KDOT jumps into social media

The Kansas Transportation Online Community launched January 14, 2009. K-TOC is a project of the Kansas Department of Transportation, and is a major element in the Department’s exploration of social media and new technology as instruments of public outreach. By the standards of conventional government, KDOT is an early-adopter agency; in addition to K-TOC, the Department is deploying Twitter, and this week there’s been talk of hosting a statewide meeting with local transportation officials on Ustream. An interactive transportation budget simulator built by my colleague Kyle Schneweis was recently featured in the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website.

KDOT brought me in last October to manage the online community project. Community activity and member interaction were minimal in the early days and have picked up only in the past week. We’ve had our share of start-up glitches and unexpected setbacks. A big part of my job is reaching out to an audience unaccustomed to today’s social media (in any form) and convincing them that there is merit in something like K-TOC. Sometimes the audience responds positively, sometimes it doesn’t.

That said, the early indicators are solid. K-TOC has attracted members from more than a dozen states and several other DOTs. The community was briefly presented at TRB last month and received a warm reception. We’ve done fact-finding interviews with several other DOTs interested in deploying social media; they’re following K-TOC with great interest. The brisk early enrollment suggests there is indeed a significant public desire for the accessibility and networking potential that seems to me to be central to the Government 2.0 model. And the community is solidly supported by committed agency staff and visionary agency management unafraid to face the brave new world, which means everything in an enterprise like this one.

K-TOC isn’t the answer to the question of government’s place in the social mediaverse, but it’s a start. No doubt mistakes will be made, but with each error we’ll learn something. As it is, I’m learning several new things every day. And those are the things I’ll be blogging about here at GovLoop.

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Pam Broviak

As an engineer, I am really excited to see KDOT implement this network and look forward to the day that other DOTs follow your agency’s lead. You said they brought you in as the manager so I was wondering who at KDOT decided to start this, and how did they manage to convince the directors to go forward with it?

Now if only we can get the DOTs into virtual worlds! Anyway, keep up the good work!

Patrick Quinn

hey Pam–

The agency started looking at social media as part of the public outreach associated w/ the T-LINK Task Force, a group assembled by Governor Sebelius to compile recommendations for a new state long-range transportation plan. The prime movers were a small group in the Public Affairs office working w/ an outside media consultancy. They looked at a number of different approaches. The two finalists were predictive markets and an online community, and they concluded the community had longer legs. Our Secretary of Transportation, Deb Miller, is hip to new technology and I’m told was an early supporter.

Rallying the directors (which has gone quite well) requires a separate post.

Pam Broviak

Thanks so much for sharing that. The engineering industry has a tendency to be very conservative, slow to adopt change, and somewhat introverted so I am always very interested in hearing how others in my field are managing to launch social media campaigns. I think getting your story out will help others feel more confident in trying to implement something in their agency.