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GovLoop Project of the Week – An Interview with Bill Finnerty on the Cumberland County Web 2.0 Initiative

1. What is this web 2.0 initiative in your county all about?
This project grew from an understanding in IT that there were better ways to communicate with each other and the public. There are so many tools out there that we can use to communicate with different constituencies, even foster a dialog between them. Getting more people interested, involved, and providing ideas can only make our County government better.

2. Who or what was the driving force behind this project?
We really started with a frustration with interdepartmental projects and a lack of a central location for communication and file sharing. From there we realized that if we wanted to head down this path then we needed to do it completely. We started to look at communication problems that we knew existed and how we could address those needs with Web 2.0 tools. From there it started to spread.

3. What is the goal?
The goal of our Web 2.0 initiative is to help County departments utilize tools that allow them to better communicate with the public and each other, as well as add value to our web presence. It is an abstract goal, not easily measured, but we will be working on measurable objectives for individual pieces of this project.

4. What is the plan of action?
We started by surveying all County employees about Web 2.0 technologies. From this we determined readiness and training needs. We also have been presenting information about our work and Web 2.0 tools at our monthly department head meetings this year. Additionally, we started a pilot program with departments in which we had identified a strong need and likelihood of success. Future steps include:
1. Social Media Policy is pending approval from our Board of Commissioners
2. Lunch –n- Learning training as an overview of Web 2.0 technologies
3. More in depth training on each set of technologies:
A. What is the technology?
B. Case studies of use of that type of technology in government
C. Ways that County departments are already using Web 2.0 technologies
D. How to use the technology
4. Roll out SharePoint, technology we are going to use in-house, to all departments and project groups
5. Find a wiki technology that will meet our needs
6. Deploy an online learning environment using Moodle, which is currently in the works
7. Establish a Cumberland County YouTube Channel

Most importantly, we want to have planted a seed that will hopefully grow well beyond our current expectations and understanding. To be true to the philosophy of Web 2.0 technology, we will not try to control it, but rather foster its use.

5. How has the response been between all parties involved in making this project happen?
We have had a lot of positive feedback related to this project. There are a number of department heads that have expressed interest in learning about Web 2.0 technology. The departments that we have started to pilot Web 2.0 technologies have been eager, particularly when it comes to external communication. A big test will come in May; we will be pushing the use of Twitter by our Courts to send out Court Calendar updates. The adoption of this by the legal community will be an important step. Our Web 2.0 survey had a response of about 25%, which we were happy with. Our Facebook page, which we launched on Friday, has 49 fans so far. Overall, we are pleased.

6. Are users aware of this initiative? What has their response been like?
In a lot of ways this question is the same as the previous one. In Web 2.0 you are often both the party making it happen, and the user creating content. We have only heard a few complaints at this point, so things are good. In the end, we cannot force these technologies on County government. That which fits and is useful will flourish and expand. Our job is to make it available and help it grow.

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Daniel Bevarly

Congratulations to Cumberland County (TN, KY?). First off, they recognized and acted on a very important government need: they needed to hear from their citizens on the administration of their local government. Sounds simple, but there are so many local governments that still operate under a “silo” mentality that inhibits, even discourages public engagement around issues, events, projects, policies and so on.

“It is an abstract goal, not easily measured.” That is certainly understandable, and not anything new. Dialog is usually difficult to measure. The bottom line is does government and the public believe they are engaged in a productive way to address (not necessarily fix) the challenges they want to solve? That is the first step.

They’ve have also identified early another shortcoming in government adopting Web 2.0 solutions: they understand they cannot control it, but rather facilitate it; manage it. While I don’t agree with some of the tactics they will take, e.g., YouTube channel unless they filter other content, it appears the rollout is moving according to government processes: incrementally. Will look forward to following their progress.