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Gov 2.0 – We Need to Get Past the Honeymoon Stage of Our Relationship

This post originally appeared on my external blog, “Social Media Strategery.”

I was in Las Vegas this week to participate in BlogWorld 2009 with some of the industry’s biggest big-wigs in social media. I really like going to conferences like this and next week’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco because they help me escape the Gov 2.0 echo chamber that I sometimes get trapped in back in DC. The people I meet, the presentations I hear, and the conversations that I have while at these conferences help me get a more realistic view of what’s going on with the Gov 2.0 movement. This week’s conference was no different. Between this week and Brian Drake’s excellent blog post, I realized that we (the “Goverati”) are still very much in the honeymoon stage of Gov 2.0.

Allow me to explain. I liken it to when you first start dating a woman and everything is going well – you talk for hours, you spend every waking moment with each other, and you talk to your friends about how great everything is going. This goes on for a few weeks or months – it’s still new, it’s still fun, and perhaps most importantly, it’s not anything like that last awful relationship you had. However, this is also the time when you’re ignoring the fact that she made you meatloaf the other night for dinner and you hate meatloaf but all you could say was, “I loved it honey.” This is also the time when your buddies might start telling you that this girl is crazy-annoying, but you laugh it off and tell them that she’s the best thing that’s happened to you. This is the time when you have a distorted view on reality because everything is so new and fun and different. This is the stage that we find ourselves with Gov 2.0.

Gov 2.0 is still so new that we talk about it ad nauseam with anyone who will listen, it’s the greatest thing to happen to the government ever, and it’s most definitely not at all like that last command and control relationship where we didn’t have a voice and were bullied around all the time. Not anymore, we say! We have Government 2.0 now and everything is perfect!! However, we’re making the same mistakes that everyone in the honeymoon stage makes – we’re writing off mistakes (and outright failures) as minor quirks, we’re ignoring logic in favor in the new girl/technology, and possibly most damaging, we’re ignoring the people who are giving us constructive criticism because they just don’t know her (Gov 2.0) like I do.

Coming out here and participating in BlogWorld showed me the next stage of our Gov 2.0 relationship. It showed me people asking the tough questions, demanding more out of the community, and tackling some very polarizing legal issues. People were almost unanimously friendly, but there were definitely some disagreements and debates to be had, not to mention some good-natured ribbing. It showed me a relationship where the participants have finally started to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can be honest about them. It showed me what Gov 2.0 can and will be if we just start admitting it to ourselves. Yeah, Gov 2.0 is absolutely great and it’s most definitely changing government for the better. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect though. There are things we can do better. There are things we can do more of. And there are things that we need to address before we can take that next step in our relationship.

1. Realize that not all is perfect in the land of Gov 2.0 – While we’ve had a lot of success, let’s not sweep our weaknesses under the rug. Let’s identify what’s going wrong and talk about it. We have showcases to talk about all of the successes – why don’t we have an event to talk about the challenges we’re facing and how to overcome them? Oh wait – we will

2. Identify the skeptics and open up a dialogue with them – let’s stop talking about how great we all are amongst ourselves. I want a conference where that CIO who continues to block access to social media talks about why they’re blocking it. I want to hear from that Admiral explaining why he’s banned his sailors from using social media. I want to go to an event where I can talk with the guy who decided to shut down the UGov email system and learn more about the pressures he’s facing. I want an event, well, an event like this

3. Hear the war stories of the people who have gone before us – Listen, I KNOW that there have been people who have been fired, reprimanded, demoted, moved to another project, and just flat-out yelled at for some of their Gov 2.0 efforts. What happened and why? What are the battles that people are facing? What are the battles that have been won and lost? I know that I’ve dealt with people yelling at me, laughing at me, and/or dismissing me for my Gov 2.0 efforts over the last three years – I’m sure there are others out there who would be able to learn from these experiences, just as I have. Let’s talk about them

Don’t get me wrong – I love Gov 2.0 and I think we’re going to have a long and successful relationship. I just think we’re to the point where I can tell her that I hate meatloaf without thinking she’s going to get angry with me. If you agree, and want to help, leave a comment here, tweet this out, and tell your friends – we need the help of the community to identify those people who will tell us the hard truths that our friends won’t because they don’t want to hurt our feelings.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Steve – I really like the concept floating around here. I responded to Brian’s original post on his blog, but thought I’d share here to contribute to the discussion among the GovLoop community:

“…My hunch is that the same folks will actually physically show up at a common location as we have been doing (including me!). What if we brought the conversation to the agencies? For instance, identify the agencies that have NOT adopted, then contact the CIO to find out the reasons. If they appear to be strongly resistant, then they’re a perfect candidate to host an event at their agency…including folks located in regional offices across the country (and even some global participants?).

We could have several groups/events staged on the same day, then have report outs from the various groups via Adobe Connect or another webinar tool. Quick idea for the day’s outline:

60 min Round Robin
30 min Report Prep
60 min Virtual Report Out from all Locations (10-15 mins per group)

We could have folks at each event tweeting results, live blogging or even live video stream the various locations (where people are open to attribution). Assemble the overall thoughts into a crowd-sourced report with recommendations, possibly staging some of this on GovLoop as well for build up and reports/recommendations.

Just a brainstorm here – you may already have the structure nailed down. I really like the concept and agree with the need to hear from those folks who aren’t adopting much less showing up at events.”

Steve Radick

Andrew – thanks for the comments, and I think your view will be extremely valuable to our efforts moving forward. I think you’re spot on as far as people physically showing up IF we do it the same way we always. We’ve always marketed these events on Twitter, Facebook, etc. What if we started marketing using flyers and emails and posters at these agencies instead? What if we extended personal invites and explained the WIIFM to these skeptics/opponents?

I like the idea of doing a roadshow type of thing as well though – maybe that’s step two? Definitely think we need to think through some way to continue to the conversation beyond one event.

Adam Arthur

Steve. great post. I must say, I agree with everything that has been said here. Steve and Andrew, you both have helped in my projects and you know that sometimes not everyone likes the idea of marriage and yet some want to force you to marry a less attractive version by shotgun; however, I do think by admitting the flaws with our top pick might open minds to the attractive attributes in the long run. Kind of a “Jedi mind trick”, if you will. 🙂 ..

Jeffrey Levy

Wow. What a fantastic post. Well done! I’m going to blog here just to point people to it.

FWIW, it’s not quite accurate to say we’ve only tweeted or used social media to promote gov20 events. I’ve posted, and I’ve seen others post, these things to various internal gov’t lists. For example, the 1600+ gov’t Web Managers Forum and the 500+ EPA Web Workgroup.

At any rate, I’d love to see the kinds of discussions you’ve mentioned take place.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Steve – I have been thinking about your point above a lot in terms of using social media to invite new people when the folks who aren’t “there” yet are not…well…there. Sounds like we need to brainstorm the larger government listservs and work with people like Jeffrey to promote “Govie to Govie.” Flyers/posters could work, too. We have enough folks here on GovLoop to make an appeal for promoting at agencies (with permission from whatever internal entity regulates such promotion, of course). Count me in to help in planning step 2 when we take it to the agencies directly…probably some combo of education (the Gov 2.0 “101”) and direct engagement/conversation.

Steve Radick

@Adam – thanks so much, and we’re looking forward to you involvement! I don’t think it’s a Jedi mind trick inasmuch a realization on our part that we’re not always right and that the skeptics have some valid points too. Let’s not throw disregard the perspectives of non-social media types either.

Steve Radick

@Jeffrey – maybe I was too harsh in saying that we only promote social media via social media – that’s just how I usually get word of them as I’m not on a majority of the internal gov lists. I think the greater point is that we need to help non-social media types understand why there attendance is encouraged, ney, needed, at these events. We need to adjust our messaging to fit the audience we’re targeting.