This post originally appeared in my blog http://wethegoverati.wordpress.com
On September 8th – 10th, 2009 Anna York and I attended the Government 2.0 Expo and Summit, which was a wonderful few days where we learned tons of new stuff and met amazing people that we hope can enrich our work on the Gov20 Caucus here at the Kennedy School.
One of my absolute favorite presentations was from Merrick Schaefer, of UNICEF, and his presentation on “txts 4 africa,” which looked at an improvement in health care data collection in Malawi. Previously, health care workers on the field collected malnutrition data through pen and paper, and the data took a significant amount of time to process. This project changed that system by using an open-source software to gather data through mobile technology quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. After they deployed the system the health care worker could submit data through their cell phones that the government could then use to pinpoint areas that were having malnutrition issues in real time. In turn, people processing the data could then send a diagnosis to the community health care worker who could then treat the children directly.
When I think about this story I am definitely impressed by the technology. However, this is also a story about health care and development, and that seems to get lost in the Government 2.0 umbrella. I have many colleagues who are dedicating their lives to this topic, and since the expo ended I’ve been thinking about how we can help this information reach a much wider audience.
Our strategy with WeTheGoverati at the Kennedy School up to this point was to talk about Government 2.0 every chance we got. Posters, events, blog posts, etc. Initially people seemed skeptical about the idea, and we had a hard time engaging people. In fact, of all of our attempts I’d say the most successful approach we had was simply talking to people, and making it real to their fields (i.e. telling the UNICEF story).
However, to create change on a large scale we have to be able to reach a bigger audience that we can through individual conversations (although those are also important). In a school where less than 10 students (of my knowledge) have working twitter accounts, we have an imperative to change our approach in order to bring them along.
The Government 2.0 Caucus has a new steering committee in place, and we are each taking on projects that we hope will do just that. We want all of our classmates to leave here with the tools they need to bring the ideals of gov20 (collaboration, participation, transparency, etc) to their work. To that end, we plan to co-host happy hours, workshops, and panels with other professional groups on campus (i.e. Diplomacy 2.0 happy hour, panel on Social Media in the Middle East, basic twitter and social media workshops, etc) and engage more students in the dialogue surrounding this work. We also plan to work with the Kennedy School Student Government to model some of the practices that we are constantly evangelizing.
Building community for the “goverati” crowd is also super important, and we will still be hosting events and project that help do that such as brown bag lunches, and annual speaker series, and generally helping to organize the Harvard/Cambridge/MIT gov20 community.
Maybe not everyone is going to be as excited about data visualizations as I am, but if we can help other policymakers think about how these tools can help them reach their goals then we’ve gotten a little bit closer to reaching our vision for how we think government should work.
I’m really looking forward to this new school year and working with the steering committee and others in the field to think about how we can market and position Government 2.0 to help make this happen at the Kennedy School and beyond.
Congrats and good luck!
My most recent blog post ‘How to make a public servant’ is about exactly this problem; how to evangelize the public over Gov 2.0 and has some idea you may not have considered. If you are not aware of wolframalpha.com, you will love it. I get the feeling they’re willing to pay for virtually any good data they can get and have developed remarkably sophisticated and useful ways of noticing and presenting the information it contains. I have no affiliation with them, but I use one of their software products and believe it is the sort of solution you are looking for.
I wholeheartedly agree with you – marketing is really the key. The only thing I worry about is the term “2.0” since as others point out it has been used so much that it might be starting to sound like a buzzword that has no meaning. What do you think?
Agreed…people need to get people excited first to make change and get the real value-add…
Thanks for this post. Very informative.