Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration – New IBM Report by Professor Jane Fountain

Chief Innovation Officers, Collaboration, Government 2.0, IBM, networking

IBM – Center for the Business of Government just published a new report in their collaborative governance series on “Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration”. Based on Professor Fountain’s in-depth analysis of collaboration projects in the U.S. federal government, the report provides insights into two main factors that support effective collaboration in government:

  1. people skills to develop trust, norms, and connections, and
  2. organizational processes that allow cross-agency actions to be sustained over time.

Much of the existing research, either focuses on specific roles that are needed or the resulting inter-organizational structures. What is largely ignored are the resources and processes needed as well as informal networking and governance mechanisms that need to be allowed outside the existing formal hierarchies to allow cross-agency collaboration.

This is a timely report, that is helpful for public managers to understand that even in a bureaucratic hierarchy, innovations, knowledge and resources to fulfill broad mandates, need to involve new roles in government, such as the recently established Government Innovation Officers. These new GIOs need to be boundary spanning individuals who tap into the resources they can get access to from their own networks, but also have the freedom to connect with other public managers across organizational boundaries.

As the new Open Government paradigm is spreading around the world, this report can also help open government activists to understand, build, and evaluate the processes and roles needed to successfully collaborate with all stakeholders: activists, nonprofits, public sector organizations on all levels of government as well as contractors to implement innovative platforms.

JVWR: MuniGov 2.0, A New Residency Requirement: Local Government Professionals in Second Life

Adoption of new technology, Collaboration, Government 2.0, MuniGov2.0, online networking, online ties, Public Management, public sector, research papers, Second Life, social media

Michelle Garder, Pam Broviak, Bill Greeves and I have just published a paper in the Journal of Virtual World Research. Here is the abstract and link to the pdf file:

The virtual world Second Life allows social interactions among avatars  – online representations of real-life people – and is slowly adopted in the public sector as a tool for innovative ways to interact with citizens, interorganizational collaboration, education and recruitment (Wyld 2008). Governments are setting up online embassies, voting simulations, interactive learning simulations and virtual conferences. While there are  very prominent and elaborate examples on the federal and state level of government, we have seen only a handful of applications on the local level. One of these local examples is  MuniGov2.0  – a collaboration of municipal government professionals who regularly  meet in Second Life. The goal of the group is  to  support each others geographically  distributed implementation attempts to incorporate new technologies in the public sector. Interviews with the founding members and core group show clear mission-specific needs  that Second Life collaboration can support, but that there are also technological and behavioral challenges involved using this highly interactive environment. The article will highlight the challenges, how they were met, lessons learned, future directions of the  project and ends with recommendations for the use of Second Life in local government.

Full reference:

Mergel, I., Gardner, M., Broviak, P., Greeves, B. (2011): MuniGov20, A New Residency Requirement: Local Government Professionals in Second Life, in: Journal of Virtual World Research, Volume 4, Number 2: Goverment & Military.

Keywords: Virtual worlds, Second Life, online collaboration, local government, Gov 2.0, Web   2.0




New working paper: Tying the network together

Collaboration, connections, Diffusion of innovation, Harvard University, informal networks, network ties, networking, Public Management, Social Network Analysis, Social Network Analysis Software

David Lazer (Northeastern & Harvard University) and I have just posted a new working paper titled “Tying the network together – Evaluating the Impact of an Intervention into the Advice Network of Public Managers“. It’s up on the Social Science Research Network for comments. We are in the process of making some substantial changes to it, but would love to hear your feedback!

Here is the abstract:

Networks are often see as emergent and self managed; and yet much of the research on networks examines how networks affect the effectiveness of systems and individuals. Is it possible to intervene in the configuration of a network to improve how it functions? Here we evaluate the impact of an intervention to change the array of relationships connecting a set of distributed public managers—State Health Officials (SHOs). SHOs were brought together for a one week executive educational program near the beginning of their tenures. This paper evaluates the question as to whether this program had long run effects on the ties among SHOs. Using a combination of survey and interview data, we find that there is a substantial effect on the probability of ties between individuals that attend the program together, relative to individuals who attend the program in different cohorts. Given recent findings that highlight the importance of interpersonal networks in the effectiveness of individual managers, this suggests a potential role for interventions to improve the efficiency of dispersed, public sector manager to manager networks.

Lazer, David and Mergel, Ines A., Tying the Network Together: Evaluating the Impact of an Intervention into the Advice Network of Public Managers (July 8, 2011). Available at SSRN:

IBM report: Using Wikis in Government: A Guide for Public Managers

Adoption of new technology,, Collaboration, crowdsourcing, Government 2.0, New media, Open Government Initiative, technology, Transparency, Web 2.0

IBM The Center for Business in Government has just published my first research report on “Using Wikis in Government: A Guide for Public Managers” in their Using Technology section. You can download a pdf version of the report here.

Here is a short description of the report from the IBM website:

Public leaders face the challenge of finding ways to bridge silos in their organizations. In this report, Dr. Mergel examines one tool that can help them do this—Wikis. Many of us are familiar with Wikipedia, which relies on thousands of active contributors who share their knowledge freely on a dazzling breadth of topics, with an accuracy rate rivaling that of traditional encyclopedias.

So how can government leaders spark similar outpourings of valuable knowledge – either among their employees or from the public? Dr. Mergel describes the managerial, cultural, behavioral, and technological issues that public managers face in starting and maintaining Wikis. She provides nine case studies of government organizations that launched Wikis. Each of the nine public sector organizations studied found Wikis to be valuable additions to their current workplace tools in reaching out to both employees and citizens.

Dr. Mergel doesn’t wear rose-tinted glasses, though. She observes that Wikis “are on the one hand relatively easy to create. On the other hand, maintaining collaboratively produced content while sustaining the quality and quantity of contributions over time is a formidable task for public managers.” She not only describes five challenges managers face, but also provides a checklist of best practices that public managers and Wiki administrators can use to improve chances for success.

This report is a “deep dive” into one online tool that can be used to engage employees and the public. A separate new report by the IBM Center, Using Online Tools to Engage – and be Engaged by – The Public, by Matt Leighninger, provides a broader context of the various online tools available today, showing how and when Wikis can play a role in broader engagement efforts.

We trust that this report will provide practical and concrete tips for federal managers in deciding if a Wiki makes sense for their organization, and how to best use this tool to improve collaboration within or between organizations and, where appropriate, with citizens.

Also, check out Matt Leighninger’s overview “Using Online Tools to Engage – and be Engaged by –The Public” on the IBM website. in the classroom: Government 2.0 syllabus

Apps for America,, Barack Obama, citizen participation, Collaboration, Good reads!, Government 2.0, Government as platform, Innovation, Open Government, Open Government Initiative, OSTP, social media, Teaching, technology, Transparency in the classroom features resources for K-12, Universities, and Education in the World. Among them is Karim Lakhani’s 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 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.

The Future of Public Administration around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective

Collaboration, Diffusion of innovation, Government 2.0, informal networks, Intellipedia, MuniGov2.0, New media, social media

Professors O’Leary, Kim and Van Slyke have just published “The Future of Public Administration around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective” book.

My chapter in the book is titled: “The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government”. I argue that public managers are facing the dilemma of ever increasing, changing and complex mandates to innovate with shrinking budgets. At the same time, they need to tap into existing knowledge so that they don’t reinvent the wheel on a daily basis in their search for innovation. Government itself is a large system of disconnected units, where it is impossible to know in which corner of the system similar problems have occurred and what the remedies are that were used to address the problem. Social media – and especially social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, but also niche networks, such as GovLoop or MuniGov2.0 – can help to build cross-sectional networking ties for public managers to access knowledge already available in (and outside of ) government. Moreover, there are a lot of interesting initiatives underway that help public managers to dissolve the existing bureaucratic knowledge silos that exist as a result of departmental structures (see for example Intellipedia or Diplopedia – and many more).

Email me if you would like to read a copy of the chapter.

Georgetown Press - Minnowbrook perspective

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

citizen participation, Collaboration, Government 2.0, Government as platform, social media, Social networking services, social networking sites, Social Software, Web 2.0

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.

“The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy” revisited for Government 2.0

citizen participation, Collaboration, Facebook, frequency of interactions, games, Government 2.0, incentives, participation

I was having lunch with a colleague of mine today and I was talking about the first results of the three studies I am working on to understand how public managers are using social media application. One of the findings is the surprisingly low number of followers and friends government agencies have on social networking sites, which means in turn, that it would be interesting to understand what incentives citizens need to participate and network with government online. Another finding in my wiki study is, that it is unclear how public employees can be incentivized to extend their current obligations and daily tasks to include additional activities using collaborative technologies, such as wikis to help their colleagues in other departments by sharing their knowledge. How do we get quality contributions from those employees in the agency who have enough institutional knowledge that would help others with unsolvable questions to find a solution? Beth Kanter points in her recent pdf talk to the fact, that Nonprofits should not leave the social media work up to their interns – just because they are tech savvy enough and are quick in handling and understanding social media doesn’t mean that they know the substance of the organization.

In trying to find a solution or approaches on how to solve these two problems, a colleague pointed me to Titmuss’ work on human blood banks: 1970, Richard Titmuss published his seminal work “The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy” in which he described that economic analysis has its limits when it comes to rare exchanges and gifts, such as blood. Titmuss showed in his work that in crisis situations (or shortages of human blood) the prize for blood goes up: blood banks are willing to pay or raise the prize they pay donors to give blood. This attracts those people who don’t necessarily give blood for the purpose of serving a higher good (and who are usually donating), but those who otherwise don’t donate and are desperately attracted by the additional income. Which in turn means that those are people with a diet that might not include expensive whole foods, but a rather high degree of processed foods and who are therefore prone to have a lower blood quality and potentially diseases. The result in short is: The quantity of new blood supply rises, but the quality overall is lowered.

The connection I see between the blood bank insights and incentives to network/share/collaborate/engage using social media is, that while it is really helpful to show that a specific government agency is able to attract a significant number of followers or friends on a social networking site, the mere quantity and even the measurement of hits won’t deliver the insights that are necessary to understand if we are making a (quality) difference using social media. We want to reach those citizens with valuable insights, who don’t have the time to come to town hall meetings because of their family status, work schedules, kids, etc. and not only the usual suspects who always show up but don’t deliver additional insights. Social media channels might help to reach those who are unreachable through traditional forms of engagement.

We will need to design incentives in ways that help to attract those public employees who have insights that are valuable, give them the time and acknowledgment of their expert status so that they are able to squeeze the time in to help others and make it worth their effort. I have been thinking a lot about personnel evaluations, but I believe that indirect incentives might do the trick: free up time to collaborate and share knowledge by hiring additional help, giving people an extra day off (without a pay-cut of course), etc. It seems as if a lot of Gov2.0 folks are also thinking about games, such as incentives that flow through the social network and build participation pressure, such as Zynga’s Farmville or Foursquare’s badges.

I don’t have a fully thought-out solution to offer at the moment, but am in the process of developing a framework to measure trust, impact, reach, sentiments and quality of contributions on social networking sites in the public sector. Stay tuned for updates!

PA Times: Government 2.0 revisited – Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector

Adoption of new technology, Barack Obama, citizen participation, Collaboration, Federal Agreements with social media providers, Government 2.0, Open Government Initiative, Public Management, Transparency, Web 2.0

The ASPA PA Times Summer Issue just came out with a special issue on social media and Web 2.0. Here is the text I originally submitted to the editors. It is printed on p. 7 & 10:

Government 2.0 revisited – Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector

Government 2.0 – or the use of social media in the public sector – has become a hot topic. Agencies and departments on all levels of government are adding Facebook, Twitter or YouTube buttons to their otherwise static – infrequently updated – websites. It is still not clear how successful and useful social media is in the public sector and how agencies can design their own social media strategies.
The term Government 2.0 was coined by Eggers in 2005 as the way that “Unhyped and therefore unnoticed, technology is altering the behavior and mission of city halls, statehouses, schools, and federal agencies across America.”, and he goes on describing Government 2.0 as “A form of digital revolution that transforms government.” Only with the successful Internet campaign and use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter of the then presidential candidate Obama the term was picked up again and is now widely used to describe the use of new forms of technology such as free and open social networking services in government (sometimes called social media or new media).

President Obama’s so-called Open Government memo from January 21, 2009 called for a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government and directed “Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public.“ Today, Government 2.0 is the “hyped” form of the use of social media in government and by its diverse stakeholders that transforms the way that government interacts with citizens in a participatory, transparent and collaborative way. The use of social media and the actual participation of all federal departments and agencies were reinforced by the Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orzag’s executive directive giving agencies a 60-day deadline to publish their open government plans and upload their first datasets to a dedicated website called In April 2010, Cass Sunstein, Whitehouse advisor, published a memo that specified the use of social media in government advising the heads of the federal agencies and departments on how to handle content published and public feedback posted on social media sites under the Paperwork Reduction Act. While agencies were hesitant at the beginning, the GSA’s “Terms of Service Process for Free Social Media Products” with no-cost social media providers made it easier for agencies and departments to pick and chose the applications they found useful to promote a greater openness.
What we can now observe is a surge to use social networking services in government: almost every federal agency and department has at least one Facebook organizational page and at least one official Twitter account – many even have a dedicated social media site which aggregates all their different accounts (see for example Although for many agencies it has become mainstream practice to use social media applications and “be where our audiences are”, it is clear that not every agency has the same goal or a dedicated social media strategy. Some start by setting up blogs, Facebook fanpages, several Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, etc., but the actual use and outreach proves to be very diverse.

“We have to be where the people are!”

From my interactions with new media directors in the federal agencies and departments, I differentiate between three different types of social media use to promote transparency, participation and collaboration:
The first strategy can be called “Push” strategy: The new medium is used as an extension of the existing (usually relatively static) Internet presence and is used as an additional communication channel “to get the message out”. This results in un-moderated Twitter updates that are mainly used to publish press releases or appearances of the secretaries, unmanned Facebook walls that are blocked for public comments and sparsely populated YouTube channels.
The second strategy can be called “Pull” strategy: Social media applications are used to bring audiences back to an organization’s website, where the news is aggregated (to avoid losing control of what happens with the information). Pull strategies are actively involving audiences using some degree of interaction that result in a few comments from on Facebook walls and a few retweets (reuses of messages by other Twitter users) or answers to comments on responses from Twitter followers. Examples include the CDC’s use of social media tools to alert and inform the public about peanut salmonella outbreak or its H1N1 flu campaign.
The third strategy – and at the same time the least observable – can be called “Networking” strategy. The use of social media tools is highly interactive with a lot of back and forward between the agency and its diverse constituencies. The new media directors usually have a sense of who is following them and who they want to reach. They are using Facebook, Twitter, etc, very strategically not only to control and direct messages to their audiences, but also to have their ears and eyes on the channels where the actual issues are being discussed that might be of relevance to their agency’s or department’s mission. Social media tools are not only used for mere publishing purposes and are not viewed as a time sink of the already overworked IT staff, but as a strategic information sharing and knowledge creation tool involving social media champions from different content areas.
One agency that stands out is GSA that used an informal social networking site called to create a group and discuss their “Acquisition 2.0” strategy. The discussions of a diverse audience of government employees has led to the creation of the Better Buy wiki project (see that truly transforms the acquisition process of GSA multibillion dollar budget: Tenders are now “crowdsourced” – meaning that vendors and agencies are asked to submit their revisions to the final document before it is officially released for solicitation.

How to design your social media strategy

The question now is: What does a successful social media strategy look like? On the federal level very few departments and agencies have made their social media strategies or policies publicly available, but from interviews with the current new media directors I derived a few general observations:

• It is necessary to get people on board and don’t put the use and content creation on the shoulders of the one-person IT shop, instead understand the need to socialize your strategy and find champions who are interested in experimenting with new media and include them in early efforts.
• Social media does not replace the existing traditional channels of communication with government’s stakeholders, instead it provides a test bed for new ways of interactions with citizens and public.
• Design your social media strategy around the mission and the audiences you are trying to reach and not the necessity to be out there and part of the movement. Make a conscious decision what your expectations are and if you have the manpower to actually interact and network with your audiences.
• Reach has not yet proven its value and measurement of the outcome is difficult. The pure number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans does not indicate the actual impact. It is more important to understand who follows your Twitter or Facebook profile; what do your followers do with the content and who is in the network of each of these followers: Social networks have the ability to distribute information from friends to friends and their friends and can therefore reach many more than just the few directly following your updates.
• While a lot of rumors circulate about generational differences and that the main audience are young citizens, it has become clear that social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook have the highest increase rates in the age group of +35 year olds. Moreover, the Facebook newsfeed has the potential to become an important information mechanism that aggregates traditional media sources with information spreading through the trusted friendship network people are paying attention to.

Over a year into the Government 2.0 movement it is clear that social media is here to stay and not a fleeting fad. Although there is a surge to jump on the bandwagon, deciding how the different social media channels fit into an agency’s mission is a crucial step that should involve top management but also all departments that might populate the social media channels with content.

Author bio:
Ines Mergel is Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Syracuse University. eMail: