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Getting to Know the Elephant

About two months ago, Lovisa Williams of the State Department wrote on her blog about about six areas that need attention if the current changes in government (toward openness, transparency, and collaboration) are to be institutionalized :

  1. People. We need to find ways to support the change agents and others who are working to ensure the agency successfully transitions to this new iteration of government.
  2. Laws. Some laws need to be modified for operation in this new age, others should probably be repealed.
  3. Positions in government – community managers, social media strategists, new media directors, social media analysts and more.
  4. Training opportunities. Training is one of the primary ways we implement a new way of thinking and doing business.
  5. Social media policies. Most policies talk about what you should not do. Some, like the policy from the Department of State, takes great pains to tell you the use of social media is not only permitted, but encouraged.
  6. Content for the specific communities and attitudes toward user-generated content. This change of needing more tailored content and managing more user generated content requires us to hire different skill sets and perhaps more people to accommodate these requirements. Currently, most agencies are not equipped to deal with either of these requirements.

I’ve been thinking about these and have a few observations:

  1. Human Resources matters. The people in HR will help to determine (sometimes to a great degree) the training opportunities and position descriptions for offices. They’re also likely to have a hand in the social media policy (or at least the dissemination thereof) and supporting the change agents within an office. That makes them important–and too often overlooked–loci of social media adoption within an office. Which leads to my second point:
  2. Intra-agency and even intra-office cooperation matters. To achieve Lovisa’s change, government agencies need to break down silos, dismantle stovepipes, and disrupt swim lanes. It’s called “social media,” not “asocial media.”
  3. Change comes both top-down and bottom-up. Some change can come only from the top–setting policies, and describing new position descriptions, e.g. But a lot of change comes from the bottom up: setting a culture where change is embraced, and applying for new training opportunities, as examples. If govvies are going to demand change, they also need to accept change, which may mean in their own positions and work habits. Not always easy! Also, there’s a need for champions of change within an office – someone from on high who can ensure that institutionalizing change is part of the agenda.
  4. Make a place for people, but also go where the people are. While agencies are making room for user generate content, they also need to make use of sites where their audiences are already talking among themselves.
  5. Wait impatiently. As Lovisa says in a few places in her post (which is well worth reading!), not everything is going to happen overnight. So some waiting is in order. But change usually happens because people are pressing for it, so no one should get too comfortable. Persistence is the key.

What are your thoughts? How is your agency or office “institutionalizing change”?

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Lovisa Williams

Great recap! Thanks Gadi for the additional comments on my post. If you read my original post, I encourage you to read all of the comments. There are some great discussions there.

When I am providing consulations to some of our embassies, consultants and bueaus one of the topics of discussion is on resources. How many people does it take to maintain a community? How many hours of work is it? These discussions are not easy since we are usually talking about figuring out how to do more with less. In some cases we may have to prioritize our work and potentially stop doing some things. Where resources are a major concern we do counsel people to instead of building their own communities go join a community instead. The burden of producing content, covering a large number of issues, and providing constant care and feeding of the community can be more than some organizations are able to take on. When you ask them to only focus on one or two communities and just on participating in a community the burden is significantly reduced, but the benefits of the government being active online are still there. The key is to be strategic. Think about what you are trying to acheive and what resources you have at your disposal. And most of all, don’t be afraid to start implementing creative solutions.

Also, if you are wondering about why good things and change take time, I encourage you to check out my latest post Government 2.0 in Metamorphosis .


I’d love to see a blog specifically in Open Innovation. We are just starting to get to know that elephant at NASA Ames: the perils and pitfall, the advantages of such, etc. Off the top of my head here are some characteristics: opensource models for sharing code across Agency lines, emphasis on patenting and licensing, open development platforms and web application frameworks to streamline development cycles, agile methodologies, policies to discourage plagiarism and encourage teaming and partnering. Can you think of anything else? Here is a link to our tech transfer web site at NASA Ames: http://technology.arc.nasa.gov/index.cfm to give you some ideas about the current state..