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Takeaway from OGI Conference: Trust as a Benefit from Social Media

One recurring theme I heard over the course of the two-day Open Government and Innovation Conference was trust. I believe it was David Wennergren from DoD who recommended Stephen M.R. Covey’s book “The Speed of Trust.” I haven’t read it yet but plan to, because I think the connection between social media and trust is important and deserves further investigation.

Social media is a powerful tool for government, as we heard so many times at the conference, yet many are not quite sure what measurable benefit they’ll see from using it. Trust seems to be one of those measurable benefits because it can be tied to better mission outcomes. Here are two quick examples that I heard:

– John Shea from FEMA noted that the agency allows public affairs officers to use Twitter. These people have responsibility for regions of the country, and use Twitter to connect to people at the state and local level. This Twitter connection varies by region, but Shea noted that those regions that use it on a fairly regular basis have developed relationships that will serve them very well when the next crisis hits. Here’s why: when a crisis hits, FEMA stands up a local communications office. Before anything gets distributed to the public it must be cleared by Federal and state authorities. If these two groups already know and trust each other–because they’ve met via social media–disaster communications can be issued faster. That serves everyone better, especially citizens.

–Michael Wertheimer from NSA discussed A-Space, a secure social network for intelligence analysts across the intelligence community. The primary use of this relatively new initiative has been as a forum for asking and answering questions. If an analyst encounters a tricky problem he or she will post it in A-Space and ask the community for help. Other analysts offer potential solutions or leads as to where the solution might be. As Wertheimer noted, the intelligence community is not always known for inter-agency collaboration. A-Space gives analysts a place to pose questions, rather than debate established conclusions, and trust develops as analysts help one another. Wertheimer noted several instances where this led to quicker answers. Quicker answers to questions of national intelligence seems like a clear benefit to me.

The value of trust and the role social media plays in developing it were my OGI Conference take aways. What were yours?

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Andrea Baker

As someone who has worked in A-Space and our company [Navstar] supports the development, along with the prime Mantech. I would say that this Q & A forum is much like Yahoo! Answers in effectively requesting the best answers. But that is only one small part of what A-Space achieves, as part of the suite of Enterprise 2.0 tools available to the Intelligence Community, it does solve the never-ending need of collaboration between Agencies.

Meagen Ryan

I think those are great questions, Jean-Paul. Here’s what you got me thinking about:

It seems like the most authentic, lasting trust comes from relationships between individuals, rather than between individuals and organizations. Ultimately, the decision to trust or not trust will be made at the individual level, on an on-going basis. If that’s true, I see two implications from that for government: 1.)If you want citizens to trust your organization (and vice versa) you need to put them real people from your org in contact with real citizens in an authentic way. 2.) To make that possible you may need more public-facing employees. Training every employee as an ambassador for your agency will be key.

Jack Holt

Great conversation here. Trust but verify is still the prudent way to do business especially in government. You cannot have trust with an organization; you can only have trust with the people of an organization. But you can trust IN the organization if the people have proven themselves worthy over time. It is a matter of reputation management as well.

Rob Ahern

Great discussion… as an analyst for a different agency, I think the A-space concept is a great one. Many times a person can feel hamstrung by the silo structure common within and between many governmental agencies. Tools that break down those walls to communication are usually a good thing, and development of trust between folks working from different angles on a common problem seems like a logical and productive outcome. I often just pick up the phone to build that sort of relationship but it would be great to have a virtual space where those conversations could take place and hopefully encourage participation & input from others. Thanks for posting… good food for thought, and fodder for conversation with my IT group!