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Leading by Serving

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.

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Meet the finalist:

Who: Nicole Stillwell, Deputy Director of Digital Engagement for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Exemplary Leader Category

“Nicole works tirelessly to engage with a diverse audience, and provides the best customer service on behalf of the government that she can. She takes complex issues and translates them into actionable, helpful resources for our citizens. She has singlehandedly drafted a crisis communication plan to assist the U.S. government in the evacuation of emergency and management planning. I am her supervisor, and I think every morning, am I living up to what Nicole can accomplish today? She inspires me by her actions and her dedication to public service.” –Corina DuBois, Department of State. DuBois nominated Stillwell for the NextGen Exemplary Leader Award.

Nicole Stillwell walks into work every day with three goals: make it easier for people to access the information that they need; make sure that information is understandable and interesting; and most of all, make sure that people “know that there’s someone on the other end of the social media account…who cares about them.”

In her three and a half years with the Department of State, Stillwell has focused on improving the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ citizen services. Using a variety of online platforms, she figures out the “best way to deliver information to people so that they can make smart decisions about traveling overseas or have an easier process when they’re trying to travel to the U.S. on visa.”

When asked about Stillwell’s position at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, her supervisor and nominator Corina DuBois said, “[Stillwell] takes complex issues and translates them into actionable, helpful resources for our citizens. She has single-handedly drafted a digital crisis communications plan to assist the U.S. government in the evacuation and emergency management planning.”

Emergency planning and timely communication are missions close to Stillwell’s heart. Stillwell attended college at LSU in southeast Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina first hit. At the time, the government was not releasing a lot of information quickly and when it did, the absence of social media made the information incredibly difficult to access. Her parents, who lived in the area, came to stay in her apartment in Baton Rouge. She recalled, “just dying to learn anything” about what happened to her family’s home. She lived in suspense for 12 days.

Since that time, Stillwell’s goal has been to “provide information to people when they’re experiencing their own crises, so that they don’t have to live in suspense any longer than is necessary.”

Having first-hand experience with the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina initially made Stillwell a skeptic of the government, until she had the opportunity to start a career in public service. In her time working for a nonprofit organization, Stillwell often worked with state and federal officials to accomplish her goals. These collaborative efforts made her realize “that there really are individuals in government who care about the mission, who care about providing better services to citizens.”

Today, Stillwell wants people to have the same epiphany about the government that she did. “I want to play a part in helping people have a better overall perception of the government,” she explained.

To reshape how the public sees government service, Stillwell applies a “customer knows best” mentality with all her endeavors. “The most valuable feedback that we get in my office is from the people that we’re providing services to,” Stillwell said. There are so many ways for people to interact with the government, both online and in person, and provide essential feedback. She believes that responding to people’s criticism is the best way to achieve her goal because it helps government offices like hers do their work more efficiently.

By using public feedback, Stillwell said, “We’re not only creating better service, but we’re doing it in a way that saves time, saves money [and] saves resources.” She hopes that this sort of dialogue between the public and the government continues, “even if it’s not always positive feedback.”

Ultimately, Stillwell contends that everyone in government has “…the same overall mission, which is making sure that we deliver services to U.S. citizens in the best way possible.” She hopes that by putting people first, the American public will come to see that as well.

From streamlining government communication to outlining emergency evacuation plans, Stillwell’s exemplary leadership shines through in all that she does. “I am passionate about serving the public, and providing good public service,” she said.

When asked what she thought of her award nomination, Stillwell said, “I just think it’s so great that there are so many dedicated public servants who are getting recognized for their work, not only by their peers, but by the public.”

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!

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