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GovLoop’s Steve Ressler Rocks the Public Sector

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DSC_0049.jpgIn every big city there’s an underground, and in every large online movement there are undercurrents. In the Government 2.0 space that undercurrent is taking place on GovLoop, a relatively new, Ning-based social network with more than 8,000 public sector or related members. The man behind GovLoop is Steve Ressler, who also was one of the organizers behind last weekend’s highly successful GovCamp. We took a moment to interview Steve about his efforts and his thoughts on the current state of Government 2.0.

Q: Why did you start GovLoop?
SR: Necessity is the mother of invention. After creating Young Government Leaders, a professional organization of over 2,000 young federal government employees, I was invited to speak at tons of conferences from Harvard to Brookings where I met a ton of interesting people from various associations, universities, state and local agencies, and more. We would have these great conversations and I kept thinking it was a shame that not everyone could join the conversation. Maybe your boss wouldn’t approve the trip, maybe the training budget was broke, maybe you coldn’t travel because of family.

In winter 2007, I moved to Tampa, Florida as my lady started a new tenure-track professor gig. And suddenly I was one of these people who could no longer go to conferences, events, and work happy hours. So I took my earlier idea and just did it. I wanted an online home for people around government to connect and share ideas to improve government. And it wouldn’t matter if you were junior or senior, federal or state or local, in Alaska or D.C. So I spent a few months researching the technology and on Memorial Day 2008 I launched GovLoop to about 10 friends. Now we have over 8,400 friends on the site 🙂

Q: What do you hope GovLoop will achieve?
SR: I hope GovLoop becomes a hub for the government community where we work together to improve government. Instead of working in silos or always turning to contractors for advice, I hope government turns inward to the repository of brain power residing in the 30 million federal, state, local, and english-speaking international govies.

So if you are working on a project to implement a wiki knowledge management solution in your agency, you should turn to GovLoop and ask if anyone has done the same thing. That’s a real example that received over 30 responses from GovLoop members. I have about 50 similar examples of people using GovLoop to improve their job or project. I would like the number of examples to explode exponentially – let’s see 10,000 flowers bloom

Q: Where do you see GovLoop fitting in with the whole Government 2.0 movement?
SR: I view Government 2.0 as defining the next generation of government. This next generation of government is built around the Obama principles of openness, participatory, and transparency. GovLoop specifically is a new model of participatory and collaboration among the government community. Government has always worked in silos whether by agency, job title, hierarchy, or association (young, retired, webmaster, public affairs, etc).

GovLoop provides a home for Government 2.0 participation and collaboration where you can connect and share ideas and best practices with brilliant minds across government. And it’s actually fun – you can debate Gov 2.0 and WhiteHouse projects and then switch to debate Battlestar Galactica in the “Geeks for Government” group

Q: How long will it take the Obama Administration to make social media systematic and why?
SR: Funny – that’s the question I’ve been asking people lately. The answer I’ve been getting is 2-3 years – 2011 or 2012. When I talked to the O’Reilly team, they said it took 2-3 years after the first Web 2.0 Expo for the term to really take off and experience exponential growth.

Personally, I think “Gov 2.0” is in the same place – senior management are starting to hear the word and asking people to investigate. Once the OMB Open Government Directive is announced in late May, I think that will get the ball rolling. But change is hard and it will take some time.

Q: GovCamp was deemed a success. What were your take-aways?
SR: Don’t wait around waiting for permission. Don’t wait around for White House to grant everyone permission or sign a memo. Get started now. Find other people interested in your agency and other government agencies and find a way to get the job done. Yes, legal and security will give you a hard time. Because change is hard. But Gov 2.0 is needed – so just do it.

Q: You have had a pretty successful start on Ning. What’s it like working on the open platform?
SR: I’ve been happy with Ning. They provided a basic technical foundation to get your own social network up and running. I also like their moves to integrate with Open Social – I see a lot of potential. However, I always tell people that the technology is the easy part – the real trick is building community. That’s hard and takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Never underestimate the soft skills.

Q: Why did you choose Ning over a unique community in a larger social network?
SR: Part of the reason I created GovLoop is that I used to run groups in LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace for a non-profit I created called Young Government Leaders.

And there are 2 things I noted:
1) We were building silos again – the Young Government Leaders people were still not talking to other government people like Federally Employed Women, State and Local, International, and people who didn’t know about us
2) The conversations were not very rich – the blogs and discussions were very limited and didn’t take off. And the other features were also limited.

But I still have have GovLoop groups in Linkedin and Facebook as another way for members to stay in touch. So feel free to check them out.

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