guns who grew up with the technology and know where to click. However, they don’t know what is appropriate to share or how the agency prefers to communicate.
  3. ‘Here in the U.S. the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an extremely social media-savvy director who included social media use into the first responder instructions. Citizens are seen as “first first-responders”, those who are at the scene first, even before the actual first responders show up and they help to inform both authorities as well as citizens by live tweeting or sharing their photos, impressions of severity and impact’.
  4. ‘Another recent example here in the U.S. is the government information sharing before, during and after the superstorm Sandy. NY city’s mayor’s office sent break through messages to those citizens located in the evacuation areas. While it is difficult in this case to say whether lives were saved, government has truly embraced new technologies to inform the public’.


The work of Ines Merges is also focused on using, within public administrations, of innovating methods and new technologies, such as the social media component.

You can find more articles published by the researcher on her blog:

Also, there can also be mentioned other important articles, such as: Social Media in the public Sector – A Guide to Participation, Collaboration and Transparency in The Networked World; Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide: Designing and Implementing Strategies and Policies, A Manager’s Guide to Social Media Strategy, Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government, Using Wiki’s in Government: A Guide for using and maintaining wikis in the public sector.

Here is the original version in Romanian: