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Steve Ressler Visits the Maxwell School

Thanks to Professor Ines Mergel, my Public Organizations and Management Class had the opportunity to listen to a great presentation by GovLoop founder Steve Ressler. GovLoop is essentially a “Facebook for Feds,” it is a great social network that fosters collaboration for Government employees.

Steve Ressler has been referred to as a Gov 2.0 “Rock-Star.” Ressler has a long and impressive list of accomplishments as a public servant, especially within the government IT community. Ressler has been a guest speaker at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Brookings Institute, and numerous conferences including the Government CIO summit. Ressler was named one of governments “Rising Stars” in 2006. I also had the pleasure of being Mr.Ressler’s chauffeur to and from the airport. My classmates and I genuinely appreciated him coming to speak at Maxwell. Hopefully he will find his way back to Maxwell soon.

Mr. Ressler is also the co-founder of the Young Government Leaders professional organization. YGL started with a few friends meeting up for Happy Hours in Washington and has expanded to a national organization. YGL seeks to educate, inspire and transform the next generation of government leaders – Ressler certainly did a great job today at Maxwell.

There were so many great discussions today, all deserving of their own posts. I want to briefly focus on how to encourage collaboration. Encouraging collaboration is certainly a challenge for any organization. Organizations want respectful and insightful comments from end-users and should want employees to share knowledge. This is certainly challenging, so how can organizations incentivize such behavior? First, what is extremely clear is that people across all sectors are collaborating and sharing information through informal networks, so it makes sense to collaborate in a digital space. Since this interaction is already taking place, people need to be comfortable using the digital tools. Management needs to properly train employees on how to use the tools and provide clear goals that are tied back to the mission of the organization. Proper training and policies is imperative to the success of any social media program.

This semester I read an article about Intellipedia using game mechanics and creating social pressures among users to incentivize participation. After a user shared a certain amount of data they were rewarded with an Intellepedia shovel, but if their usage dropped off – the shovel was taken back! This sounds a little harsh. In my opinion, organizations need to find the right balance. People should not be using the networks because they want to win prizes, they should be using them because it helps fulfill the goals of the organization. Creating competition between users works, but you have to be careful that your process does not dilute the reason why people use the tools. Social media can show that a choice not to collaborate could be indicative of a larger systemic issue in an organization. Maybe an appropriate first step is resolving some underlying conflicts between employees, performing a team building activity, or holding a company retreat.

Another lesson that I learned through my experience at Habitat is that essentially every time I considered a new topic for a blog post, a tweet, a YouTube video, I was auditing some aspect of my organization. Here is a hypothetical example. Pretend you are a social media director for Orange-Husky Productions, a small non-profit whose mission is to develop videos for student organizations. You decide to write a blog post explaining how student organizations can submit requests for video production. You really love developing these videos for organizations and want to receive more submissions.

Being new to the organization, you need to review the submission process to write the post. You go to your website and see that it reads “Video requests are only accepted through email or a written submission to Orange-Husky Productions.” This is a pretty simple example, but think of what you just found out from writing the blog post. What if your organization has been receiving submissions this way for years? You certainly could receive more submissions by opening up more channels of communication. You tell your boss that you think more people would submit requests if they could send a message to a Facebook page, send a direct message to a Twitter account or apply directly through the Orange-Husky website. The lesson is that you need to be looking at the process when you are generating content, soak up all the benefits you can from social media.

Last point, no one will use tools like GovLoop or Wiki’s if they cannot understand how the tools help achieve larger organizational goals. Remember that a key point is that using online tools needs to be mission centric. Think critically about the tools you select and how using the tools helps you achieve your stated missions.

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