Turning GovLoop up to 11

Yesterday, Steve Ressler and Andrew Krzmarzick invited me and fellow GovLooper Joshua Joseph in the GL HQ on 15th. We ate baguette, drank coffee, and talked about why people (like you!) should spend your time and energy here. It was a good conversation that ended up focusing on these questions:
  1. How is GovLoop different than other social networks?
  2. What should GovLoop expect of its members and what should its members expect of it?

In answering those questions, we came up with yet two more questions, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Essentially, the second question answers the first. The difference between GovLoop and every other social network is precisely in what it expects of its members and what they should expect of it. And what is that? GovLoop should expect that its members (and this means you!) are here to engage with one another, to add to each others’ professional lives in meaningful ways. Not only to write blogs (though that is a part of it, I hope) or to add comments, or photos, or to climb the leaderboard, but to meet one other for coffee and talk shop, and even to help solve work-related problems.
And members should expect a lot of GovLoop, too. GovLoop needs to offer its members more, new, and different ways to connect and engage with one another, both online and off. And this brings up some of those other questions, for example:
  1. How should GovLoop help people connect online and then move that relationship into the real world?
  2. How can GovLoop help people move beyond talking about problems and start solving them?

Steve likes the analogy of a party. GovLoop, in this metaphor, is a bar with about 45,000 people, and GovLoopers are like the greeters who take new members by the hand, and are always on the lookout for established members who have questions, and help them all find content and people that will be relevant to their interests and needs. They keep the music going, the punchbowl full, and send out invites to make sure the dance floor’s always full. But there’s another analogy I like more. I prefer to think of GovLoopers as docents and the site as a kind of living museum. We look for content and other patrons, of course, but the thing is that we go to this particular museum as purpose-driven visitors.
Meet over Coffee Request
So how can GovLoop help us achieve these two goals, to meet others in the real world and to help us move beyond talking about problems and start solving them? For the first, I’d like to ask for this feature: Meet over Coffee Request. It’s like a friend request, but moreso. And, unlike a friend request, a third party can make a Meet over Coffee Request between two people who don’t know to friend one another. For example, one of my colleagues here at the center knew Joshua before I did, and thought that we should meet in person. He could have sent a Meet over Coffee Request to the two of us and let us work out the details.
Solve a Problem
But the really exciting feature I’d like to see is the Solve a Problem program. I think this could be GovLoop’s Killer App and could help it move from a social-media savvy crowd into the mainstream of government, attracting a whole new cadre of senior government officials and adding a value to GovLoop that isn’t found anywhere else (and was probably supposed to be a part of FedSpace, alav ha-shalom).
There are two ways that I see Solve a Problem functioning: bottom-up, and top-down. Each has four stages.
In the bottom-up approach, the first stage consists of the GovLoop community enters problems they’d like to see solved in a Digg-like platform. People can suggest problems they’d like to see solved and everyone can vote up or push down suggestions. At the end of a week, say, the top problem is selected and moves on to stage two.
Stage two lasts a week and consists of Steve and other GovLoopers sending out the problem with a detailed description to people who have relevant expertise–fellows at Brookings, former government officials with first-hand experience, and thought leaders in applicable fields. They would comment about various aspects of the problem and sort of lay out the parameters for a solution: what are the legal obstacles? What are the management obstacles?
What offices and agencies should be involved in the solution?
Stage three would also last a week and would involve the “owner” of the problem as well as the entire GovLoop community. I see this as a wiki page with headers like “Detailed problem,” “End-state solution,” “benefits,” “Personnel involved,” “timeline,” and perhaps something like “other applications,” where we could discuss other ways or places to apply this solution.
The idea is to give the owner of the problem not only an end-state to which they can aspire, but a detailed road map of how to get there. And when I say detailed, I mean, with milestones, roles and responsibilities, where and how to find funding (if necessary), a list of people who need to be “at the table,” and ways to impress upon all stakeholders the benefits of the chosen solution.
And then comes stage four, where the owner starts implementing the solution. This is the most important, and the trickiest part of all. And it is absolutely essential that the owner update the community on the progress being made. If the 45K-person community is going to focus their considerable talents and precious time on a single problem, they should be rewarded by knowing that their counsel is being heeded, or if not, why not. As in many aspects of our lives, we all need incentives to contribute our time and talents, and in government work, a sense of meaningful accomplishment is a powerful incentive indeed.
In the top-down approach, the difference is that Stage One consists of Steve reaching out personally to government leaders and starting the process from their perspective, rather than from the front-line perspective.
Incentive Structures
I have more to say on incentives (and indeed, we discussed modifying GovLoop’s incentive structure), but that will have to wait for another post.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these new features I’ve proposed and I’m sure Steve and Andy would love to know other ways you’d like to see GovLoop improved.

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Joshua joseph

Good blog, Gadi. I think we may find a chicken and egg problem around expectations. One of the big challenges is how to get real momentum from users around any particular intiative until GovLoop clarifies its own focus a bit more and puts itself “on the line” for meeting particular user expectations and delivering key results.

That’s not to say that there’s any lack of great initiatives on the site right now…there are plenty. Just that they are not always connected to a clear purpose. And if new members don’t clearly see the relevance of these GL initiatives to their own needs, they may not hang around long enough to engage. I know some will say that’s their loss, but we all lose out if GovLoop can’t capitalize more fully on member interest. Agree that there need clearer expectations and more directed paths for folks to engage.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Awesome summary, Gadi. Thanks for sharing. A couple additions:

1 – GovLoop “Coffee Connections”: Love this idea. I am the quintessential “Connector” a la Gladwell’s “Tipping Point.” Nothing brings me more enjoyment than linking like-minded folks, so if anyone wants an introduction to another GovLoop’er, I’m happy to do it. We’re also seeking to get at that type of in-person connectivity through our brand new “Mentors Program”, today’s Networking Roulette, and our GovUps.

2 – GovSolvers: We’ve pretty much got Stage 1 and 2 going to some degree. Check out our GovHelp series. We’ve covered some pretty tough topics, from fixing our tax system to improving our public schools to talking about race and generating innovative revenue ideas for the US Postal Service. Where I’d like to get some help is turning those conversations into a Guide or Report that can serve as a resource or road map for improvement. Here’s how I’d do it:

a – Agency / City / State Champion presents challenge.

b – GovLoopers offer responses and engage with the Champion.

c – Experts compile/analyze results and produce a report.

d – Report goes back to Champion as road map / resource for implementation.

e – Champion shares story of progress via blog post or additional forum questions at quarterly intervals.

f – Create a positive virtuous loop of ideas – input – implementation – innovation that leads to real change and government performance improvement.

Eager to hear what others think….