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Business and Government 2.0 does not require social media

I dislike the use of “2.0”, Social Anything, and other terms that are thrown around to vaguely indicate new ways of doing business. These words and terms do nothing but confuse the majority while leaving a few “experts” in a place to educate us all about how we’re doing it wrong. It was refreshing, however, when I chatted with Chris Moore, CIO for the city of Edmonton, about his approach to the changing role of government/business.

Chris, no relation to me, Moore, has been the CIO in Edmonton since October of 2008. It’s no small job as it is Canada’s 5th largest City and he has more than 300 people working for him. Chris came into this new role knowing that changes were needed. He needed to open up the organization in terms of making it more transparent, becoming more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, both from within the team and from outside the team. Chris noted, and I paraphrase, “If I have to come up with all the ideas we only get the results of my creativity. If we collaborate we can get the best ideas, the results of 300+ people”. How did Chris do this?

– He launched a series of mini town halls with his staff, meeting with roughly 10 people at a time. At first, people were fairly quiet, unwilling to chat and throw ideas around. It is hard to know if the new boss really wants change, really wants ideas. Chris did.
– Launched an internal site to capture feedback with forums, blogs, etc… It provides a good chance for users to give feedback, even if they want to do so anonymously.
– This is social, but it is not an example of trying to force usage of tools like Facebook or Twitter. Edmonton went with a site built on JOOMLA after encountering several early issues building it with SharePoint.
– This was a great move as it has given people a place to get ideas out, for them to discuss what they like, and to discuss what they do not like. Chris was very honest about the fact that it is not always positive feedback. However, just like companies must embrace and respond to detractors, those who are having a problem with your products and services, governments must too.
– Being more open to meeting the needs of its clients (councilors, departments, citizens, etc..). Simple changes like becoming open to the deployment and support of Macs, iPhones, and other common tools that most IT staffs view as tools of Satan. In fact, I think I might have used that very phrase when my boss first bought his iPhone…. Hmmm, maybe I can learn something from Chris..

Chris led the charge as the City of Edmonton recently opened up their data catalog. While it is nothing revolutionary, it is a good start. They took information that was already on their web site and put it into a format that programmers could leverage. Information like park locations, census information, historic buildings, etc. Personally, I always question where the value in opening up this data will come from, as little of it is very exciting to me personally. I liked Chris’ answer on why this is important, it helps “Government demystify government”…. That is pretty important and none of it required Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, or any other shiny new toys.

What’s holding you back?

John 3.0, Better than the original

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Being more open to meeting the needs of its clients (councilors, departments, citizens, etc..). Simple changes like becoming open to the deployment and support of Macs, iPhones, and other common tools that most IT staffs view as tools of Satan.

I think this is sooo key for IT staffs as people suddenly have better tools at home than they do in the office. I remember how mad I was that I was stuck on IE when I was a Firefox person at home. In the end, IT is just an enabler to help people do their jobs better and shouldn’t be an impediment.

Perhaps there should be levels of rights as end user. The lowest level – really controlled for 80% of people. But if you take some test or verify knowledge, you have more rights to download software and customize your computer.

Profile Photo John Moore

I agree with you. I am a C-level guy running Engineering, IT, etc.., and it is always a struggle to get it right. In startups, where I love the environment, the pace, I like to keep things as open as possible for a large number of people. At the enterprise level it’s important to be more rigorous, of course, but you still must evolve past the locked down, cold war like, policies of the past.

You nailed it in the comments below when you said: ” In the end, IT is just an enabler to help people do their jobs better and shouldn’t be an impediment.”

Thanks,

John

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

I like how TSA created the three levels at some airports with different lanes (seasoned travel, normal, not often)….I totally think we should start segmenting people in large enterprises like that. One size fits all is tought ’cause everyone won’t be happy.

Profile Photo Dustin Haisler

John,

Great points! I agree completely that we get too tied up with “buzz” terms and forget what it’s all about; making all parts of government for efficient, transparent and cost-effective. I’d love to chat with you in more detail about this very subject sometime.

Thanks for sharing!

Dustin

Profile Photo Barry Everett

All great points, guys, but I would like to remind all that without ‘social media’ (GovLoop and FB), I would not be making this comment, or even know about your thoughts and observations. Without these tools, the best ideas are only conversations on the Metro or rantings at happy hour. With the tools we have now, I saw your post on FaceBook, while watching NO clobber AZ in the playoff, and can render my excellent opinions during the commercials. 😉

Profile Photo Adriel Hampton

I’m interested in that idea that the OGD/opengov and Gov 2.0 movements have potentially more staying power than past gov reform movements because practitioners are no longer isolated. That’s social media, and that’s why we know about Chris Moore (and why I get to meet him when he’s in the SF Bay Area this spring). I think it’s important that we all work to ensure that Gov 2.0 doesn’t become synonymous with social media, but I do think the networked society is absolutely key to defining and sustaining change.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

For me the Gov 2.0 is more about a change in our culture than anything else. But as Barry pointed out, we can’t forget that online tools are what got us to this point. It’s almost like how highways changed our culture after World War II – the way we lived and worked. It’s wasn’t about the highways, but you can’t forget about them because they have to be there to sustain the culture they created.

Profile Photo John Moore

Great comments everyone. Keep in mind that I am not against social networking tools. I am a twitter junkie, facebook with my friends. My stance is simply that both government and business must:

– Define the goals that they want to accomplish. Be as transparent as is appropriate. In other words, the CIA should not tell me what foreign dictator they are planning to take out 🙂 , but GSA should be be very clear about how to bid.
– Layer in stratgies, and appropriate tactics.
– The tactics leverage the right tools for the situation, the goals. In some cases social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook will be 100% right. In other cases the best social tools to use will be the good old fashion blogs, SMS alerts, etc..

Use the right tools to ultimately achieve the goals you have set forth. Do not use the hip tools without clarity about how these tools will help you achieve those goals.

John

Profile Photo Mary Groebner

While I personally love the new social media tools and find them useful, and can think of great ways various governments COULD use them – there are always two companion thoughts that accompany Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0 in my brain…. Here they are:

1) My fear that those who love IT so much that they never have enough cool tools to play with and put on their resume + those who love communication so much that they over-communicate and don’t do it strategically/sustainably (think how important messages sometimes get lost in ‘noise’) will lead us down a path to use the tools, but without a sustainable strategy linked in with their mission (i.e., their reason for existing in the first place). And then – well then you’re just spending a lot of time and $ playing with stuff, and your public can figure that out cuz you’ve made it really visible (by having a blog that’s never updated, a Twitter account that’s never used or that no one responds to, etc.)

2) My sadness that some organizations are genuinely open to feedback, collaboration, involvement while others are not. It’s about their internal culture as Pam noted below, and if the culture inside doesn’t change, then slapping up an agency blog, FB page or Twitter account which will remove some of the technical barriers to gaining feedback/comments/inclusion will mean nothing – because the organization won’t DO anything with those comments.

I see so much potential – but then, that potential was always there as the initial blog post notes – you can meet with people in person, you can reconsider your policies. It takes leadership and cultural change to want to do that, with or without the cool new tools.