Category Archives: Transparency

Twitter transparency report released

Twitter released its first Transparency Report highlighting the number of times they received:

The report shows that the U.S. government has asked Twitter 679 times to reveal user information since January 2012, followed by Japan with 98 and Canada and the United Kingdom with 11 requests each. All other countries listed in the report asked <10 times to reveal user information. In response to government requests to remove tweeted content, Twitter removed content 0% of the time.

Following Google’s transparency report, Twitter submits all requests to @ChillingEffects in order to keep the tweets flowing and ultimately protect freedom of expression online:

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New IBM report: Working the Network – A Manager’s Guide for Using #Twitter in Government

Here is the executive summary of the report:

Twitter—a microblogging service that allows for short updates of 140 characters—has grown to over 540 million registered accounts as of early 2012.News organizations, corporations, and the U.S. government have adopted this new practice as an innovative form of interaction with their stakeholders. Many government agencies maintain at least one Twitter account, and even multiple accounts, based on their operational needs and their diverse audiences .It can be unclear to government Twitter users what the best strategies are for interacting with the public on Twitter, and how an agency can use Twitter in a meaningful way to support its organizational mission.

Twitter updates are seen as public conversations and are increasing not only transparency and potentially accountability, but can also—when used appropriately—lead to increased inclu­sion of public opinion in policy formulation through information aggregation processes. Twitter can be used effectively to involve a large number of citizens and create conversations with an engaged, networked public. The outcome of these conversations can be new insights and even innovations in the public sector including suggestions on how to make government more effec­tive, or rapidly accelerating emergency responses that help to improve public safety.

This report is based on insights gained from discussions with social media directors in U.S. federal government agencies and observations of their daily Twitter tactics. Part I provides an overview of current strategies for using Twitter to interact with citizens. Four main strategies are identified:

• Push

• Pull

• Networking

• Customer service

In addition, hands-on best practices are presented for both public managers and social media administrators.

Twitter is still a relatively new tool. The platform frequently changes and features are added or moved, so government organizations need to be flexible and react to the changes. Suggestions on how to overcome both the technological and behavioral challenges are provided, and examples of best practices show how agencies have overcome these hurdles.

It will be important for the future use of social media in the public sector to show how invest­ments in content curating and online interactions affect a government organization. Current measurement techniques are provided to help social media managers create a business case for the effective use of social media.

Presidential Memo: Managing online records beyond paper and filing cabinets

Today, President Obama published a new presidential memo building on the efforts of the Open Government Directive he encourages departments and agencies to save money by providing government records in digital format – instead of “paper and filing cabinets”.

From the White House blog:

The new effort calls for reports, by each agency head, describing their current plans for improving records management programs; outlining current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies;and cataloging potential reforms and improvements. The agency reports will inform, and be followed, by a Records Management Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB and the National Archivist. The Directive will focus on maintaining accountability to the American public through documenting agency actions; increasing efficiency (and thus reducing costs); and switching, where feasible, from paper-based records to electronic records. In addition, all statutes, regulations, and policies must be reviewed to improve government-wide practices in records management.

Full memorandum is available here and on Scribd via Fedscoop:

National Archives & FourSquare use: Walk in the Footsteps of the Presidents

I recently attended a webinar hosted by GSA’s Web Manager University who is hosting a series of New Media Talks. I attended a talk by Charles Birnbaum, who is responsible for Business Development and Partnerships at FourSquare.com. on the use of FourSquare in government. He was accompanied by Jill James, social media lead at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Here some of the take aways from the FourSquare webinar:

FourSquare is a location-based service that provides a smartphone application that helps people check-in at a specific geographic location with the goal to bridge online and offline activities. With every check-in users earn points – more points when they check in at many different locations, less points when they check in repeatedly at the same location. The points accumulate and incentives in forms of badges and mayorships are given for accomplishments, such as a fitness badge when a user checks in 10 times in a row at his local gym:

For businesses, or all types of other organizations, that want to stay in touch with their customers or citizens Foursquare provides a way to brand a specific product or location. To create a brand page or a page for a physical location of an agency where citizens have frequent physical interactions with or can physically walk in, a web destination can be created and the administrators of the page can start to design contests and incentives for their users’ check-ins:

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was one of the first government agencies in the U.S. that started to use FourSquare to attract and engage visitors to their physical, but also online locations (for more information see a recent press release: The National Archives Plays Foursquare!).

NARA uses the FourSquare web landing page as well as Foursquare’s smartphone applications to share tips by knowledge matter experts and citizens about documents and their physical locations around the country. Experts create tips and educational material for specific physical locations, such as historical sites in Boston, NYC, Philadelphia or Washington, DC, and citizens can learn and engage with those records with every FourSquare check-in:

As an example, a recent initiative called “Walk in the footsteps of the Presidents” guided FourSquare users in collaboration with the Presidential Libraries through the historic events and documents of past U.S. Presidents. Users learn about historical sites, major speeches, dedications, events, but also fun facts, such as code names or favorite restaurants:

The use of FourSquare fits into NARA’s overall Social Media Strategy to engage, collaborate and build communities around records and documents:

Our Core Values for Social Media

Collaboration: Together as one NARA and as partners with the public to accomplish our mission
Leadership: Out in front among government agencies and cultural institutions
Initiative: An agency of leaders who are passionate, innovative, and responsible
Diversity: Making NARA a great place to work by respecting diversity and all voices
Community: Caring about and focusing on the government community, citizen archivists, and each other
Openness: Creating an open NARA with an authentic voice

Many questions of the webinar participants were focused on the “How To” of FourSquare, individual branding, or claiming of landing pages and physical locations.

Two other important issues came up:

1) FourSquare records are not necessarily considered social media records and agencies who want to use FourSquare to engage with their audience need to think about records management. NARA uses FourSquare tips to link to other existing records, that are already scheduled for archiving – so that they consider FS updates as temporary records that are not archived.

2) FourSquare is a great example of a social media tool that can’t only be administered by the IT or Public Affairs team. Instead, NARA suggests to get subject matter experts of a government agency involved in creating tips for FourSquare users. They make it easy for content experts to create tips in an Excel spreadsheet that serves at the same time as a central database.

Read more about social media records management on the following NARA blog conversation: Records Express and the NARA bulletin 2011-02: Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms.

Among many different topics on citizen engagement, GSA’s How To page offers guidance for agencies on how to use social media in government.

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

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.

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.

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

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 data.gov. 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 cdc.gov/socialmedia). 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 GovLoop.com 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 betterbuy.fas.gsa.gov) 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: iamergel@maxwell.syr.edu

Open Government Plans on Transparency, Participation and Collaboration

Federal agencies and departments had to publish their (draft) plans of their proposed changes to increase transparency, participation and collaboration as part of the Whitehouse’s Open Government Initiative last week. As Beth Noveck, United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative (OSTP) writes on the Whitehouse blog:

The plans are chock full of examples of concrete efforts — not lip service — to making open government happen in practice and creating genuine opportunity for meaningful and practical civic engagement.

Except for two agencies, all plans seem to meet the expectations in this early stage. I am currently in the process of evaluating the collaborations parts of all 29 plans and will post my results soon.

Transparency: WaPo launches POTUS tracker

The Washington Post has just launched the “POTUS tracker” to follow President Obama’s meeting schedule:

Every day President Obama meets with key members of his administration, Congress, foreign dignitaries, interest groups and regular citizens. Use our interactive database to track how Obama is spending his time, what issues are getting the most attention and who is influencing the debate.

Washington Post: POTUS tracker
Washington Post: POTUS tracker