Government 2.0 Club is an informal organization focused on convening the tribe of technologists and thinkers focused on applying social technologies to the governments worldwide.
Commentary regarding government 2.0
May 26, 2009 at 10:15 am #72602
Have cross posted to Egovernment group
Why Washington doesn’t get new media?
By Chris Battle
When I first started working in Washington, in the ’90s, websites were still a novelty — a bad novelty. The average congressional website was little more than an electronic pamphlet featuring the face of a member of Congress smiling out like a trial attorney airbrushed onto an interstate billboard.
The federal agencies were even worse. Agency officials saw the Internet as a piece of technology, not a communications tool.
Website management was relegated to IT staff rather than to communications shops.
Things eventually improved, but despite the stunning advances in communications technology, most of federal Washington has still failed to grasp the meaning of Government 2.0. Indeed, much is mired in Government 1.5.
Government 1.5? That’s a term of art for the vast virtual ecosystem taking root in Washington that has set up the trappings of 2.0 — the blogs, the Facebook pages, the Twitter accounts — but lacks any intellectual heartbeat.
Too many aides in official Washington are setting up blogs and social media pages because they understand that is what they are supposed to do.
All the while, many are sweating the possibility that they might actually have to say something substantive or engage the public directly.
I wish I could say this is just cynicism on my part, but too many of my former colleagues — in the federal government, on Capitol Hill, on the campaign trail — acknowledge that even as they “friend” people on Facebook accounts and start Tweeting the latest news release, they are skeptical of Web 2.0 and view the whole concept as dangerously uncontrolled.
How do you go down this 2.0 path, they ask, and still control the message?
The public-sector environment has so long been dominated by one-sided conversation that nobody knows what to do in this newfangled environment.
And let’s be clear: What is newfangled in Government 2.0 is not the technology; it is the approach to communications — the idea that, suddenly, the public expects to talk back to its government.
It’s as if the revolutionary corpse of Thomas Paine had risen from the grave, wielding a cell phone camera, a YouTube account and an annoying blog asking a lot of uncomfortable questions.
You remember Thomas Paine. When he started writing the pamphlets that stiffened American spines during the darkest days of the Revolution, he was a nobody, an immigrant and failed businessman with the nerve to start spouting his opinions — even though nobody had bothered to ask him. He was the nation’s first “guy sitting around in his pajamas,” as Dan Rather once sneered of today’s bloggers.
Don’t tell me Paine wasn’t a blogger simply because computers didn’t exist then. That is precisely the logic of Government 1.5.
Those who think new media is about technology fail to grasp the significance of what is happening in today’s media environment.
Those who don’t get it will continue to assign new media to the IT division.
Those who partially get it will continue to appoint “directors of new media” — as if they had directors of television media and directors of print media and directors of radio media in their cramped communications offices. But none of them, in the end, will “control the message,” that rusted Holy Grail of a rapidly fading era.
Rather than recognizing an opportunity to increase credibility through transparency, and influence the public debate through directly engaging in conversations with constituents, they will continue to try to stuff their one-sided messaging into a multilayered world of conversation and opinions.
Meanwhile, the public debate will rage on by them without them, utterly uncontrolled.
May 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm #72608
Chris Battle might be frustrated that government hasn’t emerged onto the scene of Gov 2.0 locked and loaded ready to go, but I think that is an unrealistic expectation of any business or agency. This is not something just government is struggling with. All business and government sectors are having trouble figuring out where and how social media fits into their organization. No one seems to be able to decide what to call the people who launch and maintain these new forms of communication. At least government is trying; some business sectors haven’t even noticed there is something going on. Overall, I think government has done an amazing job of embracing this movement and trying to understand it and incorporate it into their workflow.
One of the primary challenges in successfully incorporating a change of this magnitude is that it involves the creation of a new type of job or position, and no one graduated from college with a “social media” degree. As for future graduates, some forward-thinking universities have revised existing degrees to incorporate elements of this new trend. But figuring out which degree program to revise is difficult because this change is going to require acquisition of many skills; not only communication but marketing, web development, IT, graphics, digital media, film production, journalism, education, programming, game development, CAD, etc. The future of social media will require people skilled in all these areas and more. So what will we call these new jobs, and what degrees will be needed? And in the meantime, what training and background does a company look for in the person they want to hire to oversee their social media campaign? In the end, I don’t see this as being just a new position, but perhaps in some organizations, a whole new department. And social media consultants advertising a full-service launch will need access to people with skills in all these disciplines. This type of change does not happen overnight.
By the way, I did like this quote: “It’s as if the revolutionary corpse of Thomas Paine had risen from the grave, wielding a cell phone camera, a YouTube account and an annoying blog asking a lot of uncomfortable questions.”
May 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm #72606
I think Chris Battle has hit a strong mark with his observations and I liked his article. Unlike Pam, I don’t think his target was Gov/Web/Etc 2.0, so much as it was about our government’s lack of Strategic Communication and the slow understanding of how to implement the new technology. Pam does bring up some good points though for the direction she looked at the article. It doesn’t matter if its Web 2.0 tools, a new media medium (I know, redundant use), or something we just can’t imagine at this moment. We in the military have been battling this for some time because the government does not have a Strategic Communications Plan that aligns the communications among our domestic, international and military organizations to present a single and unified message to our nation and the world. And even when we do manage to say something similar, our actions oftentimes don’t coincide.
Coming from an IT guy, the responsibility for Gov 2.0 should not be assigned to the IT department. We don’t have our mechanics also drive our metro buses, so why do we ask the people who maintain our web tools also develop the content? These are two very different skillsets and should be kept separate.
And besides, I don’t feel that Gov 2.0 is about blogs, social networks or whatever the technology of the day is, but about consistent and substantive interaction between the government and its constituents, with technology as the enabler. The reason why Chris Battle identified the Gov 1.5 phenomena is because we are still wrapped around the technology instead of the message. IT may have been the king of the 90’s and early 2000’s, but today content is king, and we will continue to struggle until this is understood at all levels in our government.
Thanks for the article henry!
June 1, 2009 at 3:05 pm #72604
I’ll echo Pam and Michael. My agency (MO Dept of Conservation) has all our web team in our Outreach division. We rely in IT to get data to us, create applications and provide servers, but we do the design, content, message, and any programming/interface with social media.
Many of the other Missouri agencies have put all their web work in the IT section, and now their IT is consolidated into an overarching administrative division. So, technically, their web sites are not even run by their own agency!
We have a presence on facebook, twitter, YouTube, flickr and have several blogs. The only thing we asked our IT folks to do was make sure the sites are unfiltered so staff can actually access them. We are encouraging our media specialists to monitor blogs and discussion boards and participate in them.
The hardest part right now is getting staff comfortable with the idea that we CAN’T control our message in a Gov 2.0 environment, but by participating, we make sure our voice is heard, and we can be a lot more responsive to the public.
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