Are Civil Servants Too Old and Selfish for Government 2.0?

Maybe we should give up on this quest for a “government 2.0” or “open government.” Maybe the people in senior positions are, well, just that – too “senior.” Or maybe it’s that most public servants just aren’t that interested in being collaborative, transparent or participatory.

Of course, you know me well enough to understand that I don’t espouse that view at all. But the title of this post is a paraphrase – possible an even more accurate labeling – of a blog post by Stephen Dale in which he asks “Are Civil Servants Made for Social Media?” Here are some excerpts from his thoughts:

“…thinking of the UK demographic of public sector employees, I think that majority of the decision makers fall into the Baby Boomer category (born 1940’s to early ’60’s) than Generation X (born 1960s- 1970’s), and it’s these decision makers that are primarily responsible for blocking access to social media in their departments. They see no impact or consequence of blocking social media because they don’t use it, either for work or personal use. Regrettably, they are limiting the opportunities for their departments to engage with the increasing number of citizens of all ages who are using social media, and risk creating departmental ‘ghetos’, isolated from the conversations that may have some direct relevance to them.

In addition to this generational issue, I also had an exchange with someone yesterday in which they said, “it is ungodly hard to move a collaborative project forward in gov – as Nick Charney has said, some people are wired to share. Most, I’m beginning to think, are not 🙁 “

So between these two proposed issues – government employees nearing retirement who don’t get (and don’t want to get!) social media and an entrenched bureaucratic culture that’s wired to hoard vs. wired to share information – are we fighting an uphill battle? Are the forces of inertia and stagnancy stronger than the momentum and velocity of the Gov 2.0/OpenGov movement such that people will grow tired and give up the fight?

I hope not…but I am seeing signs that some are growing weary.

What do you think? Where are you?

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Alex Steed

I am 26 years old, running for the Maine House of Representatives (my campaign FB page and Twitter profile – I am launching my campaign website this week) and one of the major pieces of my platform is open government / government 2.0.

I think that it is possible that many of the candidates who are in office now are unable to get the open government movement right now. My acknowledgment of that fact is, in part, why I am running for this seat. Because Open Government is still – for many constituents, at least – a relatively abstract idea, it is important for supporters of Gov2.0 to support candidates who are running on this issue in any way possible.

This isn’t simply a ploy for me to put myself out there and say “Support me! Support me!” It is, though, to say that there are so many forces out there – represented by thousands of lobbyists and millions of dollars – fighting to keep government closed. Thus it is imperative to put money, resources, and word-of-mouth support behind those candidates who are doing the right thing, both inside your own districts and outside of them as well.

Peter Modigliani

Andy – Great question. As with most new technologies, the older generations are often the slowest or least likely to adopt. The more we can educate government employees that social media isn’t just social, the better.

One promising statistic is the Facebook data, where over 35% of US Facebook users are over 35, and almost 20% are over 45 – roughly half the over-45 US population. 20% of 116 million users is around 23 million US users over 45. While Facebook is often used for the social aspects of social media, the more they are familiar with the tools, concepts, and potential, the more they may be able to apply Web 2.0 to their government day jobs.

As younger generations enter the civil servant workforce, the demand for web 2.0 tools will increase and they will generate the bottom-up groundswell to implement it. Government leaders have begun to embrace social media for external communication, mostly from a public affairs perspective, but we need to move more for Enterprise 2.0 collaboration.

Defense Acquisition University President Frank Anderson tells a great story how he turned over the keys to his website http://www.dau.mil to interns and empowered them to redesign the site and it resulted in a huge success.

So no, it’s not worth giving up the fight. Sites like GovLoop help Web 2.0 evangelists collaborate and get their message out. In time, we will get there.

Amanda Blount

I think it all boils down to the type of person you are dealing with. There are many reasons people don’t want to change. For instance; the top dogs may be scared because they feel they will look stupid in front of younger people, and some, who have been hiding behind outdated paper systems, now have to learn a new skill, and may feel they will no longer be needed. These two are easy to fix. Make sure their experience and knowledge is still incredibly useful, and they will be more useful once they merge the old skills with new ones. But, then you have the hardest to deal with; the power hungry people. They must control everything and everyone around them. Yep, these will be the hardest to change. These are the ones that believe knowledge is power, so if you share your knowledge you lose the power. I see these as the ones who will hold up progress by stating in meetings, Open Government will hurt the agencies, blah, blah, blah, when in reality they are scared they are losing power. Yes, there are many things which have to be put in place at all times to protect secrets, but when certain people are constantly against a new idea, and they put forth no solutions, you must really look at their personal agendas. Why are they so against it? What has made them scared? Why is it they just looked like they saw the future without them? Once you can answer those questions about each person who is against Gov 2.0, then you can come up with solutions to combat their fears. Then maybe we can get somewhere.

BTW – I am 42 and I have always been a rebel with tech tools. So again, maybe it is just certain personalities, not age groups.

Alex Steed

Amanda – re: Age:

In my experience – particularly in State politics – a 42-year-old would easily qualify as a “spring chicken.”

I was remarking to some folks recently that I think this time in particular will be a very interesting one in representative politics, largely because there are now so many [relatively] young people who are very educated, engaged in the civic sphere, and dramatically under-employed. Let’s get these folks into the campaign-sphere so that we can have issues like openness more-rigorously inserted into the dialog, and so we can have some representation serving at local, state and federal levels.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Alex – I am actually speaking at the Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures on Friday…and plan to bring up a concern of mine…that social media is seen as a massive blast tool by seasoned politicians who have used traditional forms of advertising and marketing to get their message out to the masses..rather than it being a tool for the office (not the officeholder) to engage with citizens. So my hope is that you and other new candidates will use it not only to get elected, but to set up tools and infrastructure for your district that will live beyond your time in office.

@Pete – Completely agree that it’s not just about Public Affairs, but about changing the way (and the “where”) we work! Do you happen to have a link to that Frank Anderson story?

@Amanda – People seeking power is present in every generation. But my sense is that Boomers nearing retirement (not the ones who are still in their 40s and have a lot of career left in front of them) will have a hard time letting go. Generational studies reveal that Boomers have their identity tied up in work and have spent a lot of time there over the years. To suddenly let go of work is to let go a sense of themselves. And letting go of work-related information and knowledge is really what’s required in succession planning…such as sharing on social networks, mentoring (and being mentored on how to use technology), engaging in knowledge capture activities like podcast or video interviews, etc. We can’t paint all Boomers with this broad brush as there is definitely a split in that cohort…and people defy categories in many ways. BTW – I’d say you’re on the cusp of Gen X and Boomers 😉

Alex Steed

Andrew – Fabulous, fabulous point. I was just on a youth radio show last night talking about this issue, and I was talking about it in a similar fashion with a friend just now. I see all of these technologies – on both the campaign and in-office front – as a way to maintain contact with constituencies, comrades, adversaries, etc. In order to get something done tomorrow, it is important to be gaining an ever-growing base of insight, ideas, support, etc. today, and this can’t be done by ditching these technologies upon getting into office. In fact, getting into office should be seen as “just the beginning,” and proper employment of setting up open mechanisms and infrastructure accordingly should be the on-going next step.

Mary Groebner

Yes, some of them are. They’ve spent their careers climbing the ladder of risk aversion, not posing threats to their own superiors so they can be promoted, etc. etc. etc. Now they’ll spend the rest of their careers trying to hang onto their spots, not being controversial. That’s an over-generalization but also reflective of a governmental culture that doesn’t reward innovation, but rather rewards safety. The trick is, we have to figure out how to put measurements and reward systems in place that change the paradigm and make the status quo the ‘risky’ place to be….

Oh, and speaking as a 46 year old who eschewed management for her entire career and now has finally figured out I have to go there if I really want to make a major difference – well – it’s not about age; it’s about more subtle things – like how hard your own inner taxpayer screams for openness/transparency/accountability and whether that (a sharing mentality) feels like a threat or feels like something you have to do because it’s who you are.

Kevin Carter

Alex, I’m 22, but I’m not going to say that the older generations are completely lost.

For the past year, I’ve been colaborating with City and County Managers (most of the older generations) to write a handbook on how to serve as First Time Administrator. This document is going to be over 50 pages long and the absolutely amazing this is that we’ve never met in person.

Instead, we’ve relied on GoToMeeting technology, our new (yet to be unvield Knowledge Network), and myriad social media outlets to meet, talk, share ideas, or solicit advice.

Web2.0 is a great way for us to collaborate and some of the older members, I think, have really enjoyed being able to move this project foward through social media.

Ed Albetski

Being 56 and heavily involved in the cyber world, I agree with Amanda in that age is not a good criteria to divide the IT geeks from the technophobes. I think it is more a function of fear of what people don’t understand. I’ve worked for folks who are so leery of, I don’t even know what; hackers, terrorists, boogeymen?, that getting them to install FAX machines was a coup.

Fear of classified or confidential data being revealed has been the bugaboo in most agencies where I’ve worked and it is an understandable concern. Most managers will prefer to err on the side of safety rather than open their areas up to threats they really don’t understand. As with most educational issues, it will change overtime as more “Generation Facebooks” infiltrate management. However given that the level of sophistication in cyber attacks has recently outstripped the cyber defense technologies, this may not be as soon as some would like.

Alex Steed

Kevin – Extremely helpful feedback, thanks. I look forward to following these projects a bit closer.

I just want to be clear, though, that I have not by any means given up wholesale on any generation. I do, though, think that there are people who are very largely set in their ways, and who are not exposed to these particular movements. I think this is the point I am ultimately trying to make is this: We need to throw support behind folks who do in fact “get it” in order to see a quicker, more-enthusiastic shift towards openness in government culture.

Amanda Blount

@ALEX – you are my new best friend (haven’t been called a spring chicken in a long time)

@Andy – Totally agree. No big brush here. But, unfortunatly, when trying to introduce new things, there will always be one in the meeting who will be the hard one to convince. We just need to come up with a plan to make that person feel safe in a world of coming change. People do not need to be afraid to lose power or their jobs. The new 2.0 information may actually help give people more power. And if the people who need their positions and their jobs for the power, I say go for it. The quicker they learn the new stuff… the more power they will have when the new stuff gets here! That is how I sell it. 🙂

@Andy – Yep! I am a Gen Xer who was raised in the Baby Boomer lifestyle! What a crazy world I am from.

@Mary – I am in your position now. I have always kind of been the rebel. The one pushing for change, but never wanting to wear the suit. Well, I figure in the next 4-8 years I will be not only be wearing the “suit”, but will also start to be one of the oldies we are referring to here! LOL 🙂

@Kevin – I agree with you. The baby boomers can’t all be counted out. MY 75 year old mom now has Facebook!! But, she was always a rebel too! 🙂

Come on… The baby boomers survived Woodstock, Vietnam, and the women’s revolution. I think together we can convince them Gov 2.0 tools are a good thing. 😉 (no, I am not going to start singing Kumbaya – But, maybe I should :-}

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Alex – Glad to hear you agree! I am going to cite your comments in my NCSL talk on Fri – thanks!

@Mary – Love this line: “it’s not about age; it’s about more subtle things – like how hard your own inner taxpayer screams for openness/transparency/accountability and whether that (a sharing mentality) feels like a threat or feels like something you have to do because it’s who you are.” It’s about pride in work and knowing that people are counting on us to maximize a dollar – not “theirs”, but “ours.” We’re all taxpayers. Like that point.

@Kevin – Great stuff coming out of ICMA. Can’t wait to see the handbook…and I got a sneak peek at your Knowledge Network…very nice.

@Ed – Fear is a formidable foe. And we each fight the internal battle. I used to have a quote on my monitor: “Courage is behaving in a way that conjures up fear (don’t remember who said it).” Sometimes we just have to do what we fear and watch it disappear (that’s not original to me either). But security is a legitimate concern and we need fresh faces who are willing to be cyber-warriors…and when I say fresh, I’m not focusing on age. Senior folks who’ve been embroiled in that battle for years need to staff those posts, too.

Mary Groebner

One other point that’s sort of nibbled around below, especially where Alex says to throw support behind those that DO get it…. please remember, though some of us may have been IN state gov a long time (like me and Amanda), we have been ‘rebels’ (informal leaders) inside. And really, that’s not an easy road to hoe. We do need to be found, and supported. Cuz some days, well, some days you just want to throw in the towel and split for the private sector.

Peter Sperry

Variant(s): also ag·ism \ˈā-(ˌ)ji-zəm\
Function: noun
Date: 1969
: prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly

No, Civil Servents are NOT too old or selfish for Government 2.0. The question is frankly insulting.

I am 53 and was an early adapter of everything from PCs to email to cell phones, to web surfing to social media. I have profiles (albeit many inactive) with MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, Govloop, Praxis etc. So do many other people my age. Baby boomers who grew up watching the Jetsens and Star Trek are hardly the generation to reject innovation (BTW, when are flying cars and transporters going to be available, we’ve been waiting entirely too long).

However, experience has taught us to give new inovations a little time to prove themselves before investing too much time, money and energy. Anyone with a collection of Commadors, Newtons, Bricks, 8 tracks etc learns that early adapters may be the cool kids on the block at first but can look pretty silly within 36 to 48 months (Is Twitter ever going to make a profit?).

Sorry, but so far the jury in my mind is still out on social media.

Will it ever advance beyond a marketing mechanism for consultants to spread spam and political activists to disseminate slander?

Will the signal to noise ratio of crowdsourcing efforts ever reach the point of providing usable feedback rather than just an opportunity for cranks (like me) to vent?

How do we measure the ROI? If we can’t quantify and measure it, is it really there?

Is social media really allowing more people to participate in the public policy process or just amplifying the voices of those who were already screaming the loudest?

I actually do beleive social media could make a valuable contribution to development and implementation of public policy; but it needs to avoid the trap of almost all previous IT innovations that have become primarily an excuse for holding meetings and a vehicle for contractors to sell consulting services that drain public resources with little real value add for the public.

Amanda Blount

@Peter – Fantastic points! I am so glad you jumped in. Star Trek and many others, were the creative thoughts of those who are now in the “older” group. (yes, I want a flying car, and I purchased my first cell phone only to be cool like Star trek). I do like Andy brought this subject up. It gets people talking. Sometimes talking about the elephant in the room (resistance against tools) gets people mad. But, once people get a little mad, they start communicating — even if it is real loud.

And here is a point; I know a few “young folk” who are against the new tools as much as their older counterparts. I still think it has less to do with age in some instances, but deals more with the personality of the people.

Again, like Andy said, “People seeking power is present in every generation” and there will always be those who fight change – even those in my generation.

Kathy Nelson

I work for Aging Services — one of the many Area Agencies on Aging throughout the US. We have looked into this question quite extensively, and the truth is–Seniors are the fastest growing demographic in Social Media. We have computer labs in our 17 County Senior Centers and our seniors are very active in this area. My many county caregivers contact me via the e-mail, facebook, and have even begged me to be available via twitter. For us, the “slowness” of jumping into social media is simply one of GRAMA and documentation issues. We are proceeding fine, simply with caution and wisdom. Caution and Wisdom–a skill seniors still have and share with us here at the office daily. What I find to be of interest on GovLoop and other network locations is that most of our discussions, those most replied to, are still around venting, gossiping and telling each other what we do when it snows. I look forward to the day when Social Networking is used with a little more maturity–the maturity I witness our seniors exercise with more effort than the rest of us.

Lisa Nelson

I agree it is the person not the age – An interesting Australian eGov report just came out supporting this. In the past, studies have shown the internet as the most frequently used channel for contacting the government by younger Australians, but it is now most frequently used by those in the 55 to 64-year-old group. The report “Interacting with Government: Australians” use and satisfaction with e government services – 2009, found more Australians used the Internet to interact with Government than any other method in 2009. The study was commissioned by the Australian Government, through the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in the Department of Finance and Deregulation. .

Amanda Blount

@kathy – thank you for your work. It was at a senior center my Mom learned how to use Facebook and she, and others like her, love it! A great way for families to stay connected as we all move farther and farther away. Not all venting, sometimes used for connection of distant families. Social network has been a huge blessing for many families who want to check in on the lives and feelings of those who do not wish to be connected to a phone all the time. Again, thank you for your work. It really is a special tool you are giving to those who need it most!


Truth is–Seniors are the fastest growing demographic in Social Media

It’s amazing how many times I have to repeat this fact for people to believe it.

Kathy Nelson

Yeah I know… it’s the paper trails, decision loops, policy writing and all the other hurdles of government life that are the hard part. Our seniors are addicted to social media–that and taking classes on the safety and mechanics of e-bay! 🙂

Amanda Blount

@Steve – Mr. Govloop – You are so right. 2.0 tools are not the only thing which will see changes based on your statement. Housing, health care, laws, etc will be changed just by the sheer numbers of people who are in a certain age group, who will vote for rights in that age group. But, (not to get off track), I see this as a good thing. If the older generation is going to change things (and they will), then they will want to know how to use 2.0 tools to get the job done. I can teach someone to sign up for ins and SSN online (so they don’t have to wait in line), and that skill can easily translate to other forms of internet based learning. My father could not read or write very well, and never finished 8th grade, but when I showed him he did not have to drive and stand in line to sign up for his SSN and his bank account, but he could do it online (yes he was worried at first) he was like a kid with a new toy! At that point, he started telling me to do everything online for him. A very telling moment for me was when I was on hold once, trying to get him a Drs appointment, he got mad and said, “Don’t they have one of those web things.” LOL Now that is progress!! 🙂


Pushed a man whose wheelchair had lost power through the dark streets of the City of San Jose to his minimal service County of Santa Clara housing last night. What are the Top 20 Problems We Can Solve Collaboratively?

Open Gov West Wiki, please add freely:


Andrew Krzmarzick

@Peter Thank you for your comments. The question is meant to be provocative, but I am actually the LAST person to believe that social media is just for young people. In fact, it was the development and delivery of generational diversity training that led me to social media….See my blog (GenShift.com) and presentations for ideas like “Generation C” where I contend that:

a. Social media is the bridge across the generations (all are adopting, regardless of age)
b. Younger Boomers (people mid-40s to early 50s) are driving the culture shift.
c. Millennials are not as much into tools beyond Facebook and mobile devices.
d. We’re seeing a huge growth right now among older users.
e. The average age of most tools is 40.

I knew the title would offend some…but I also hoped it would spark this kind of discussion. Thanks for responding and for the great thoughts and questions you raise!

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Amanda – Anecdotally, my mom (56) and I (34) actually teach one another about social media. In fact, she introduced me to Chris Brogan and we continue to talk about the best ways to leverage social media for marketing. Here’s one of her blog posts where she captures a Facebook chat we had one evening. This post shows more where I help her, but she has introduced me to many new tools and helpful sites. Pretty cool.

@Lisa – Thanks for sharing that research from Australia. The Pew Internet and American Life study is also excellent, especially the breakouts by generation.

@Kathy – Quick note on maturity and social networks…I think there’s a balance of fun and serious on GovLoop. Some of the most commented blogs and forums are subjects where it’s easy and quick to respond. That’s human nature. Overall though, the ratio of serious to fun is probably 4:1 or 3:1 when looking at the dialogue across the site. People are getting answers to questions and solutions to problems. It’s both board room and water cooler…venting and value….like any workplace environment.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I don’t think it is age so much as a healthy sense of skepticism on the part of senior management. There is always a new IT tool that is hyped to be the latest and greatest innovation that will solve all of our problems. Remember ERP, MIS, in the 80’s and 90’s? Then there was Web 1.0 in the mid-90’s. And now Web 2.0 and Social Networking. Each of these tools (did) have potential but technology only works best when the culture is designed to support the innovations.

And for people to change, you have to convince them that proposed future will be better than the current present. That requires a compelling and specific change vision that people can enroll in rather than being drafted in. There is no sense in a person adapting a tool that allows them to share if the current present still rewards hoarding information.

The best way to get people to change is to answer “what’s in it for me.” Will the new tool make me more productive, my work more effective, and get me noticed for promotions and awards? Will it remove the unnecessary barriers to my job and will it make the workplace more pleasant to work in? Will the new tool allow me to reach my potential as an employee?

So, speaking as a person who loves technology and has been working with the latest and greatest since the Commodore 64, I realize that technology has great potential to make my work better. But I have been through enough technological revolutions to realize that it isn’t technology alone that will bring about the benefits. You have to change the culture and you can only bring about cultural change when you convince people that their future will be much better than the present.

Amanda Blount

@Andy – Gosh I loved the back and forth with your Mom. I wish I had a tape recorder in the house when my dad was alive. My Dad was learning Technology, I was learning and teaching, and my Son and daughter were all doing the same. Three Generations around one computer figuering out how to do something better. And you are right, all she needs to do is write, and write, and write some more!

@Bill – Yes, you are right. It goes back to, “why should I learn this stuff?” So, like I mentioned earlier, “what makes people scared”? How can we convince them that this new stuff is a good thing? What is it they want? Once I showed my Dad he no longer had to “deal” with strangers at the SS office or the bank, he was all about using the computer for everything. We even signed him up for his new prescription insurance, and had his prescriptions delivered through the mail by using the computer. Of course, he was worried if the computer died, or the whole network failed. I explained to him, that is why he was needed. We would always need someone around who knows how to get things done the “old” way. These things happen and that knowledge will always be needed.

Monique Boivin

I work for a small federal government agency in Canada that is cost-recovery based and we have started exploring the possibilities of social media for our public consultations. We started by consulting a university professor who specializes in social media, Pierre Lévy, and from there, we built a solid internal and external communications strategy. We are just begining but I am quite hopeful that we will succeed in convincing senior management to adopt this great new tool to reach our audiences. It is really all about risk management and I don’t think age has anything to do with it. And since when have public servants ever been too old or selfish? We are dedicated human beings and we will move mountains to get things done!

Henry Brown

Would offer that MOST people in senior positions did NOT get to their positions by rocking the boat, especially in government service… Can they learn new ways? IMO yes but extra effort is almost always required.

Going to somewhat date myself, but I can remember the effort required to convince the Director of Public Works at a Navy facility in the early 80’s (that is 1980’s GRIN) that providing PC’s to all the employees would NOT cause the world to stop spinning, and that there would still be a place for the main-frame computer for the serious number crunching. And ONE of the biggest fears at that time was the distribution of POWER.

Why that clerk in accounting could develop a spread sheet that could tell the paint shop that they were going to run out of paint in 3 months in spite of the fact that the clerk was only a GS-3 and the paint shop foreman had worked in the paint shop for 20 years. and he wasn’t about to take some young kid out of high school telling him how to manage his paint supply.

The Department of Defense has agreed to open up their UNCLASSIFIED network to any and all social media tools WITH appropriate controls according to the US Navy CIO And it was less than a year ago that DOD was saying “NOT ONLY NO BUT H_ _ _ NO

And if there is more entrenched bureaucratic culture that believes knowledge is power than DOD I sure haven’t heard of it.

I am currently working for a truly enlightened leader who fiercely believes in Gov 2.0 and all that it brings to the table, and what it can do for government service, even if I am much further down the “food chain” than I have been in several decades. I will be more than willing to help my peers see the light and I believe that is the only way we can go forward….

Sheryl Grant

I’m still fresh to GovLoop and haven’t formally introduced myself, but couldn’t resist commenting. (You’re good, Alex!) So hello! And with that, I’ll just jump right in.

Not long ago, Pew put up this questionnaire: How Millenial Are You? It went viral through my social networks, and was an interesting meme for people, giving them a “score” that made external what is often hard to gauge — especially since Millenials are considered synonymous with digital know-how. The survey is mainly about lifestyle indicators (whether you have only a landline, cell and landline, or only cell), and is not about digital skill so much as generational preferences. Still, I think it addresses this idea that age determines whether a person is a social media ninja or not. Not! I’m GenX and scored a whopping 94, and many of my Boomer friends topped their Millenial kids’ scores.

It was interesting to see people in my networks respond not only to their score, but to the questions. (There was quite a bit of discussion about tattoos. Had no idea how many people out there had them, always the ones you least expect!) Age was nowhere near a predictor for “Millenialism,” and almost seemed inverse to expectations.

In my experiences working with people (of any age) who are learning new digital skills, there are all kinds of perfectly reasonable issues of comfort, risk and trust to work through before diving in, and as gung-ho as I am about social media and participatory anything, I have to admit that there are some important questions that truly flap in the breeze. And some of the skills we expect people to learn require a lot of time and input to be moderately proficient, without guarantee that the efforts will be fruitful, or needed when a new tool comes along with yet another learning curve. I’m irrepressibly enthusiastic about all the networked, social opportunities we have with new media, but I’m starting to slow down when I work with people (of all ages), who need time to find a comfort zone. Some people take to these new tools with a Hello world! while for others it is more of a Hello…world?

Can the weariness you refer to be adjusted to high-speed chase pace and slow-mo for the cautious? I don’t have answers, just wondering the same thing. I teach basic computer skills classes in the community and when we get around to social media, I slow things down and invite people to just observe if they don’t want to create a Facebook account. I think the adoption rate is actually higher, even if it takes them longer to warm up to the environment.

Kitty Wooley

Sheryl, what an emotionally intelligent response to Andy’s question. It tallies with my experience. I bet the room is full whenever you’re teaching new skills!

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Bill and @Henry – The best part of an intergenerational dialogue is the perspective of people who have been in the trenches and experienced different trends and movements. To that end, is there anything that distinguishes this period of technological change from another? Is there a more compelling reason this time around than before – something that will make people tune into WII FM? Curious to hear your observations.

Hi @Monique – sounds like a great approach, initial consultation followed by clear plans and actions moving forward. Please see my other comments, in particular, to Peter below. I posed the question in a really provocative way, but definitely>Thank You for Your Service and believe in the awesomeness of public service.

All – I am starting to fear that I have given new members a bad impression of me! I was actually looking back through some other blogs and found
Are You a Member of ‘Generation C’? in the vaults…a little more context for my thoughts on generations. 🙂

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Sheryl – Thank you for the “How Millennial Are You?” tip…definitely want to check that out! I actually start all of my “Gov 2.0/Social Media 101” workshops with my own story – that I knew nothing about this stuff two years ago, and was asked to explore it by my CEO at the time (probably a 60-something) telling me to find out what “the new learner” would want in our classrooms. So I went from a digital immigrant to digital native out of a directive by a visionary senior leader…and although I am a Gen X’er, had very little tech (read: none!) background…so definitely respect the learning curve.

In fact, I’m looking forward to doing a webinar for the Texas Muni League tomorrow to walk (not run – slow that pace!) people into the social media experience…and doing a full afternoon workshop on Thursday for a group of managers at the National Labor Relations Board…what I respect most is a willingness to learn and explore…vs. just being closed to change completely…and that curiosity and commitment to growth can be found among people of every generation!

Kristy Dalton

Wow, I just had a conversation today with someone I respect quite well (a government technology leader who is nearing retirement). I’m presenting a report to my government council next week on the performance of my website – and he advised me not to focus on the “social media stuff” because they probably won’t embrace it and they’re more interested in online services. After I picked my frown up off the floor, I decided that I’m going rogue anyway.

I figure – I don’t need to get them to embrace social media in their campaigns, or get them to chat on Facebook with their kids or tweet at Starbucks. Nope, my job is to show them the value of social media for our organization, and I will because I truly believe it’s important. If there’s apprehension on the part of older generations to embrace social media, it may not be because of a ‘fear’ of technology. They may simply not see the value in it.

I’m armed with numbers and analytics. I’m going to show them (with fancy pie graphs and charts) that we’ve had 1,445 interactions with folks on Facebook, over 30,000 video views on YouTube and an expansive reach of our news stories via re-tweets. And when I tell them that we know more information about the audiences using these tools (thanks to analytics) than we do about the people who come to our public meetings, I think I can get them on board.

If that doesn’t work….I’ll pull out my secret weapon and let them know we currently have more fans than Las Vegas. Then I’ll probably get assigned a team of social media staff members to assist in our efforts;-)

– Kristy Fifelski (Web Services Manager, City of Reno, Nevada)

p.s. Article on Futuregov talking about this exact issue: http://www.futuregov.net/articles/2010/apr/05/are-civil-servants-made-social-media/

Henry Brown

A french proverb from the 1800’s “The more things change the more they stay the same” pretty well sums up my experiences regarding adaption of technological change. or any other major changes in peoples way of doing things.

It takes 2 people/groups to pull off change 1. a Godfather who believes that the change will affect MOST positively and 2. a group who will affect the change believe in it.

In the mid 60’s I remember Grace Hopper was trying to convince the Navy that the fire control computers could be used for massive computing if the proper computer language was applied, She was already an Admiral who had significant influence with other admirals because of her outstanding track record of supporting the fleet and since she hand picked her entire staff there was NOT a doubting thomas amongst any of us….

I can think back to the early 70’s when admiral Zumwalt attempted to make dramatic changes in how the navy operated, TRUSTING the lowest rank service man to do the right thing which was a dramatic change in how the Services had operated for 200 years and although there was a lot noise the change did not stick for a couple of decades or so. I believe where the admiral failed to pull off the change is he never had the support of the majority of the senior enlisted people. who were going to be the implementers

The wide distribution of PC’s at individual level at the Navy Public Works Center the “godfather” was the commanding officer and the supporting staff was the brand new CIO and my staff who had gotten alot of their education/training using PC’s in the private sector.

getting the internet into the government work place was truly a major undertaking. Vint Cerf had laid out the vision in the late 70’s and there were a lot of false starts and failed experiments but generally speaking because of a lot preaching and showing I suspect that it might be safe to say the internet is here to stay. I know several senior people who basically lost their way because they either didn’t have their godfather or they didn’t have the staff to implement it as envisioned by Mr. Cerf.

The Government 2.0 IF it is going to succeed I believe the Godfather is Vivek Kundra, who along with other senior members of the current administration right on up to the president who believe that government 2.0, or whatever title you wish to hang on this significant change that is flowing through the government sector, right now is the right thing and we have a large cadre of godfathers: Director Berry of OPM, Robert Carey Navy CIO, FCC Chairman Genachowski and Martha N. Johnson GSA administrator to name just a few and the implementers are many (just look at the number of active users of govloop for a rather small sample). Will there be setbacks… and will some give up after butting heads with those opposed to change… but as one of my hero’s once said we shall overcome….

Mary Groebner

@Sheryl: I loved that millenial quiz on FB. I took it (at the tender age of 46) and found out I’m pretty darned millenial – probably MORE millenial than my niece who is at the tender age of 28 in fact. And I was PROUD. 🙂

Yes, it is about the business case. That’s part of what I was trying to say earlier (or, perhaps I typed and erased, which often I do, trying to decide what is/is not appropriate before I hit ‘add comment’). Thing is, for any/all of the new technologies there are folks who will stand in denial (no, it will not work), folks who will stand in support (yes, it’s awesome), and folks who line up across the middle (show me). The important thing to do, whether Web 2.0 or not, is make the business case, show the return on investment, show the risk (that’s where the lawyers come in) and show the opportunity (that’s where the IT or business comes in) and then let the sponsor make the decision from real information. Too often we (of any age) get all wrapped up in the latest buzz technology and we do not make the business case (cuz we are excited, we think it’s obvious, or maybe, we just want to pad our resumes). The business case has to be made, regardless of technology whether 2.0 or 18.0. That’s the bottom line.

Amanda Blount

@Henry, Love the memories. Even though I am 42, I have some of my own. I enlisted in the Army when only the Very high commands had computers (and no one was allowed to touch them), and now we all do. I remember when I was allowed to use my first computer in the 80’s. I had a blast learning Harvard Graphics and Lotus 123. Now, many of our systems run on the network, and are not even on our computers.

And I totally agree with the statement “The more things change the more they stay the same”. Because, yes, we have all this wonderful technology, but if we were to go back to some of my entries over the last few months, my complaint was the systems were always down, internet sites we use were down, printers were down, etc…. so yes, there are some drawbacks which have basically have traded certain problems for other problems. And yes, we are going to need a group of people who can show that these new problems are actually less of an issue then the old problems we used to have (and they really are – just don’t ask me about it when our server is down 🙂

Amanda Blount

After a few days off of work, my co-worker and I were catching up on some things this morning. He said something that I have heard before, but is very relevant to this subject.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

I think for a few days this will be in my signature block.

Bowen Moran

I think it’s dangerous to tie the use of social media to a particular generation, as it creates an ironically generational “us vs them” standpoint, which is both artificial, rather gov1.0, and antagonistic to the principles of sharing that Gov 2.0 holds.

People are going to grow weary in this fight. It’s frustrating, and crazy making, and as Nick Charney points out – Expect Casualties. I myself have been accused of mind control, grow tired of explaining that an environment in which all posts require moderation before they are displayed isn’t collaborative and a wiki without wiki links is just a series of poorly organized webpages. I’ve seen risk aversion trump common sense more times that I’ve had hot dinners.

But I’ve also seen people on the verge of retirement embrace and then energize a great leap forward in new technologies, new tools, and new management structures. The most prolific poster on Intellipedia, rumour contends, is 66. The most innovative guy I know in the BC Public Service has had grey hair longer than I’ve been in the workforce – and I’m no spring chicken. It’s not about age, and it may not be about generation, it may be about attitude.

Members of the “Me Generation” who took that message to heart and who see themselves first aren’t obsessed with not sharing, they’re obsessed with power. That’s what I see in the notion that “some people are not wired to share”. We write often of a need for a cultural shift. It’s not a shift in culture that gets people using tools, it’s a shift in culture when people stop asking “what’s in it for me?” when presented with an opportunity to share.

That task may take a generation.


Andrew Krzmarzick

@Bowen – Completely agree and you echo many of the other comments. We’ll have to debate the value of moderation vs. wide open blogs one day…I just told a group that moderation is okay, if that’s what it takes to get them in the game. And I think that’s true across the board with all of this…take the steps forward, experiment, fail, iterate, try again or try something new.

Agree with you here for sure: ” It’s not about age, and it may not be about generation, it may be about attitude.” And we all have something to learn from one another.

If ever we are in the same city, I will buy you a hot dinner.

Bowen Moran

Andrew, I appreciate your comments. I personally don’t agree that moderation is okay if it gets users in the door. In change management, often the first behaviour employed is the hardest one to change, as it is modeled the most and becomes the standard. Moderation, in a non-anonymous blog environment, says “we don’t trust you”.

And that’s what gets me about it. No one stops me at the door to my workplace to moderate if I’m wearing pants. If I showed up to work without pants, someone would notice, I’d be sent home and given redirection on my choices, thus sparing some of the crowd the trauma of my pantslessness. Posting on a blog follows rather similar social norms – when the posts are not anonymous you can build trust by allowing the crowd to enforce those norms on your behalf. If it’s bad enough, someone’s going to stop me and ask: “Dude. Are you not wearing pants?”

Adriel Hampton

Bowen, first, I love you. Second, I agree totally with your thoughts on pre-moderating comments in a non-anomymous environment. Just as bad as not having comments, for both the posting individual or agency and the poor folks who want to weigh in or contribute.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Quoting Andrew: “@Bill and @Henry – The best part of an intergenerational dialogue is the perspective of people who have been in the trenches and experienced different trends and movements. To that end, is there anything that distinguishes this period of technological change from another? Is there a more compelling reason this time around than before – something that will make people tune into WII FM? Curious to hear your observations.”

I think it is a combination of better interfaces and a more immediate benefit from using the technology. Back in early 80s, I participated on many bulletin board systems (BBS). To do so, I had to type into my Commodore a four-page program written in machine language. Then using a 300 baud modem, I dialed a local phone number and connected to the BBS and interacted with other computer users through a menu-driven interface and a command-line interface. All conversations were asynchronous and could take several days.

Contrast that to the forums of GovLoop today. You don’t have to be very technical to engage in conversations and thus the technology has almost become transparent to the user. Frankly, what I did in the 80s could be accomplished much easier with a phone call or just walking to a friend’s house. Whereas, the new social networking technologies allow me to amplify my communication networks and engage in multiple conversations at once. It’s like Amanda’s example with her grandfather: once he realized how much easier it is to do something online than in traditional transactions, he wants that option for everything he does.

When I was a paralegal at the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet, I bought a simple word processor where I could store documents on floppy disks. So, instead of dictating or writing out in longhand legal documents that had to be sent to the typing pool, I could type my own and keep templates. What used to take two or more weeks only took me an hour or so. My productivity soared, my attorneys were pleased with the rapid turnaround, and I had more “me time.” Soon, the attorneys were wanting their own PCs. This was a grassroots cultural change brought about because the attorneys clearly saw “WIIFM.” They were willing to put up with the technology learning curve and doing their own documents because it made them more productive and they didn’t have to deal with the typing pool.

Bowen Moran

Thanks Shirley – I think that your question is actually a rather good one. I’m hoping that Andrew will wade in with a response, but here’s my thought on haters – let ’em hate. After all, they’ve got a point.

If someone posts in a non-anonymous forum that my butt looks big in these pants, they’ve done two things-

Firstly, if my butt actually does look big in these pants, they’ve actually done me a service – they’ve offered me constructive fashion advice. I’m okay with constructive criticism, because frankly, it helps be do my job better.

Secondly, and more importantly, they’ve spent (wasted?) some of their social capital by exposing themselves, within our community, as the type of person who would choose to be indiscrete about butt-size to pant size aesthetics by choosing to post about it in a public forum. Is that the kind of person who belongs in a role in which discretion is vital? Likely not. However, that is the type of person who one can go to for blunt, point-of-fact, opinion on something. They’ve also provided a learning opportunity for anyone else in the organization by providing a valuable model of what not to do. Finally they’ve provided an opportunity to identify corrective feedback, and to suss out the background to the commentary. There’s value to the larger community on these fronts.

Now, there are those who will talk about the cost of such behavior – specifically to me, as the butt-size “victim” in this. Cyberbulling exists, absolutely. But not in non-anonymous workplace networks. There is a tremendous amount of recognition within a social network when one is the object of haters, and the crowd comes to your defence.

Peeps who got your back are the only worthy hater-dote around. Moderate the discussion, and you extinguish a rather powerful form of reward on social capital investment.

Amanda Blount

@Bowen – 1st: I really enjoyed reading your post! Very funny, yet very relevant examples. 2nd: if I didn’t know better I would say you had a fascination with pants and butt examples today!  I would definitely tell you if you weren’t wearing pants. Of course, like Shelley, I will have to use that metaphor from now on. It will be a GovLoop inside joke! Whenever anyone has a social “fubar”, here or at work, I am going to say, “”Dude. Are you not wearing pants?” (very close to my comment about “The king has on no clothes” in some conversations).

@Shelley – I know exactly what you mean, I home schooled my children for two years, and even though it was for a short time period, they were also taught to think on their own, and yes they were taught to question the system (in a respectful way). When my kids were in regular school, and they would ask why about something, there was never really a good answer as to why certain things were the way they were. It was not the teachers fault, they were doing their jobs the way we do. (BTW – before I get slammed, I was a Public High School teacher, so I can talk a little… I worked in the system). But, so as not to get off topic, the point is, you can see how many people of all ages accept “follow the leaders and don’t rock the boat” because that is the way it always has been. But, in every group, there are people like us in all generations who want to rock the boat, at least a little. Don’t worry, you will survive! 

@Bill, you are so right! I am sure when the first caveman saw his first fire, he thought change was happening too fast. (BTW – I am not referring to you as a caveman ) Every generation has a big change and we all have to deal with it in our own way, or is it the way every generation has dealt with it, and we just want to feel special? Think about how the world thought when they were told the world was round and not flat. Now, everyone is facing change again. What I think we may be seeing, after reading more and more of these comments, isn’t the older generation not wanting to get involved because they don’t like it, but they have seen so much change, this one is no more special than the last. Us younger generations are jumping up and down like little puppies, and the older generation is saying “calm down, this will become old too.” Humm… there is definitely a different view on this now.

@Shelley – I agree. I have been a member on many social networks, and on well run social sites, you can have an open moderator who will get rid of totally improper posts, but many times (just like in a real conversation), the people who are improper will get ignored or blasted for being “uncool”. Improper posters don’t last long on a mature social network like GovLoop.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I’m wearing shorts. Some days, I wear running pants. I never wear pants anymore, except when I have to leave my home. And even when I walk out of the house looking busted, my neighbors don’t seem to mind (or maybe they just don’t tell me)…but I digress 🙂

Moderation done fantastically: TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog Comment Policy Gold standard in Federal blogging…and I think it’s because they moderate. They rarely have to reject comments, but they’re pretty clear up front about the rules of engagement.

Like a dress code at work, eh? Set clear expectations. Doowatchyalike from there.

Bonus Blog Just for You: How-To: Not Dress for Spring and Summer At Work – targeted to the Millennials among us, I believe 😉

Barry Everett

First off, I’m not wearing pants right now. 😉

Secondly, I’m an old guy, but I believe that dinosaurs come in all ages. Maybe an anachronism, some say I’m a fossil, but I believe that I’m one of a new 60’s generation – in our 60’s and of the 60’s. You know, before we temporarily lost the vote to revisionist no-good-niks. I had lost the fervor of political activism for almost 40 years. I got it back on 11/8/08.

Lastly, just hide and watch as the best of the oldsters hook up with the rest of the youngsters, and together we re-weave the fabric of this democracy. The new revisionists are no better than the old ones. Hamilton was a Federalist. Jefferson was not a Communist. McCarthy was just wrong. In every era of this country we have fought the fear and loathing and ignorance of small, selfish thinkers. We can whip them, and we can do it without pants. Nuff said. Good night.

Henry Brown

Suspect that this blog posting from HBR MIGHT have at least some relevance to this thread/blog

The Misunderstood Gen X Manager
Author: Roberta Fusaro

A quick skim through just a few of the discussions taking place on the HBR Answer Exchange’s live event with Tammy Erickson suggests there’s a whole lot of misunderstanding going on between Generation X managers and their Boomer and Gen Y colleagues and supervisors.

Dress codes, goals and expectations, and office politics are all on the docket.

Sound familiar?

I’d love to believe it’s all about Gen X; yes, I’m a card-carrying member of that sandwiched, sidestepped set. But these and other conversations appearing on the Exchange are fundamentally about communication in the workforce. More directly, they’re about how tribes of people in companies (whether they’re organized by function, age, geography, or whatever) get things done.

I’m generously paraphrasing the psychoanalyst Abraham Zaleznik here, but whether it’s high school, Main Street, or Wall Street, we all self-identify with others for good and various reasons; we establish codes and rituals within our groups; and in the process we inevitably give in to “the demands of psychopolitics.” That is, we let all the interpersonal stuff get in the way of real execution.

That’s really what people are talking about on the HBR Answer Exchange this week, and every week. They’re trying to find ways to cut through their differences and get things done.

It’s not an X or Y thing; it’s a how thing.

Sheryl Grant

David Ferriero (AotUS) wrote a blog recently that captures some of our discussion here.

“…optimism agreed to by the experts indicates their belief that the internet will prompt institutional change, but is contrasted with the same experts’ concerns that:

‘Government agencies are cumbersome and resistant to change. The pace of progress towards openness and responsiveness will be slower than anyone would hope.’

In my first few months on the job, I’ve seen some resistance to change, but that has been outmatched by what I see as a wellspring of enthusiasm for changes to our agency.”

Ferriero goes on to write, “We risk losing our memory as a country if we cannot meet the challenges of electronic records management. The fact is, without good records management, it is impossible for us to learn from the past and plan for the future. This concern is deeply American.”

I think this comment could be adapted to anything Gov 2.0, no?

Amanda Blount

@Andy – If I were your neighbor, I would have a camera ready at all times! 🙂

@Barry – See above! LOL 🙂 And yes, be careful of the ones who survived the 60s, it can get interesting in all generations.

@Henry – “:It’s not an X or Y thing; it’s a how thing. ” – WELL SAID!!!

@Sheryl – great stuff to think about

@ Alex – Good luck in your run for office.

John Peppard

The simple answer no. Everyone is interested in good leadership, effective government, good communication, developmental opportunity. The question as posed somewhat offensive. Pants – dress code is not the question. Sharing, learning and being open starts with individuals, not with organizations.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey @Jack!! Awesome to hear from you! I agree – the answer is a resounding NO! The title is meant to be provocative (vs. offensive ;-)…to highlight the reality that it’s not about age; it’s about attitude. See the full thread for @Bowen’s introduction of pants (or lack thereof) into the conversation.

But individuals adapt to their surroundings, right? So the organization and it’s leadership do play a major part in changing culture…individuals can try all they want…but it requires some macro-level might in an organization to move things in a new direction, eh?

Sheryl Grant

@Harlan I think that would be a good question to ask Stephen Dale who wrote the post about senior civil servants (who were first identified as Gen Xers, btw). Dale shifted the original observation to his own experience in the UK, which may/may not have an older demographic in senior positions than the US.

I took the post to refer to blocking access to social media, and I’m curious what others here think about current metrics for ROI for social media. There are endless analytical tools, but many are cringe-worthy.

Gary Berg-Cross

One follow on to Henry’s observation that “in the process we inevitably give in to ‘the demands of psychopolitics.’ That is, we let all the interpersonal stuff get in the way of real execution.”

There is quite a bit of psychologiocal reasons to use social media.Doug Firebaugh discuused 7 of them in “Social Media Marketing-The Psychology of Social Media-The 7 A’s”

We may all be subject to them but things like social status and connectedness may influence how much. Senior managers may not need acclaim or achknowledgement as junior staff. They have already been noticed (personality differences aside).

But we all want to be included in things- something that is happening that is bigger than we are. If this is where the action is, we want to be a part. Of course this is a chicken and egg issue since older civil servants may not believe this is where the real action is, but if they did and got engaged it might become the action point for change.