The Art of the Possible: The Impact of Social Analytics for Government

At the 2013 SAS Government Leadership Summit, I had the chance to listen to the panel, “Applications of Text and Social Media Analytics.” The panel was a fascinating discussion on the impact of social media and how analytic solutions can make it possible to develop actionable insights from social media data.

With text and social media analytics, public sector institutions can gauge public sentiment, influence and make more informed policy decisions. As social media and forms of communication continue to evolve, agencies must be sure that they are leverage new tools not just as a mechanism to listen to constituents, but to also shape policy and decision making processes within government.

The panel included:

  • Denise Bedford,Goodyear Professor at Kent State University, Information Architecture and Knowledge Management

  • John Cassara, Former Intelligence Officer and Treasury Special Agent

  • Eric Hansen, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Military Intelligence Corps, US Army: Engineering Support Manager, SAS

  • Tom Sabo, Senior Solutions Architect, SAS

  • Kimberly Nevala, Director of Business Strategies, SAS (moderator)

During the panel, Cassara states, “I’ve heard over and over again the expression, the art of the possible and I think in particular this topic [social media analytics] fits very well into that expression, the art of the possible.” Cassara was highlighting that although there is grave opprotunity for government to leverage social media and sentiment analysis through robust analytical tools, government is still far away from truly leveraging the opportunity. As Cassara highlighted, social media is just another tool, and one piece of the puzzle for government agencies to consider. Typically, social media is part of a larger program, and can provide insights into other projects occurring. Cassara stated, “Does social media deserve to be on the list? In my opinion yes. If the government does not shift and does not start concentrating on this potential data and source of information, we are definitely losing out.”

Building on many of Cassara’s insights, Tom Sabo provided some insights as to how social media analytics has been used. “One example is using social media for the earliest warning as another signal of a pending event. With H1N1 scare, people were posting incidents of hospitalization and their symptoms and talking about positive or negative test at the rate of 1000 tweets per hour.”

This information could be mined and leveraged to understand and control a pending pandemic, and save countless lives. Another example presented by Sabo was the mointoring of economic indicators. “Monitoring the health of the economy and looking for ideas or indications of the next economic downturn is another application of social, or just in general how agencies are reacting to public policy. TSA and the policy of knives on planes was at some point a retracted policy, and social might have been able to do that a little bit sooner.”

Social media and text analytics will be a critical tool for agencies. As citizens begin to leverage more social channels, it will be increasingly essential for government agencies to listen, engage and conduct analysis of social channels. In doing so, agencies can make smarter investment and policy decisions, and also learn the best way to allocate resources in a time of restrictive budgets.

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