A Twitterfall in Congress?

I’m reading an advance copy of a great new book called “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon” by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary. The release date is set for November 19. Based on the first 100 pages, I’d compare it to the classic business books “Good to Great” or “Built to Last” – it’s like “Good to Great” for government.

The main premise behind the book is found in this paragraph:

“There is indeed ample historical evidence that democratic governments can achieve great things. There is also ample evidence that democratic governments can fail in their attempts. The requirements for achieving great things are two simple but far from easy steps – wisely choosing which policies to pursue and then executing those policies. The difference between success and failure is execution.”

The authors reveal several potential road blocks that prevent successful execution, including The Tolstoy Trap, The Stargate Trap, The Sisyphus Trap and the Silo Trap. They also outline the “journey to success” for most projects, which moves from idea to design through a “stargate” to implementation, results and reevaluation.

One of their most striking observations is that it is in the design phase where most policy takes its most unfortunate – and deadly – wrong turns. The book sparked me to ask Alan Silberberg of You2Gov if his platform, which was created to enable citizen engagement with their elected officials, could facilitate greater communication between legislators on the Hill who essentially design policy and the public servants employed by government who ultimately implement their legislation.

As we tweeted back and forth on the idea, I made the following remark:

Twitterfall in Congress
Here’s where the conversation went from there:

@You2Gov: That would be awesome!

@krazykriz: Imagine the State of the Union w/a Twitterfall as backdrop (instead of VP & Speaker)! 😉 #gov20

@You2Gov: Actually with them!

@krazykriz: The more I’m thinking about it, the more it would be HUGE. Imagine REAL-TIME constituent feedback. Watch C-SPAN & tweet!!

@You2Gov: @cspan @housefloor – imagine live Twitterfall screen next to American Flag in full view, with simultaneous online feed.

@krazykriz: Hashtags could be the bill numbers to encourage direct comment and sorting.

@You2Gov: actually there needs to be systematized hashtags for bill numbers, also need to be mobile tags.

@You2Gov: Usual headline: Congress Fails – Now it would be “CongressFall” + the would also get “CongressSpam” and “CongressBot”

The key is enabling both citizens AND government employees to have a voice on the floor as policies are being prepared. According to Eggers and O’Leary, it’s not about designing a bill so that it passes; it’s about designing a bill so that it can be executed successfully.

As Alan points out, there would be some issues to overcome with the live Twitterfall idea, but that’s part of the message of “If We Can Put A Man on the Moon” – how do we explore and test ideas using a “ready, fast aim, fire, repeat” approach? The authors recommend that all ideas experience a review process that includes asking the question “How could this fail?” and engage in “pre-engineering” activities so that it can “fail fast and fail small.”

I would highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book when it’s released in November. In the meantime, would you tweet your members of Congress and ask them to set up a Twitterfall so we can communicate with them as they’re designing our common destiny?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks, Roberta!

And thank you, Michael – let me know if there’s someone from CongressCamp to whom I could pitch this idea…or if there are follow-up events planned where I could contribute to the conversation.

Michael J. Russell

I certainly wasn’t surprised but was still amazed to see a (basically real-time) Twitterfall behind the presenters at the recent Government 2.0 Summit. For better or worse, if you tagged your tweet with #g2s during the event, the best and brightest (and best funded) in the government 2.0 community got to see it.

The idea Andrew/@KrazyKriz is proposing here is really quite extraordinary. Imagine constituents providing direct input, not just to individual representatives but to assembled caucuses, committees and subcommittees (again, in near real-time.) Of course there are the *trivial* matters of disclosure, astroturfing, authentication, location, security, and a host of others, but the idea itself is nothing short of irresistible.

Ari Herzog

Interesting idea but I can see this falling victim to abuse very quickly. It would have to be moderated to remove vulgarity, anti-American tweets, etc…which effectively would make such a “fall” moot.

Emma Antunes

It’s great in concept, but it requires people who actually want to participate in the conversation and were willing to participate in civil discord. Think about it – behind @POTUS would be “You Lie!” and other similar remarks. How do you resolve one person’s derogatory comment from another person’s disagreement and/or different perspective? Have you read the unmoderated comments on newspapers and other sites lately? They very quickly degenerate into crap.

I do like the idea of opening up the discussion. One interesting thing about the Gov 2.0 conference was the meta-conversation taking place. (diversity, opionions about microsoft, etc). I know one person made some harsh comments which she didn’t realize were displaying right behind the speaker, and others pointed this out.

Amanda Blount

I am like Jean…there was no C-span back in the beginning of our country, and from the historical accounts of congress, there was outright arguing, and hoots and hollers from everyone. I would love to see some of this coming back. What is the difference of a Congress person yelling ‘You lie” and The President calling Kayne a JA. I am going to tell you, I loved the freedom of both. The fact that we live in a country where both people felt they could say these things and not worry about death or death of their families, I think it was GREAT! I am all for a twitterfall. The one thing I am worried about is what has been said, racism, or just ugly comments that serve no purpose. But, I think going back in time and watching Jefferson, and Ole’ Ben going at it, then drinking together later would be so worth it! The courage of the Men and Women of that time was just so impressive!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Jean-Paul – I engage in some advocacy work with the ONE Campaign. In between our scheduled, in-person visits with our members, we use email and phone to share our position on various pieces of legislation. I see Twitter as one more communication mechanism…with the possibility of being even speedier than email in conveying our stance.

Emma and Ari – Your concerns are valid…and they are the most frequently cited (as you know) by people who are fearful of adopting social media. Since you are both innovators in your own right with Emma being someone who has spurred social media adoption within an agency, I’d like to know your thoughts about overcoming the “fear of the nefarious guest” (my phrase). My hunch is that we can use current social media policies in place across government to guide those “meta-conversations.” Set out rules of engagement and acceptable behaviors…with the people following the same standards as members of Congress. If they are outside of these bounds, a bi-partisan team will sift out the chaff.

@PlanetRussell – Keep the ideas flowing…you’re absolutely right – when you start thinking of various applications (beyond the Twitterfall behind POTUS), the idea’s not too crazy. It mitigates time and distance for members, constituents and government employees to participate in the legislative design.

Amanda – Always appreciate your positive vibes!