Today I attended GovDelivery’s annual federal event, Digital Government: The Transformative Power of Communications. The event focused on how digital government, innovation and communications intersect to transform how government operates and provides services to citizens through emerging technology.
The morning keynote speaker was Peter Sims, Author of Little Bets - How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries and Co-Author of True North - Discover Your Authentic Leadership. You can read the full recap of Peter's session here.
The second half of the event was a panel discussion: "Digital Government, Innovation, & Communications." The session was moderated by Chris Dorobek, Founder of DorobekINSIDER and panelists included:
- Thom Rubel, Vice President of Research, IDC
- Jon Booth, Director, Website and New Media, CMS
- Aimee Dobrzeniecki, Deputy Director, NIST MEP
- Steve Jost, Associate Director of Communications, U.S. Census Bureau
Biggest Challenges Reaching Out to People
The first question centered around government's challenge to effectively communicate with their constituents and adapt to new technologies, most notably, social media. As Aimee noted, many agencies, like NIST, are a distributed network. With people spread across the country, it is challenging to maintain a unified message and ensure everyone knows what they need to know. While still early, many panelists predicted social media would be the key to improving communication and collaboration, both internally and externally. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the most efficient way to reach the public and change their image on a limited budget was through social media and an application, despite being unsure of the technology.
How Do You Get Collaboration to Work?
We all want to communicate better, but how do you actually do it? On specific example came from Aimee at NIST, who took a "people to people" sharing network and put it online. This online forum of blogs and discussion questions allows more people to ask questions and float ideas, many of which would not be included in these discussions. Giving people the opportunity to share ideas in an open space, and actually listening to those ideas, is the best way to foster collaboration and best practice sharing.
Innovation and Risk
Taking a cue from Peter Sims' session, it is important to understand risk and take "little bets" despite the possibility of failure. In the era of doing more with less, many panelists noted that you have to be innovative and think outside the box to really make a difference. But as Peter noted, you shouldn't collaborate for collaboration sake, or create an app just to have an app. Whatever you do must advance the mission of your agency and actually solve problems.
How Do You Do More With Less
All panelists agreed experimentation (even if that means failure) is essential in the era of doing more with less. As Aimee mentioned, you can take away people and cut resources, but you can't take away a person's ability to think creatively. Implementing surveys, writing blogs, and starting discussions are all great ways to get people thinking outside the box. And as Peter said, creativity can come from all levels of an agency- so avoid the hippo effect. Another important tool to help you do more with less: collaboration.
How Do You Change the Conversation of Government
As Steve discussed, the U.S. Census Bureau is the face of government, but unfortunately when the image is not that great. To build trust and slowly change government's image, the U.S. Census took small risks and used social media to broaden its message. One attendee mentioned that implementing some private sector practices could help government "think smarter" and build a better relationship with the public. Steve mentioned a program at the U.S. Census Bureau, "innovation fund," which taxed various departments to create an online collaboration forum. Every employee could submit ideas to improve business practices as long as it had a three year positive ROI. Finally, Aimee discussed the importance of thinking of government as human beings and different organizations, not just one block.
The main takeaway from today's event was that it is important to take small bets and not shy away from innovation and collaboration. Not all changes need to be game changers, as long as they advance your agency's mission and provide better services to the public. Be sure to check out some more GovDelivery resources by visiting their group, or by taking a look at some related posts here on GovLoop:
- GovDelivery Blogs
- Farm Service Agency Improves Digital Communications Strategy
- Open Government Directive: SBA's story
- New Research Survey: Federal Digital Communication Priorities
- 3 Lessons Learned for Government Communications
- How to Successfully Date Your Subscribers (Or, How to Send Great Emails)