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Member of the Week: Lucas Cioffi

Lucas Cioffi graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point. He served as an Army Infantry Officer for five years. He also graduated from the Army Ranger School and has earned the combat infantryman’s badge during a one-year tour in Iraq. Cioffi is co-founder of OnlineTownhalls, a software application that allows large audiences to hold complex conversations.


His website states, “Today’s issues are complex, and solutions require interdisciplinary collaboration. OnlineTownhalls uses conversation mapping to visualize the pros and cons of competing ideas.”



Lucas’ other project, the Open Government Directive Workshop Series focuses on connecting the public and private sectors to fuel open government implementation, specifically with reference to overcoming cultural barriers and more importantly measuring success. Lucas is truly an innovator in thinking outside of the box, and in the area of collaboration in and outside of the virtual space. For more information on the OpenGov Playbook please visit their page on GovLoop.


Lucas and many others are not only talking about change, they are doing it!! I can guarantee, you don’t want to miss the train on this one……

1. HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN OPEN GOVERNMENT?

When I’m not saving kittens (see picture), I’m usually thinking about open government. I was in the Army for five years, served one tour in Iraq, and saw a very different side of life. Currently, I’m on a software development team at OnlineTownhalls.com which
makes tools for large-scale public engagement. When I was in the Middle East, I saw the Iraqis rebuilding their country and creating a new government. The open government movement is more similar to those efforts we might think in that the key to successful implementation is overcoming cultural inertia.

2. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE OPEN GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVE WORKSHOP SERIES?

Back in September 2009, 70+ people from the public and private sectors joined this Google Group around the following mission statement: “The OGD Workshop Series will enable open gov advocates to share their questions, concerns, and ideas for successfully implementing the Open Government Directive.”


I set that group up as an experiment, hoping that good things would happen. Two of the leaders that stepped up were Kaliya Hamlin (our professional facilitator) and Stephen Buckley (who brought the perspective of a federal employee involved in changing government culture). Jenn Gustetic, Keith Moore, George Chriss, and Alex Moll are among the many folks who have served as thought leaders and have taken this workshop series all the way from design to implementation.


It’s interesting to note that we’re all unpaid volunteers, helping one agency per month host a free workshop in a federal building about open government. And we won’t be shy about it—even though these are free workshops, our goal is to make them the best open gov workshops in DC– hands down. We’re happy to compete head-to-head with some very expensive conferences in the private sector, challenging them to be more interactive and collaborative. This type of competition is very healthy, forcing us to experiment with innovative models that blend online and in-person participation. Members of GovLoop are invited to join us at the next workshop on April 28th at the USDA; we welcome your feedback and suggestions!


3. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE OPEN GOVERNMENT
INITIATIVE?

The White House’s Open Government Initiative began in February 2009 and there has been steady progress. The most recent requirements was that certain federal agencies had to issue their open government plans a few weeks ago. Agencies have stated time and again that these are only the first version and they will be continually building on them. More info about the White House’s Open Government Initiative is here.


4. WHAT DO YOU FIND TO BE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES IN CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR OPEN GOVERNMENT AT THE LOCAL, STATE, AND FEDERAL LEVELS?

Not surprisingly, it all comes down to people; sustained change management requires a dedicated community of practice empowered with a license to create. Fortunately at the federal level, there are some great efforts to build community such as the Open Government Working Group for senior managers in the public sector and, of course, GovLoop which perhaps has done more for creating a sustainable inter-agency community for change management than any other entity since the Sputnik 🙂


With the Open Government Directive Workshop Series, we’ve focused on creating a space for mid- and senior-level public sector managers to ask questions and share
solutions with each other and with the private sector. Our goal has been to create a safe space for honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t. One key element—to ensure we’re not having the same conversations month after month—is to accumulate the knowledge generated at these workshops on the wiki at
OpenGovPlaybook.org.


Implementing open government at the state and local level also requires a community, and building a community is more of a marathon than a sprint. I’d be happy to share any lessons learned with folks who are trying to create an open government community of practice at the state and local levels—they should feel free to reach out to me through GovLoop!


5. ARE THERE ANY POLICY BARRIERS?

At the first OGD Workshop back in November 2009, the open government team from the Department of transportation proposed a conceptual model for successful implementation of the White House’s Directive. Their model provides a clear explanation of how technology, cultural, and policy changes are all critical to comprehensive change management. The model explains how both internal policies (i.e. strategic plans) and external policies (i.e. law) relate to different offices and cut across the phases of change management: assess, plan, implement, measure, and improve. I don’t follow the policy discussion as closely as many others; it seems that at the federal level there has been recent progress with policy barriers since the release of the agencies’ open government plans and that more change is necessary.

6. HOW DO INTERNAL CULTURAL PRACTICES HAVE TO CHANGE IN ORDER FOR OPEN GOVERNMENT TO BE MANIFESTED INTO A REALITY? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CULTURAL BARRIERS TOWARDS CHANGE?

Here was a great discussion by a dozen GovLoop members that gets to the heart of the issue. Persistence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for changing culture, and that’s why we will continue the monthly workshop series through November 2010 with a consistent focus on culture change. We look forward to
expanding this workshop to include an ever-growing community of practice excited about implementing open government.


7. HOW WILL SOCIAL MEDIA PLAY A PART IN OPEN GOVERNMENT?

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) is great for spreading the word about transparency, participation, and collaboration initiatives. Participation and collaboration, however take work, and when people are on social media websites they usually are not in a frame of mind to do work, and their contributions are usually of minimal value. That’s why other, non-social, collaborative tools are necessary to create input that is useful to agencies; the GSA’s embrace of IdeaScale to collect public feedback was one of the first steps in that direction, and I look forward to seeing the next round of innovation.


8. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT CREATING CHANGE WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT (FROM A COMMUNICATION STANDPOINT)?

Perhaps there are two broad goals of open government: to be more transparent to citizens and to improve government decision making through collaboration and
participation. Improving agency communications, both internally and externally is essential. Internally there should be a parallel communication channel inside each agency which allows ideas to compete based on their merit, rather than the seniority of the author. A parallel communication channel with a community of interested citizens can provide similar advantages and should be a go-to resource for decision makers.

These supplemental communication channels are not intended to replace traditional
communication channels, yet they can provide a more complete picture to the senior decision maker, resulting in more resilient decisions. Resilient decisions are those that have buy-in from a broader base of stakeholders because they incorporated diverse perspectives before the decision was made. Resilient decisions are those that rely upon honest dialogue about pros and cons to mitigate weaknesses and build upon strengths prior to implementation. From my experience, not enough leaders think this
way—simply being open to honest dialogue within their team– but change is happening slowly in the right direction.


9. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITES THAT ARE NOT PART OF THE MAINSTREAM?

New toys come and go, but one tool that still isn’t mainstream yet even though it’s been around for years is a standard RSS reader. Stated simply, RSS readers allow
you to receive updates about blogs and news websites without you having to visit those websites to see if they’ve changed. Google Reader has saved me days—not hours—of time. If you regularly read more than a handful of blogs or news websites, I strongly recommend this tool or one like it. Here’s an intro video for those that are interested.


10. WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS PROJECT IN 5 YEARS?

Ultimately, success will be achieved when open government becomes the operating assumption and the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration are inherent in government initiatives; I don’t know how long that will take. The Open
Government Directive Workshop Series will run each month through November 2010. All the notes and video will be online as a permanent resource at
OpenGovPlaybook.org for anyone to use and build upon. We’ve already heard from several agencies about how the workshop series has directly influenced their open government plans, and I hope that as they continue to improve their plans over the coming years they use resources like the OpenGov Playbook to learn from each other’s experiences. I’m reassured, because this trend has begun.


11. WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES WITH REFERENCE TO GOVERNMENT, AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AMERICAN PUBLIC?

Incorporating diverse perspectives into a solution makes it more resilient; this means more cross-partisan and inter-agency collaboration. I hope that we see less of an “us vs. them” mentality in politics and more of an “us vs. the issue” framework for solving problems. Oh well, at least one can hope. 🙂

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

My favorite quotes:

“there are some great efforts to build community such as the Open Government Working Group for senior managers in the public sector and, GovLoop which perhaps has done more for creating a sustainable inter-agency community for change management than any other entity since the Sputnik :)”

…and the best definition of Open Government – hands down (my emphasis in bold):

“Perhaps there are two broad goals of open government: to be more transparent to citizens and to improve government decision making through collaboration and
participation. Improving agency communications, both internally and externally is essential. Internally there should be a parallel communication channel inside each agency which allows ideas to compete based on their merit, rather than the seniority of the author . A parallel communication channel with a community of interested citizens can provide similar advantages and should be a go-to resource for decision makers.”

Profile Photo Diana M. Rodriguez

Terrific interview. Looks like you are using skills you gained in the Army and putting them to good use in the civilian world. Kudos to you for a brilliant transition and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors! Cheers!

Diana

Profile Photo Amanda Blount

Good Stuff. I always find it interesting how military folks take what we learn and proceed to use those same tactics in the civilian world. The two backgrounds go hand in hand more than most people realize. GOOD JOB! Love the kitty.

Profile Photo Andrea Schneider

Congratulations Lucas! You truly deserve the recognition for your foresight, insight and inventive nature. You saw a key piece, which absolutely needed to happen, and ran with it. You did it all as volunteers and you have added huge value to our dialog about OGD and implementation issues.

It’s been my pleasure to work with you even a little bit.

Andrea