What I’ve been saying: “It’s awesome. I’m a big fan.”
As Tim O’Reilly stated with his blog “Government as a platform” – it takes an eco-system of public, private, and non-profit entities to solve key government problems. Government information sharing is a huge problem that has existed for years and it will take an eco-system of solutions to help solve the problem. The more people and projects working to solve it (from GovLoop to OMB Max to FedSpace) the better.
In a sense, it breaks down to formal vs informal networks. I actually gave a presentation on the difference and value of formal and informal networks in 2008 for Wikinomics group (slideshare here) and summarized some of these ideas in a post when I started GovLoop in 2008
From my time at DHS, I see the clear value of formal networks – tools like A-Space, OMB Max and other government work spaces that offer Feds a formal behind the firewall space to share information. I used them and they’re really helpful for facilitating collaboration. FedSpace has an opportunity to be a great formal space behind the firewall and can solve specific formal problems GovLoop can’t solve (for example, sharing procurement sensitive statement of works between gov’t employees).
GovLoop is a great informal network – a space for govies to share our challenges and solve problems in real-time – and not just Feds since we also have state, local, international, academic, non-profits and private sector employees all sharing one common mission: connect government to improve government. As an informal network, we have lots of benefits – ability to move fast launching areas like data.govloop.com and our OpenGov summaries, have fun so we talk gov’t mascots and knowledge management together, and collaborate across institutional boundaries (F/S/L/I, non-profit, private) that are difficult and thorny.
I also know a lot of the people who are involved in the project over at GSA and they are some of the coolest, smartest people around…and we’ve been talking about ways to pass on lessons learned from GovLoop and leverage the best of both formal and informal network characteristics. A clear example from last year was gathering input for the Open Government Directive – a rich discussion occurred both on OMB Max (formal network which I was a part of at the time) and GovLoop – that together helped push the OpenGov movement forward.
So in the spirit of collaboration and innovation, here are my Top 5 Ideas for FedSpace:
1 – Share agency employee skills and directories in one place. I can see how some employees might not want to make all of their contact information (including email/phone/etc) available, so FedSpace could be the one place where people can find one another quickly through a searchable database or cool interface.
2 – Solve the family problems behind close doors. Every level of government is like a family. And an individual family unit doesn’t tell the whole world their problems, right? Sometimes it’s okay to share information with close cousins, a brother/sister or friend, but other times it’s best to keep the conversations behind closed doors. Think sensitive information (procurement or national security). Think of FedSpace as the place where mom and dad go to their room to talk about whether or not they’re going to let you go that sleepover party on Saturday night. They’ll get your input, then let you know their decision once they’ve talked about it.
3 – Find a Key Business Problem to Solve. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Find an existing business problem to solve with existing community. OMB Max, a current federal community behind the firewall, has been successful as it started with a key process problem – creating agencies budgets through collaboration and getting approved via multiple layers. There needs to be a hook…
4 – Invest in Community Management/Marketing. The hardest part with online communities is not the technology – there’s lots of options there. It is how to build and foster a community. It’s actually quite difficult and most people completely underestimate this element. Get out the word, get people coming, get people coming back – it’s hard. Successful online communities require staff and time investment…plus thinking through how to get the word out (on GovLoop we do everything from attending events, cool lanyards, and fun newsletters)
5 – Experiment and iterate over time. There is no doubt the FedSpace project will change over time. What I originally envisioned for GovLoop has taken about 8 right turns and 4 lefts to arrive at what you are experiencing today. And I think there are about two dozen more turns coming. So my advice for the FedSpace team is: get input from lots of people, build, test, ask people for more input, adapt, test some more, etc…And remember the Bob Dylan line “That he not busy being born is busy dying” – so continue to iterate. It will emerge over time and eventually become the right tool for the right people to improve Federal collaboration.
So that’s my two cents – if you want to talk about it more, feel free to comment below or join in the “Fedspace vs. GovLoop” forum.