Category Archives: citizen participation

Using social media as an elected official

On September 19, 2012, Bonner Gaylord, City Council Member, City of Raleigh, NC, shared his insights on his use of social media during his two election campaigns and his tenure as a city council member.

Mr. Gaylord focused on innovative tools such as Twitter and the issue reporting site SeeClickFix.com to reach out to citizens and interact with them. He mentioned that digital interactions are saving him time and making him more connected to his constituents.

Mr. Gaylord can be reached on Twitter. Here is the video of the Skype conversation I had with him in class:

A tale of the social media one-way street: City of Manor reverts back to the dark ages…

Remember the unbelievable Government 2.0 and social media success story of the City of Manor – a small town in Texas? Dustin Haisler, former city manager & CIO of Manor, was the driving force behind the use of WordPress to redesign the city’s homepage. He developed beta cities – a promise to revert other cities’ websites to the brand-new world of social media within 24 hours using the same template. He also started to use QR codes around the city to keep citizens up-to-date on the progress of construction sites or inform them about the history of a building or park.

 

 

With his enthusiasm, he caught the attention of the White House and many innovators travelled to Manor to participate in a conference celebrating Manor’s research and open innovation initiative “Manor Labs”. It is one of the first open innovation platforms in the country, using a virtual currency called “InnoBucks” that incentivized citizens to participate in ideation exercises to improve the effectiveness of the city. Another part of the initiative took the city’s “alpha” version (launched in 1913) to what Dustin Haisler called “open beta“: A version of the city’s website on which all citizens can openly engage with the government and each other.

Dustin’s success story was prominently featured in an article on Fastcompany.com titled “How an army of techies is taking on city hall“. He is a frequent guest speaker in my social media classes here at the Maxwell School and I consider him a true innovator and leader in his field. I recently checked back to take a screenshot of the City of Manor’s website for a presentation and was surprised to see that they apparently went back in time and put up a horrific website in a design that reminds me of the early days of the Internet.

 

Here it goes: The “new” design of the once so innovative City of Manor, a leader in open government, open innovation, and social media goodness in the U.S. What happened, Manor?

A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation

My colleague, Professor Tina Nabatchi, has published a new IBM Center for the Business of Government report: “A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation“. A must-read for everyone who is working on citizen participation initiatives and wants to know if they are making an impact!

Here is an abstract of the report:

The Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative is now three years old. But is it making a difference?  Dr. Nabatchi’s report is a practical guide for program managers who want to assess whether their efforts to increase citizen participation in their programs are making a difference. She lays out evaluation steps for both the implementation and management of citizen participation initiatives, as well as how to assess the impact of a particular citizen participation initiative.

An Appendix to the report provides helpful worksheets as well. Why is evaluation of these initiatives important?  For the foreseeable future, agencies will be under great fiscal pressures.   They need to be able to both understand how to effectively engage citizens in their government, and demonstrate how effective citizen involvement contributes to better-run, more cost-effective programs.

Data.gov in the classroom: Government 2.0 syllabus

Data.gov in the classroom features resources for K-12, Universities, and Education in the World. Among them is Karim Lakhani’s Data.gov case study developed at Harvard Business School, Beth Noveck’s Democracy Design Workshop Do Tank, and now also my Government 2.0 syllabus.

I have been teaching this class for the last three years and the online syllabus shows a combination of resources I use for a semester-long course. As one of the motivations why my MPA students might find it valuable to participate, I use President Obama’s Open Government and Transparency memo, that asks the executive departments and agencies to be more participatory, transparent and collaborative. Especially in the class on Transparency, I refer to data.gov and the students have to think about ways to motive (local) government to provide datasets, make those datasets machine readable and how citizens can use the data provided.

Revolution 2.0

The last few weeks were full with reports on how social media applications, such as Twitter and Facebook, have contributed to the fall of governments in Tunisia and Egypt. We have seen protesters holding up signs like the following:

Or this one, implying that the Egyptian revolution was carried out through Twitter and Facebook:

A prominent Google marketing executive in the region, Wael Ghonim, has drawn a lot of attention to a Facebook group he has used to organize young people in Egypt. In his interviews with several US media outlets he highlights that the revolution started on Facebook – in June 2010. The government itself was apparently taken by surprise. Protesters organized and coordinated their actions using the #jan25 hashtag on Twitter – keeping the online movement alive. The Egyptian government quick shut down the internet and blocked access to Twitter and Facebook.

From a government perspective, criticism is popping up that social media is fueling the protesters – ignoring that the technology itself can’t spark a revolution. Instead, public managers need to be aware of what their citizens are talking about, where hot conversation topics are bubbling up, and how to make citizens feel that government is listening to their citizens’ needs.

What these so-called “social media revolution” also show is, that people don’t need a broadband connection to connect to each other – instead, cellphones are widely available, independent of income or education. What’s common to most of the governments that were overthrown or are under attack is that their citizens are disappointed or don’t feel that their government hears their wishes and complaints.

Also check out the Wallstreet Journal video discussion with Clay Shirky.

My “Government 2.0 Revisited” article wins 2010 H. George Frederickson Best Article Award

My “Gov 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector” article won the PA Times’ 2010 H. George Frederickson Best Article Award.

Here is what I submitted as the acceptance note for the January/February 2011 PA Times issue:

“I am very honored to accept the PA TIMES Best Article Award for 2010, and would like to thank the award committee for their hard work in reviewing what were undoubtedly a large group of high quality submissions.

Government 2.0 is not only a hot topic at the moment, it is an important one. I believe that the use of social media applications is at a tipping point, moving from early innovators toward broader acceptance among government professionals. These technologies often challenge the way that public employees conduct their work, but as the use of Government 2.0 grows we will observe more changes in the way information is organized and distributed, as well as in the way information is co-created by citizens and absorbed by government.

In this early stage of Government 2.0, the use of social media in the public sector is often labeled as the “Wild West of e-Government.” However, we are beginning to move into a convergence phase–where the reality of government operations merges with the new reality of social networking services: both will have to adapt to these new challenges. What is missing is clear guidance on best practices and acceptable strategies for effectively using social media applications to support the missions and practices of government organizations. The interviews I conducted with current social media directors for this PA TIMES article highlight not only challenges and hurdles, but also the positive impacts so social media can have in the public sector. Government is already part of the public conversations that are happening on social networking sites; therefore, public managers need to understand where and how these conversations evolve–and become a part of them.

I believe that both researchers and government practitioners have a lot of interesting ground to cover in the next few years. And, I for one, am excited to be a part of that. Thank you again for recognizing the importance of this fascinating and growing area of public administration practice and research.”

Article reference:
Mergel, I. (2010): Government 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector, in: PA Times, American Society for Public Administration, Vol. 33, No. 3, p. 7 & 10.

My other related publications on Government 2.0 topics:

Mergel, I. Web 2.0 in the Public Sector, with Schweik, C., in: Public Service, and Web 2.0 Technologies: Future Trends in Social Media (under review)

Mergel, I.: Measuring the effectiveness of social media tools in the public sector, in: Public Service, and Web 2.0 Technologies: Future Trends in Social Media (under review)

Mergel, I. (accepted for publication): Government networks, in: Encyclopedia of Social Networking, Editors: Barnett, George, Golson, J. Geoffrey, Sage Publications.

Mergel, I. (2010): The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government, in: O’Leary, R., Kim, S. and Van Slyke, D. M. (Editors): The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective, Georgetown University Press, pp. 177-187.

Mergel, I., Gardner, M., Broviak, P., Greeves, B.: MuniGov20, A New Residency Requirement: Local Government Professionals in Second Life, in: Journal of Virtual World Research, Special Issue: Virtual Worlds and Government (accepted for publication in 2011)

Bretschneider, S. I., Mergel, I. (2010): Technology and Public Management Information Systems: Where have we been and where are we going, in: Menzel, D.C., White, H. J.: The State of Public Administration: Issues, Problems and Challenges, M.E. Sharpe Inc., New York, pp. 187-203.

USGS asks citizen scientists on Twitter “What is happening?”

Yesterday, Kara Capelli, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, joined my “Government 2.0” at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University via Skype video call. Kara shared her insights on the use of social media applications at USGS and specifically on the very innovative use of their Twitter accounts.

USGS’s social media strategy includes the use of Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds and blogs, podcasts, photosharing on Flickr and Facebook accounts.

One account among the long list of social media accounts is especially remarkable: The USGSted account – Twitter Earthquake Detector (TED) – asks so-called “citizen scientists” what is happening in their geographic location. USGS automatically searches tweets for hashtags such as #earthquake and compiles the tweets on a Google Map mashup – geotagging tweets to understand where in the world citizens feel the earth shaking. The large number of tweets then makes it worthwhile to pay attention to specific geographic locations around the world where earthquake activities might happen. One example is the recent earthquake in Pakistan.

At USGS, the tweets are obviously not used as a scientific method – and will certainly never replace science. Instead, they are used as a way to collect citizen feedback, sentiments or indicators of potential damages. Going forward, the tool might have the potential to help emergency responders to find affected citizens, as a method to create social awareness among neighborhood networks, to understand how resilient citizens are or even as a tool for neighborhood responsiveness.

The USGSted account was recently selected as Twitter’s only government showcase (URL was removed from Twitter’s homepage this week, will update as soon as it is back online).

Additional press coverage:

Government Computer News: Earthquakes are something to tweet about

Business Insider: Twitter-based Earthquake Detection System in Development

Christian Science Monitor: Earthquake alerts: shake, rattle, and Twitter

State of the (e)Union 2011: Government 2.0 at its Finest

According to an article in Fastcompany this year’s State of the Union address by President Obama will be one of the most wired Presidential speeches ever. The Whitehouse has set up a special site with information on how to access the “Enhanced State of the Union“:

1. through Twitter: Reply to @whitehouse using the hashtag #sotu
2. live on Facebook Facebook: Post your questions to the White House wall
3. through a special webform

Other social media functions include: An iPhone app, YouTube videos and response videos, and a Q&A after the speech with White House senior staff moderated among others by the White House Social Media Director.

Participation 2.0 white paper

Participation 2.0
Participation 2.0

Tina Nabatchi and I have written a white paper for the report “Connected Communities” edited by James H. Svara and Janet Denhardt, Arizona State University. Our paper, titled “Participation 2.0: Using Internet and Social Media Technologies to Promote Distributed Democracy and Create Digital Neighborhoods” (pp. 80-88) used a citizen engagement framework and matched the theoretical dimensions with evidence from interviews I conducted with city managers and government IT professionals.