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Being @ the #SOTU #WHTweetUp

Summary. Last night I had the distinct honor and privilege to participate in the White House State of the Union TweetUp. I arrived in my capacity as a private citizen and student from American University (AU). Earlier in the day, as a fellow invited Tweep (i.e., a fun moniker for those of us who micro blog using Twitter or Facebook), I also had the awesome opportunity to listen to Instagram co-founder, Mike Krieger describe his experiences with entrepreneurship as well as to U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra. He shared with us White House plans to promote economic growth and innovation. Below are some of my observations. Needless to say, being there had a high index level of awesome.

Remarks on Innovation. U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra discussed the White House policy tools for promoting a range of relevant topics in Open Government and Innovation. Key topics included open media, open data, and promulgating policies that help to empower people. His blog posts are worth reading if you’re interested in how government can leverage technology for public priorities. It was a fun session with a generous portion of Q&A. It was cool to meet Brian Forde and Kori Schulman who stopped by, both of whom set up this great meeting. As Mr. Chopra would say, they rock.

My takeaway. His emphasis on government’s role as an ‘impatient convener’ and facilitator for bringing new ideas to market in ‘innovation pipeline management’ inspired me to learn more about open innovation (+ user innovation) and reflect on how these principles could be applied to public participation in Federal decision making, including White House-to-Agency and Inter-agency collaboration in the future.

Prior to TweetUp. Later yesterday evening, in the cue outside, I observed our diverse group socializing in the chilly night next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). While chatting up fellow Tweeps from across the country, I learned those in attendance consisted of approximately 75 Tweeps and 75 or so guests, including Administration officials. Twenty-two states were represented.

Conversing with a cool group of social media enthusiasts involved in public service–from fair housing and veterans affairs to education–reminded me once again of why I chose to pack it all up and move here from a thousand miles away. D.C. for all its imperfections sill serves as arguably the best intellectual hub for not only politics, but the center of the country for torch bearers of civic causes. I met people from many walks of life, yet all dedicated to public service.

The Tweeps. Fellow tweeps I had the pleasure of meeting in-person and greeting on Twitter include @natfairhouse, @ergeekgoddess, @kateog, @moranbanai,@rupertmike, @tylersadonir, @lorrainebrante and @colindorr. You can view the TweetUp tweets in the search box on Twitter. Search under #SOTU or #WHTweetUp. It was awesome to meet @sarahberlenbach as well as New Media Director, Macon Phillips (@macon44), who served as MC for the event.

Gearing up. It was fun sharing photos and updates with fellow AU eagles (go Elliot Bell-Krasner, ‘EBK’!) on Facebook. Upon entering EEOB we were given a handout with an agenda for this week’s White House Office Hours inspired by the State of the Union. I enjoyed participating in a previous Office Hours session. Once many of us were settled in the auditorium, we started to scan Twitter and Facebook timelines for news, behind the scenes coverage, or excerpts from the President’s speech that might be available.

Pre-SOTU TweetUp Q&A. During the pre-event Q&A all of us in the auditorium had a chance to ask officials a few questions about the selection process and public policy issues. My question for Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest (see photo below) asked about plans to increasingly deploy Open Government events in the future. In brief, Mr. Earnest expressed satisfaction with White House efforts in public engagement and mentioned the President’s pursuit to change the way Washington works.

Even before the State the Union Speech, the event was an awesome and humbling experience as a govie and a student of public policy and administration.

Kick-Off. Macon Phillips kicked off the White House TweetUp. Then the lights dimmed and the pace of the key strokes quickened. Soon I dove into coordinating Facebook and Twitter posts, curating photos, and analyzing various agency tweets to first retweet (re-post). Next, I scanned for public tweets to re-post and respond to with direction to other .gov websites or key information. For example, I posted to third part websites such as MTVAct and American University. Agencies on Facebook were posting event announcements too.

Curating Cool Quotes. Later, I shared a few references to the the speech itself. After sharing (cross-posting) White House posts, including key Twitter pics, I took time out to simply listen carefully to the President and jot down key quotes that could be especially interesting for friends, colleagues, and family to witness. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the the President’s speech last night.

“Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas. So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.”

“We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them. That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior. Rules to prevent financial fraud or toxic dumping or faulty medical devices — these don’t destroy the free market. They make the free market work better.

“There’s no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly. In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.”

“I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense. We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years. We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”

This last one was my favorite! The auditorium erupted with laugher after a double-take. It has to be one of the best jokes in a State of the Union speech. Interestingly, the first sentence of the above excerpt refers to the President’s Executive Order 13563, ‘Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.’ Also check out a key OIRA Memo on ‘Implementation of Retrospective Review Plans’ as part of the Administration’s agenda for regulatory review by the agencies. Overall, in my personal view as an AU wonk, there were many educational gems in the speech to highlight the impact of our current national policies.

White House SOTU Chat. Macon Phillips and Anne Filipic (Deputy Director of Office of Public Engagement) did an outstanding job in moderating Q&A from online conversations (#WHChat) across Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. It was amazing to see so many people’s comments. As a former events planner and public discussion facilitator, I understand the moving parts and resources for an event, especially of this magnitude. Though a lot of work. it’s usually worth it. Lastly, Education Secretary Duncan was in the house toward the conclusion of the program. He is a great speaker and said many encouraging things about recent accomplishments and goals for the future.

Takeaways. For me, I’m grateful not only to have been present, but that the event was convened. Certainly, government has a role as convener of stakeholder engagement in general, and participatory decision making, in particular. Moreover, the forum opened my mind about the possibilities for open innovation and hybrid uses of in-person democratic participation with the use of digital technologies by Congress in public policymaking and the agencies in the rulemaking process (eRulemaking). For me at least, it was a historic event. It magnified the unprecedented level of openness (aided by modern technology) for a White House Administration to tell its story through moments of everyday administration and public policy.

Questions. If I would have had an opportunity to pose an additional question to officials it might look like this: “Is there interest for public engagement via regularly scheduled outreach of social media communications in coordination with agencies to receive public input on agency decision making?

Discussion. What were your impressions of last night’s State of the Union? Which were your favorite excerpts? How did you like the way the White House engaged the American people?

Note: The last photo is from Reuters.

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Francie Grace

Great job, Alex, summing up the #SOTU #WHTweetup! I (@franciegrace) was there too (as a tweep, not a guest) and was further impressed at how no one tried to suss out our questions in advance or otherwise curb our freedom of speech – – a real advance in citizen involvement. Furthermore we know that despite the 70K or so of tweets, they’ll all be put through the typical social media Sentiment Analysis tools which means that even the smallest comment won’t go unnoticed, at least when it comes to identifying topics on the minds of the citizens as we all try to move forward with our work in creating the best possible democracy.

Alex Moll

Thanks, Francie! The level of interactivity online that I experienced was pretty good. Though some might see it as a ‘free for all’ with a lot of chaos, if people followed the hashtag list you would see diverse reactions and thoughts. The level of engagement was high in terms of comments, so in the future, I wonder for TweetUps, can we combine more threads of discussion based on topics pre and post SOTU, and then maybe incorporate mapping of conversations (Storify per breakout session group?), not only sentiment analysis? What do you think? I guess it depends on the goal of the engagement. Pursuing the goal of elevating public awareness and buzz surrounding an event in such a high-profile way opens the doors of engagement to those who might not ordinarily participate in a civic conversation, especially with our government. The coolest outcome here was that people who ordinarily would not participate in an online discussion, did so, and did so with responses from gov officials. That’s a good civic experience for people to have. Introducing more people to this kind of engagement is important. However, I’m thinking of ways to build upon this engagement format. For instance, govies could convene a forum with even more interactivity and structured discussion that has co-created policy recommendations from citizens, or better yet, collaborative documents that citizens co-create over time with govies.