Category Archives: Innovation

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 HealthCare.gov, 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 Data.gov, 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.

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GSA Web Manager University: Webinar “Using Wikis in Government”

Today, I participated in a webinar titled “Crowd-sourced Wikis in Government” hosted by GSA’s Web Manager University. The webinar was recorded in will be online tomorrow – will update this blog post then. Here are the slides I used based on my IBM – The Center for the Business of Government report “Using Wikis in Government“:

 

Crowdsourced Ideas Make Participating in Government Cool Again (PA Times October 2011)

The PA Times, published by the American Society of Public Administration, has just issued a special edition called “From Bureaucratic to Cool: A Call for Public Service”. My article on “Crowdsourced Ideas Make Participating in Government Cool Again” describes how government agencies on all levels are turning to Open Innovation platforms to collect the wisdom of the crowds either from their employees or from the public in general. They are closing an important gap that social media platforms so far were not able to address: open innovation platforms are proving a mechanism for targeted knowledge sourcing and knowledge incubation. Innovative ideas and knowledge are not hidden among thousands of comments on Facebook or retweets on Twitter. One of the most prominent examples is Challenge.gov run by GSA – that has just celebrated its first anniversary.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, I. (2011): Crowdsourced Ideas Make Participating in Government Cool Again, in: PA Times, American Society for Public Administration, Vol. 34, No. 4, October 2011, p. 4 & 6, Special Issue: From Bureaucratic to Cool: A Call for Public Service.

Here is the original text that was cross-posted as an editorial on Crowdsourcing.org:

Challenges as game changers for collaborative knowledge incubation in the public sector

Harnessing the knowledge citizens and government employees are willing to share on social media applications in the public sector is one of the most difficult things to do in the era of Government 2.0. Every day thousands of citizens are commenting on government Facebook posts and blog entries or reshare information published on Twitter. Rarely has government the opportunity to harvest innovative ideas and knowledge that is published through these channels. The main reason for many agencies to set up an organizational account is still “to be where the people are”. Recently Open Innovation platforms have started to address this disconnect and are providing an easy access to participate in making government cool again.

Opening government to crowdsourced ideas

Social media tools, such as blogs, Twitter or Facebook, are great channels to collect and encourage citizens to provide their insights on the issues and plans of government. Unfortunately, today’s standard social networking services do not have the capability to automatically extract and collate new knowledge or ideas from content that citizens are submitting through the existing commenting channels. In some cases the sheer volume of comments makes proper analysis very difficult. The challenge is to extract new ideas or valuable insights from the influx of comments in a productive and efficient way.

One challenge that agencies are facing when they are using social media is that it is really difficult to access the knowledge that is potentially created in retweets or Facebook comments. For one, the sheer volume of comments an agency receives has become unmanageable. Dashboard solutions, such as Radian6 might help to give a general overview how the “temperature” is among audiences retweeting and commenting on issues government is concerned about. It becomes far more challenging to actually curate content and extract new ideas and innovative knowledge out of the steady flow of information that comes into government with every tweet or comment.

Open innovation platforms are designed to fill this gap. Using a crowdsourcing approach, government can use the platform for an open call to a large, usually undefined group of people (all citizens, potential contractors or industry representatives, citizen programmers, etc.), so that many different people can contribute to the solution of a complex government task. The platform then helps to direct and coordinate the input of citizens (or application developers, knowledge matter experts, companies, etc.) – which is oftentimes messy and overwhelming on social media channels. These Open Innovation mechanisms to crowdsource solutions are useful for issues where expert knowledge might not be available or is too expensive to access. They also help to improve participation and engagement of citizens. Crowdsourcing provides a platform for governments to engage citizens directly into the decision making process.

Virtually any topic can be crowd-sourced within government, meaning that agencies can post an issue in the form of a “challenge” and ask for the submission of solutions. The focus is on innovation, creativity and the generation of new ideas from stakeholders and/or subject matter experts. In some cases the Open Innovation platform allows participation not only to submit their ideas, but also to provide additional information on how their idea can be executed, and every participant can comment on all other submitted ideas. The agency will select the best solution or set of solutions and the winners are often compensated in some way. This approach is more cost effective than the traditional requests for proposals, which are often time-consuming and have a very specific design criteria and solution in mind. A challenge opens the conversation and allows the “crowd” to come up with the solution, often without rigid requirements.

Open innovation platforms are design to coordinate and streamline the submission and influx of innovative ideas. Local governments are also using open innovation platforms in a similar fashion. New York City’s “NYC SimpliCity” is used to generate cost-saving ideas from employees. The City of Mesa, Arizona’s iMesa program is a response to the economic downturn, designed to collect citizens’ ideas to save money. Harford County, Maryland’s Idea Factory also solicits ideas from constituents designed to stimulate new ideas and innovation. Some of these platforms allow citizens to vote on each other’s ideas and earn “points” for every online activity they perform on the platform. In some localities these virtual points can be traded in for real-life products, such as a ride with the police chief for a day in the City of Manor, TX (see http://www.cityofmanor.org/labs).

Platforms and their use differ depending on the goals and needs of each agency. Some platforms, such as the New York City Simplicity platform are used for internal purposes only. City employees are asked to help the city be more innovative and help to save costs during major budget crunches (http://www.nyc.gov/html/simplicity). Other platforms are mostly used to crowdsource citizen ideas on how to innovate government operations, such as Harford County’s Innovation portal (http://harfordcountymd.spigit.com/Page/Home).
 

Designing challenges

While we truly observe only the first lighthouse projects and experiments with Open Innovation platforms, designing challenges is relatively easy. GSA’s Challenge.gov for example provides the platform for free to all federal agencies and challenge administrators can follow a relatively straightforward process.

The devil lies in the detail. Here are a few lessons learned from Open Innovation administrators who started to experiment with their local platforms:

  • Start by carefully crafting the problem statement you want your employees or citizens to solve. The challenge has to be posed in plain language so that non-experts immediately understand the problem.
  • Experiment with challenges in-house first before opening the floodgates to the public. Your internal sandbox can provide valuable insights to streamline the process for public challenges.
  • Design participation incentives: Think about monetary and non-monetary give-aways that no one else offers and make it worth participating in the challenge. Showcasing submitted solutions on your website can be an incentive for citizens to participate – others might want a monetary return on their time and ideas invested in helping government.
  • Set a time limit: Close your challenge after a predefined time and make sure that you communicate the duration and elapsed time to your participants. Having that one time opportunity to submit an idea can also serve as an incentive for participants.
  • Create a transparent evaluation process: Post the evaluation steps and experts involved in judging the submitted solutions prominently on your website.
  • Communicate how you plan to implement the final solution. Throughout the implementation process make sure to show the value of the crowdsourced solution: How much money was saved? Why are government operations now running smoother than before?

The following table provides an overview of current open innovation platforms on all levels of government:

  Agency name Platform name

Platform open to

Employee idea generation

Citizen idea generation

Local
government

New York City NYC Simplicity  x
Mesa, AZ iMesa  x  x
Maricopa County, AZ Idea Factor for “Rewarding Ideas”  x
City of Manor, TX Manor Labs  x
Harford County, MD Harford County Innovation portal  x

State government

State of Washington Transforming Washington’s Budget  x
State of Vermont BroadbandVT.org  x

Federal
government

Department of Veterans Affairs VAi2 – Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative  x  x
NASA NASA Idea Central  x
GSA Challenge.gov  x

Figure 2: Local, State and Federal Open Innovation Platforms

Challenges and prizes in government have the potential to reinvigorate government operations, inject new ideas into government that otherwise need to be purchased from vendors and consultants. An important effect of the platforms is a new-found transparency and accountability: Citizens and employees feel that their voices are heard and are willing to participate and engage with government again in the future. A win-win all around!

Author bio:

Ines Mergel is Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, Center for Technology and Information Policy (CTIP), Syracuse University. eMail: iamergel@maxwell.syr.edu

Department of Veterans Affairs publishes updated social media policy

 

The Department of Veterans Administration has recently published an updated social media policy (VA Directive 6515 – Use of Web-Based Collaboration Technologies).

Prior to this release the Government Accountability Office has published a report for Congress titled “Federal Agencies Need Policies and Procedures for Managing and Protecting Information They Access and Disseminate” – highlighting that federal agencies need to think about ways to ensure secure use of social media tools by their employees.

The updated VA social media policy focuses not only on secure and safe use of social media tools, but also on the conduct of employees engaging in real-time exchanges with the public:

“This isn’t about using social media because it’s cool or because it’s a fad,” said VA Director of Online Communications Brandon Friedman.  “It’s about getting the right information to the right Veteran at the right time.  This policy sets us on a path toward changing how we talk—and listen—to Vets.” 

Media coverage:

1. Washington Post: VA revamps its social media policy (08/16/2011)
2. Washington Post Blog: VA establishes social media policy (08/16/2011)
3. Gov Info Security: VA aggressively adopts social media (08/17/2011)

4. Stars & Stripes blog: VA seeks new impact with latest social media push (08/17/2011)

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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.

From Zero to 2.0: How social media can change collaboration in government (Video)

I recently gave a talk to the CNY Maxwell Alumni with the title “From Zero to 2.0: How social media can change collaboration in government”. First, I gave a quick overview what Web 2.0 and Government 2.0 is and why public managers need to pay attention to social media and the new forms of interaction that are made possible. I started out with a schematic overview to show the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 and then moved to President Obama’s Open Government Initiative and his memo to all the federal agencies and departments. I believe that the surge on the federal level to use social media is in part driven by his memo and it is also encouraging state and local governments to jump on board and experiment with social media. Especially on the local level this kind of change involves costs in form of manpower and the current web managers might not be able to add responsibilities for several different social media accounts to their already heavy workload. Therefore, I suggested to the audience to familiarize themselves with MuniGov2.0 – a group of local and state public managers interested in collaborating and learning about social media. Here is their website and Twitter account.

We then switched to Second Life – an online virtual world – and met some of my fellow MuniGov2.0 colleagues who talked about the potential of virtual worlds for collaboration in government across organizational and geographic boundaries. It was interesting to learn that there is a small world between Maxwell and the MuniGov2.0 participants – it seems as if some Maxwell alumni recognized MuniGovers or had connections with them. The session went well – without any (!) technical problems. I had connected a headset to my laptop, so that the participants on Second Life could hear me when I asked questions and the audio portion of the laptop was connected to the room microphone. Lesson learned for next time, turn down the headset otherwise there will be an echo on Second Life (we didn’t hear it in the room, but it was uncomfortable for the MuniGov2.0 participants – my apologies!). I would like to give a special shout out to Bill Greeves (co-founder of MuniGov) and Leslie Fuentes (City of Hampton), who both made this a really fun event for the (real life) audience.

I had the impression that the audience did not go home to set up their own avatars right away, but I heard that people enjoyed hearing about innovative forms of collaboration online and felt the need to know what might be next in terms of technology and innovation in government. Second Life (SL) is certainly far out there when it comes to learning curve and for some even overwhelming interactivity. From the regular meetings on SL I can report, that it is a little overwhelming at the beginning- people use the local chat, that everyone can see, plus direct IMs and in addition sometime even a Skype chat on the side, plus of course the voice conversations that are going on around the table.

The Maxwell School has created a video (thanks a lot to Tom Fazzio from our amazing ICT, Global Collaboratory group).

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

Google Maps added walking directions

In the world of Garmin, TomTom, and everything else GPS, this is a real innovation in my point of view: Google Maps has added walking directions (beta) to their directions by car. I don’t have a car and use public transportation, bike or walk everywhere — and oftentimes tried to figure out how to get to specific places by the means I have available – without thinking about one way directions, etc.  I really think, that this is an innovation – have to love Google for this!

Here is a screenshot of a “test walk” around Harvard Square – it shows the directions without going around all the one way streets around Harvard Square (A+):