New publication: Open data outcomes in the public sector

Open Data, Open Government, Open Government Initiative
Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-30 um 10.28.17

Open data outcomes: U.S. cities between product and process innovation

Much has been written about how governments are creating open data platforms and are sharing data with the public.

Most of these platforms are designed for the reuse by professionals, such as journalists or researchers. Beyond visits to an open data portal it is however difficult to trace how data is actually used and if it pays out for public administrations to invest in open data efforts.

Similar to innovation, open data is assumed to be positive: it must lead to increased transparency and accountability – simply because of its existence.

In this paper, we used qualitative interviews with 15 U.S. cities that have created an open data portal and have an explicit open data strategy. We interviewed public managers responsible for open data in order to understand their perceptions of the outcomes of their open data activities.

As a result, we were able to trace both product innovations (apps, websites, etc.) and process innovations that are mostly internal to government.

The article is available online in open access format here.


Mergel, I., Kleibrink, A., & Sörvik, J. (2018). Open data outcomes: US cities between product and process innovation. Government Information Quarterly.


New book published: “Social Media in the Public Sector”

Adoption of new technology, Book, Diffusion of innovation, Election 2012, Government 2.0, Open Government Initiative, Public Management, public sector, social media, Social Media Policy, Social Media Registry, Social media roles, Social media strategy, Social media tactics, Social Networks, Social Software

I am excited to announce the release of my first sole-authored book: “Social media in the public sector“. It will be officially introduced to the public at the annual NASPAA conference in Austin, TX, on October 18, 2012.

The book is based on my research that started about three years ago. My initial interest started with the success of  Obama’s Internet strategy to reach audiences via social media who are unlikely to interact with politicians or government in general. As the open government initiative developed in the U.S. federal government, I started to interview public managers to understand how they are (re)organizing their standard operating procedures to use social media for regular governing operations in support of the mission of their organizations. The book provides insights into the strategic, managerial, and administrative aspects of social media adoption in the public sector.

The publisher’s book page includes resources for professors who would like to use the book in their e-government classes, including week-by-week Powerpoint slides and an article published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education that outlines my teaching approach and learning experiences.

The book went through a thorough double-blind peer-review process and I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback.

Next month an accompanying field guide will be released.

Here is a link to the instructor resources on Jossey-Bass/Wiley’s website.


In today’s networked world, the public sector is tapping into new media applications to increase government organizations’ participation, transparency and collaboration. The book contains a review of the current state of the public administration literature and shows how Government 2.0 activities can potentially challenge or change the existing paradigms. It includes an overview of each of the tools used to increase participation, transparency and collaboration. The book also highlights case examples at the local, state, federal and international levels. The author offers recommendations for the implementation processes at the end of each chapter and includes suggested readings and references.


Comprehensive and compelling, Social Media in the Public Sector makes the case that to achieve Government 2.0, agencies must first adopt Web 2.0 social technologies. Ines Mergel explains both how and why in this contemporary study of traditional institutions adopting and adapting to new technologies.
Beth Simone Noveck, United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer (2009-2011)

Ines Mergel moves beyond the hype with detailed, comprehensive research on social media technologies, use, management and policies in government. This book should be required reading for researchers and public managers alike.
Jane Fountain, Professor and Director, National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Professor Mergel has produced a foundational work that combines the best kind of scholarship with shoe-leather reporting and anthropology that highlights the debates that government agencies are struggling to resolve and the fruits of their efforts as they embrace the social media revolution. Social Media in the Public Sector is a first and sets a high standard against which subsequent analysis will be measured.
Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Dr. Mergel is an award-winning author who again wields her story skills in this book. She excels in explaining in concrete, practical terms how government managers can use social media to serve the public. Her book puts years of research into one handy guide. It’s practical. It’s readable. And it’s an essential read.
John M. Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

Social media and the 2012 election: Class syllabus online

Election 2012, Information Management, Obama Dashboard, Online campaigning, Open Government, Open Government Initiative, Politicians on social networking sites, Presidential Elections, social media, Social Media Policy

My new class “Social media and the 2012 election” starts next week and I wanted to post my syllabus for public comment.

This is a class that I taught for the first time in 2008 during the Obama campaign. After the election the president was praised for his Internet strategy that complemented his traditional campaigning and many scholars have pointed out that he was able to motivate non-voters via social media to go to the polling booths.

Between 2009 and 2012 I spent a lot of time trying to understand how the lessons learned during the successful presidential campaign can be used for day-to-day governing activities. While the Open Government mandate pushed a lot of efforts in the U.S. federal agencies forward to invest time and resources into harnessing new technologies, government agencies are also facing many challenges when using social media. For that purpose, I observed and interview social media directors in the U.S. federal government to understand their strategic, managerial, and administrative decision making and the resulting social media tactics.

This class is therefore based on my research on social media in the public sector. It observes in real-time who the public, news organizations and the candidates are using social media until election day. It grounds the observations in theoretical sociological and information management concepts. The goal is to teach the underlying concepts and managerial skills future social media managers need – not only in government, but also in the nonprofit and corporate world. Guest speakers will complement lectures and class discussions.

Here is the syllabus. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for improvements!

11 Tips for crafting your social media policy

IBM, Open Government Initiative, Social media strategy, Social networking services, Web 2.0
Social media applications have become an (almost) accepted standard to explore new ways of communication between government and its stakeholders. However, government agencies willing to jump onto the bandwagon had to jump over many hurdles to make social media work for them. As early as December 2008, the powerhouse behind what is now known as — Bev Godwin, Sheila Campbell, Jeffrey Levy, and Joyce Bounds — have published a manuscript describing the hurdles and perceived barriers for new forms of online engagement. Among them are:
  • Employee access to online tools
  • Terms of service
  • Advertising
  • Procurement
  • Privacy
  • Persistent cookies
  • Surveys
  • Access for people with disabilities
  • Administrative requirements for rulemaking
Many of these barriers prevented the rapid and risk-free adoption of social media technologies. Some of the perceived barriers were solved in the meantime. As an example, GSA signed model Terms of Service agreements with many social media providers.
A few agencies were willing to jump into the cold water early on and started to experiment with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so on, until GAO released a report directing government organizations to create social media policies for managing and protecting information they access and disseminate using social media applications. As a result most federal government agencies now have internal social media guidelines in place (for an overview, visit my blog, which includes pdf documents of publicly available social media policies).
Some guidelines only provide a general context for the use of third party platforms others describe in very detailed fashion including daily schedules, accepted tools, directions for tactics, campaigns, etc. The Army social media handbook is already published in its third iteration. It not only includes guidance for the internal use of government-run social media accounts, but extends suggestions beyond the boundaries of organization to include family members who could potentially reveal sensitive information and thereby harm the Army’s missions.
Based on my conversations with social media directors in the U.S. federal government and an analysis of the available social media guidelines, I came up with the following elements for the design of social media guidelines in the public sector:
  1. Social media use should support the organizational mission and overall communication strategy.
  2. Government agencies need to decide what they regard as appropriate content and what online products they are willing to share with their stakeholders via social media.
  3. The workload and decision responsibilities need to be assigned and distributed among a social media ringmaster, content creators and curators, account administrators, and content providers with expert knowledge about issues.
  4. Before agencies can select the right tools it is important to understand who the (potentially diverse) audience is.
  5. Access to social media content needs to be made available through alternative mechanisms to avoid exclusiveness.
  6. I am a big fan of “hierarchy in the network” and always tell government officials who ask me for advice to clarify what their online netiquette includes, such as a comment policy or appropriate online conduct. EPA provides great guidance using this flow chart.
  7. After all these issues are clarified and answered as part of a social media guideline, the tool question can be tackled: Where do an agency’s stakeholders prefer to receive their information? On Facebook? Twitter? Via a newsletter? The answer should not be: We need to be on Facebook, because everyone else is.
  8. After the tools are selected, guidance on how and who sets up and administers the accounts needs to be designed.
  9. Daily routines need to be established. For different social media tactics see more in my PA Times article “Government 2.0 revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector.”
  10. One of the most challenging tasks it to measure and interpret the successful use of social media tools on behalf of government. Many agencies use quantitative measures, such as counts of the increasing number of followers or likes. Others use anecdotes highlighting responses from their audience. Other more sophisticated approaches include the use of dashboard solutions by third party providers.
  11. Lastly, a social media strategy needs to include a section on training. Providing the resources, including opportunities to discuss tactics and strategies with peers, is however not only important for those employees who will be managing social media accounts, but also for top managers to understand the culture and changing social interactions with the public, as well as their evolving expectations.
Read more in my IBM Center for the Business of Government special report “A manager’s guide for designing social media strategy.” Crowd-sourced Wikis in Government (webinar 11/07/2011)

Academia 2.0, Adoption of new technology, crowdsourcing, Diffusion of innovation, Government 2.0, Open Government Initiative, Open Innovation, Web 2.0, Wiki, Wikis in Government

Reposting the announcement for a free webinar on Crowd-sourced Wikis in Government organized by GSA’s Web Manager University team on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 1:00pm. I will give an overview of what wikis are, how they can be used in government and briefly talk about the 10 case studies I wrote up for an IBM – The Center for the Business of Government report: “Using Wikis in Government“. The recording, slides and additional resources will be available after the webinar for download:


Class Format: Webinar
Date: Monday, November 7, 2011
Time: 1:00 PM–2:00 PM ET
Fee: Free
Presenters: Ines Mergel, Syracuse University
Anne Bermonte, Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation
Allyson Hewitt, SiG@MaRS

Course Description

Social collaboration tools can welcome interested people to contribute ideas that help your agency develop policy. Hear how Ontario, Canada, used a social innovation wiki to gather public input for a policy paper on Social Innovation that helped them implement Ontario’s social innovation strategy.

In this free webinar, Allyson Hewitt from SiG@MaRS, and Anne Bermonte from Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, will share lessons learned, and discuss the opportunities and ongoing challenges of using social media to develop policy. Syracuse University’s Ines Mergel will discuss her research of federal, state and local agencies’ use of wikis, and how she created a checklist for creating and maintaining a wiki.

Take Aways

  • To share experience using social media to develop policy
  • To communicate lessons learned and outcomes
  • To generate discussion on how Ontario’s experience using social media for policy development compares to other jurisdictions

Who Should Attend

This course is for government web managers, IT specialists, senior managers, and other government staff involved with citizen engagement initiatives and agency social media website operations at any level.

About the Presenters

Ines Mergel is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She teaches graduate-level classes on the use of social media in the public sector, such as Government 2.0 and New Media Management. Her research focuses on the adoption of Web 2.0 in the federal agencies.

Ines is especially interested in innovative forms of collaboration supported by social technologies. She blogs about her research findings on her blog “Social Media in the Public Sector.”

Anne Bermonte is the manager of innovation policy and planning at the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. She is a policy and communications expert with municipal, provincial, and private-sector experience. Her responsibilities in the OPS included managing the I&IT organization’s Strategy, Policy and Planning Branch with secretariat responsibilities for supporting senior I&IT governance committees and leading on the province’s electronic identity, authentication and authorization policy. She has also lead strategic research activities related to Ontario’s digital infrastructure and economy.

Anne recently completed a Masters Thesis examining Senior Leaders’ Use of Web 2.0 and Social Media in the OPS.

Allyson Hewitt leads the social innovation programs at MaRS including the Ontario node of the national initiative, Social Innovation Generation (SiG@MaRS). This program supports social entrepreneurs and promotes social innovation under the headings Advise! Convene! Accelerate!

A lifelong social innovator, Allyson most recently worked at SickKids where she led Safe Kids Canada and was a passionate advocate for children. She was also the Executive Director of Community Information Toronto where she initiated 211, providing streamlined access to human service information. For this work she received the Head of the Public Service Award and several other prestigious awards for meritorious public service.

Allyson has been leading and volunteering in not-for-profit organizations for over 25 years. Her academic background is in Criminology, Law, Public Affairs, Voluntary Sector Management and Organizational development including Leading Change.

Content LeadWeb Manager University Team
Page Reviewed/Updated: November 3, 2011

White House crowdsourcing effort to understand their audiences’ social media needs

Barack Obama, Blogs I read, crowdsourcing, Facebook, Government 2.0, Open Government Initiative, social media, Twitter, Web 2.0

The White House has recently asked its Facebook fans and Twitter followers to provide feedback on their social media activities. As an example, Twitter users were asked to fill out a short survey (see article in InformationWeek).!/whitehouse/status/77422988332498944

After reviewing the feedback, the White House published what they extracted from their fans and followers in a blog post. The GSA New Media Twitter account states that the most surprising finding was that half of the White House followers on Twitter are +50 years old (although the number does not indicate the follower age group, but reflects the age of the respondents only):!/GovNewMedia/status/80288588260065281

Here are the main findings:

Here are a few interesting things we’ve learned:

* 50% of Facebook survey respondents were over the age of 50, with another 35% between 35 and 49. Our Twitter audience is younger, with only 32% of respondents over the age of 50. A combined 62% are over the age of 35.

* 62% reported visiting our Facebook page at least once a week. However, 93% say they read tweets from us at least once a week.

* A much larger percentage of our Twitter survey respondents are active on Facebook (80% of Twitter followers use Facebook weekly) than our Facebook respondents reported being active on Twitter (30% of Facebook fans use Twitter weekly).

* Over 50% of respondents from both surveys reported never using Flickr, LinkedIn and social bookmarking sites (such as Digg, Reddit, and Delicious).

* 64% said that the frequency of our Facebook posts is “About Right,” with 31% wanting more, and only 5% saying that it’s “Too Much.”

* 61% of the Twitter survey respondents report that the frequency of posting is “About Right,” with an additional 35% saying it’s “Not Enough,” and only 4% saying that it’s “Too Much.”

* Over 56% share White House Facebook posts on a monthly basis and 78% have shared at least once. However, only 35% of responders report retweeting @Whitehouse on at least a monthly basis, with only 58% having retweeted us at least once.

* The top requested content includes news-oriented posts (Breaking News, the latest news from the Administration), interactive posts (ways to engage with Administration officials, announcement of live streams, quotes from major speeches as they happen) and the Photo of the Day.

White House Facebook page
White House Twitter account

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.

OpenGovRD: Towards an “Open Public Administration Commons”

academic networks, informal networks, online networking, Open Government, Open Government Initiative

Day 2 of the OpenGovRD workshop started with a session to collect open-ended research questions that the academics in the room can tackle. We reviewed our initial wish-list of what research on Open Government should look like. Some of the keywords people in the room used to describe OG research included: interdisciplinary, rigorous, robust, actionable, fundable and most of all FUN (that was my favorite keyword). I believe fun will be a result of a research agenda that will include researchers from different disciplines, but also includes a constant feedback cycle between academics and practitioners.

I would like to push even further – not just showcasing research findings, but constantly including practitioners into the research process and not only as subjects (i.e., interview partners), but as equal partners who guide the research, evaluate its feasibility and to keep the research grounded and unbiased. The findings need to be actionable right away and not after a 2-3 year publishing cycle in academic journals that are “hiding” the results for exclusive access in University libraries.

Obviously, an OG research agenda needs to be fundable. The group highlighted that there is no digital government program at NSF anymore, so that new funding sources need to be discovered and we probably need to work closely with directorates or programs at NSF to identify the right venues for proposal submissions.

The practitioners and academics in the room mentioned one gap over and over again: We don’t know what we know! There are several platforms out there that are collecting, harvesting and displaying some of the research and reports that are available on specific subtopics, but there is not one place that helps to compile everything we already know. I suggested to create an “Open Public Administration Commons“. This place can serve as a networking platform that provides the opportunity to connect to ongoing research projects, give direct feedback not only to the final results, but on an ongoing basis while the discovery is happening, to test ideas in early stages, but foremost to provide a channel that helps to push findings directly to government so that public managers can act on the findings and find a guide on how to tackle current and urgent problems. Many agencies face similar or at least comparable problems and while it is helpful to understand that there are best practices cases out there, it is much more important to actually make the social connections between government officials to share insights on the day-to-day “How To” questions that are coming up while people are trying to solve problems. I would like to take the platform idea a step further and make this platform a place for those of us who are teaching OG-related topics to find up-to-date case studies that can be used in classrooms. We can educate cohorts of MPA or IS students that already know about the newest developments when they enter their first jobs.

Together with my co-authors, I have written about the idea of an “Open Public Administration Commons” in a recently published article in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: “Towards Open Public Administration Scholarship” (email me if you want to read a copy of this article).

Related reading:

Schweik, C., Mergel, I., Sanford, J., Zhao, J. (2011): Toward Open Public Administration Scholarship, in: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (J-PART), Minnowbrook III: A Special Issue, Special Issue Editors: Beth Gazley and David M. Van Slyke, Vol. 21, Supplement 1, January 2011, pp.i175-198.

Open Government Research and Development Agenda Setting (#OpenGovRD) workshop

Open Government, Open Government Initiative

I am currently attending the Open Government Research and Development Agenda Setting workshop at the Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany (you can follow our tweets with the hashtag #OpenGovRD). The workshop is organized by CTG, TWC, New York Law School – IILP, and Civic Commons.

We started out by collecting unanswered research questions, then clustered the questions into broader categories and went off to work in groups on defining the questions in more detail. The major themes that need to be tackled include:

1. What are citizen needs? How do they gain access? How do citizens know what they need to know? How can government provide enough digital literacy education to help citizens understand what they need to know and how to access what they need to know?
2. Incentivizing government (employees) to participate in Open Government; incentivizing the public to use the data and give feedback about the value and quality of the data they receive
3. Government (current and future) capabilities and capacity
4. Creating a business case for Open Government: Is #OpenGov worthwhile? What is the actual value? And what will we lose if Open Government dies?
5. Efficiency/effectiveness of tools, interoperability,
6. What does the ecosystem of Open Government looks like? How can government collaborate across all sectors?
7. How do we build the Open Government tool kit?
8. How can we make Open Government sustainable?
9. How can we create valuable and high quality data that citizens want to see and (re)use?

I brought up that we have very little understanding of how the ecosystem of Open Government functions, who the main players are and how government can interact with them in meaningful ways.

I also believe that Government is not the sole provider/user/standard of citizen-relevant information. I observe many more data providers and sources of data creation that need to be taken into account in an OG research agenda to understand how the overall ecosystem of Open Government works.

Take for example SeeClickFix: Citizens are creating data on a daily basis that is highly relevant for their local context, but has very low relevance for the federal Open Government Initiative. Ben Berkowitz – founder of SCF – has framed the term distributed democracy for this form of data creation. I believe it is a form of distributing indirect responsibility for local issues and problems to citizens. In this process government takes on a responder role instead of proactively sending a city manager out to observe the problems as a government task. Data is created in a decentralized manner and pushed toward government.

My group had the task to think about necessary, current and future government capabilities and in our brainstorming session I suggested to include the SCF example as a way to think about bidirectional and decentralized data/information/knowledge creation that is not necessarily always initiated by government. Our research statement was therefore:

How can the Open Government Initiative drive innovation and improvements in government capabilities to collect, manage, use, integrate (combine), and share information?

We suggest to study this question
– internal to government,
– across all levels of government,
– and in collaboration with the private sector and civil society

Many of these question don’t sound particularly new or innovative – or as Alex Howard from O’Reilly Radar pointed out are not even unique to Open Government, instead are a general theme in Government 2.0. I agree wholeheartedly, but just because the questions are not new, does not mean that they were answered. I believe that research – especially in public administration and public management, as well as at the intersection of public administration and the use of (new) technologies in the public sector has to catch up with the reality of government. We need more research on the social processes both inside government, but also in government’s interactions with all their stakeholders. We even need to go beyond the pure government focus and need to understand how citizens are creating data (see for example CrisisCommons or GovLoop as knowledge incubation location outside the governmental boundaries and context) and are “socializing” the data without government intervention.

Here is the workshop summary from the event listing on the CTG website:

With the one-year anniversary of the Open Government Directive behind us, the field of Open Government is at an important crossroads. While much work has been done by government agencies in trying to make their data, operations, and services more open to the public, the actual impact of these efforts and their value to the public and government alike is mostly unknown.

The Open Government Research and Development Workshop will focus on strategies for and the impact of opening up, federating, and creating value from government data. This workshop, organized by the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, the Tetherless World Constellation at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Democracy Design Workshop/Do Tank at New York Law School, and Civic Commons will define a research roadmap that looks at the legal, policy, and technical questions that must be addressed in using government data to improve the lives of everyday citizens.

The workshop will build on the work started at the Open Government R&D Summit convened by the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on March 21st- 22nd in Washington, DC (

The workshop will take an interactive and interdisciplinary approach to creating an actionable and relevant multi-year open government research and development program focused on identifying critical needs, mapping needs to potential solutions, identifying legal and policy barriers, exploring critical evaluative approaches, and laying out strategies for attaining future research funding.