Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers

The Social Science Computer Review has just released (in online first format) a Special Issue on Open Government edited by Mila Gasco. I contributed a paper titled “Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers.”

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Open government initiatives in the U.S. government focus on three main aspects: transparency, participation, and collaboration. Especially the collaboration mandate is relatively unexplored in the literature. In practice, government organizations recognize the need to include external problem solvers into their internal innovation creation processes. This is partly derived from a sense of urgency to improve the efficiency and quality of government service delivery. Another formal driver is the America Competes Act that instructs agencies to search for opportunities to meaningfully promote excellence in technology, education, and science. Government agencies are responding to these requirements by using open innovation (OI) approaches to invite citizens to crowdsource and peer produce solutions to public management problems. These distributed innovation processes occur at all levels of the U.S. government and it is important to understand what design elements are used to create innovative public management ideas. This article systematically reviews existing government crowdsourcing and peer production initiatives and shows that after agencies have defined their public management problem, they go through four different phases of the OI process: (1) idea generation through crowdsourcing, (2) incubation of submitted ideas with peer voting and collaborative improvements of favorite solutions, (3) validation with a proof of concept of implementation possibilities, and (4) reveal of the selected solution and the (internal) implementation of the winning idea. Participation and engagement are incentivized both with monetary and non-monetary rewards, which lead to tangible solutions as well as intangible innovation outcomes, such as increased public awareness.


Mergel, I. (2014): Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers, in: Social Science Computer Review, Special Issue: Open Government, doi: 10.1177/0894439314560851.

Social Technologies in Local Government Emergency Management #SMEM

Over Social Technologies in Emergency Managementthe summer we discovered and analyzed over 400 social media accounts of local government emergency managers in the five counties around Syracuse, NY. We included fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical care providers, public health organizations, and executive emergency management departments. The goal is to understand how (social media tactics) and what (social media content) emergency managers communicate online before, during and after an incident.

Social Technologies in Emergency ManagementThis week we presented our initial findings to the counties and had a very interesting conversation about local government needs and concerns when it comes to social media use.

We put together a draft report for practitioners highlighting their own good practices and practices we observed in other local governments following FEMA’s and DHS’ guidelines on how to use social media. The report and website will be continuously updated to reflect our newest findings.

Github for Government paper

I just returned from Germany where I presented a paper at the European Group of Public Administration Annual Conference (EGPA) at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer.

I participated in a track on innovation in public administration and shared my paper titled “Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github“. The paper is based on a series of interviews I conducted over the summer with Github users in the U.S. federal government and quantitative data downloaded from Github’s API.

Here is the abstract:

Open collaboration has evolved as a new venue for innovation creation in the public sector. Government organizations are using online platforms to crowdsource and co-produce public sector innovations with the help of external and internal problem solvers. Most recently the U.S. federal government has allowed agencies to collaboratively create and share open source code on the social coding platform Github. A community of government employees is sharing open source code for website development, data sources, but also draft policy documents on Github. Quantitative data extracted from Github’s application programming interface is used to analyze the social network relationships between contributors to government code and the reuse of open government tools developed on Github. In addition, qualitative interviews with government contributors in this social coding environment provide practical insights into new forms of co-development of open source code and policy drafting in the public sector.

I also posted the full paper to SSRN. I’m still adding more interview data and need to do a more sophisticated network analysis before I can send this paper out for review. I would appreciate any feedback people might have to improve the paper.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, Ines A., Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github (September 16, 2014). Available at SSRN:

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APSA conference paper: Twitter use in state emergency management #SMEM

Clayton Wukich and I presented a paper at the annual American Political Science Conference (APSA) in DC last week. We analyzed three communication modes state emergency managers use in all phases of emergency management. The working paper is available on SSRN:

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Wukich, Clayton and Mergel, Ines A., Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets (August 28, 2014). Available at SSRN:

New article: Social media adoption: Toward a representative, responsive, or interactive government?

I wrote a paper providing empirical evidence for a phased adoption framework of social media adoption in government that we published in 2013 in PAR. This new paper shows how government agencies move through stages of institutionalizing new technologies and how they adapt their internal standard operating procedures to reflect the changes in the way citizens interact with government.

The paper is available through the ACM Digital Library.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, I. (2014): Social media adoption: toward a representative, responsive or interactive government?, in: dg.o ’14 Proceedings of the 15th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, pp. 163-170, doi>10.1145/2612733.2612740.


Social media adoption is oftentimes seen as technologically determined by third parties outside of government, with government’s role limited to reactively jump on the bandwagon and respond to citizen preferences. However, social media interactions are emergent and challenging existing bureaucratic norms and regulations. This paper provides empirical evidence for the institutionalization stages government agencies’ move through when they are adopting new technologies. Adoption occurs at varying degrees of formalization and not all departments in the U.S. executive branch regulate and restrict the use of new technologies in the same way. The internal procedural and organizational changes that occur during the adoption process are extracted using qualitative interviews with social media directors in the 15 departments which received the executive order to “harness new technologies” in order to make the U.S. government more transparent, participatory and collaborative. In addition to the perceptions of federal social media directors, a process tracing approach was used to map the accompanying governance and institutional changes and follow-up orders to direct the adoption of social media. Tracing both the behavior of individual organizations as well as the institutional top-down responses, this paper is both relevant for academics as well as practitioners. It provides the basis for future large-scale research studies across all levels of government, as well as insights into the black box of organizational responses to a top-down political mandate.

New IBM Report: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

IBM’s Center for the Business of Government has published a new report: “A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions“.IBM Center for the Business of Government: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

This new report addresses the key question of how government should measure the impact of its social media use.

Social media data – as part of the big data landscape – has important signaling function for government organizations. Public managers can quickly assess what citizens think about draft policies, understand the impact they will have on citizens or actively pull citizens ideas into the government innovation process. However, big data collection and analysis are for many government organizations still a barrier and it is important to understand how to make sense of the massive amount of data that is produced on social media every day.

This report guides public managers step-by-step through the process of slicing and dicing big data into small data sets that provide important mission-relevant insights to public managers.

First, I offer a survey of the social media measurement landscape showing what free tools are used and the type of insights they can quickly provide through constant monitoring and for reporting purposes. Then I review the White House’s digital services measurement framework which is part of the overall Digital Government Strategy. Next, I discuss the design steps for a social media strategy which will be basis for all social media efforts and should include the mission and goals which can then be operationalized and measured. Finally, I provide insights how the social media metrics can be aligned with the social media strategic goals and how these numbers and other qualitative insights can be reported to make a business case for the impact of social media interactions in government.

I interviewed social media managers in the federal government, observed their online discussions about social media metrics, and reviewed GSA’s best practices recommendations and practitioner videos to understand what the current measurement practices are. Based on these insights, I put together a comprehensive report that guides managers through the process of setting up a mission-driven social media strategy and policy as the basis for all future measurement activities, and provided insights on how they can build a business with insights derived from both quantitative and qualitative social media data.


Media coverage:


#MyNYPD hastag failure: A sign that without trust Twitter does not serve as a resilient infrastructure during emergency reporting

By now the major social media failure of New York Police’s social media department has made it around the world. The well-intended pull tactic to ask citizens to tweet their best memories and share pictures with NYPD using the hashtag #MyNYPD was by an overwhelming majority of Twitter users used to send in pictures of their worst memories:

The hashtag was trending for two days in the US and created spin-off initiatives around the country and around the world:

I believe it was an honest attempt to use a tactic to actively engage citizens. Other government departments are extremely successful in asking citizens for their input or for sending in pictures, like the Department of Interior for example. There is research out there that shows that citizens feel more engaged and ‘heard’ when have options to directly get in touch with government officials through unofficial channels, such as social media.

However, what is interesting about this story is not so much that NYPD was surprised by the flood of negative images or might have misjudged the open culture of the Web. Instead, I find it much more interesting that NYPD won’t be able to rely on Twitter as a resilient infrastructure during emergency situations. Clearly, thousands of people in NY don’t trust the police in the first place and that has significant implications for outreach and preparedness messaging. If no one listens to you or even makes fun of you, how will you be able to create a trusted voice online? Who will listen in case of another hurricane that shuts down power lines? A recent Congressional hearing has shown that citizens’s cellphones were still connected to the Web and served as a lifeline during the power outage.

I believe this is an important lesson for NYPD to build a trustworthy online presence – in combination with the same offline trust of course – so that they can rely on social media during emergency situations. This has to be done between major events and not at times when citizens actually have be reached in an emergency. A tough road ahead for NYPD.