Category: Social Media


Since I last wrote about social media and the government, I have been contemplating ways to expand my own definition of social collaboration. In light of the lofty goals put forth by President Obama both in terms of capabilities and cost cutting measures, government agencies must take a serious look at the way they do anything that has to do with IT. No longer will the old paper operations meet expectations. Not only can social collaboration bring the daily operations of the government to the technological forefront, but the return on the investment can be significant.

 

The business ready social software offerings can be used to easily and quickly share information both within and outside of the organization. Many of the offerings in the market are able to be very specifically tailored to the needs of the users. This is particularly true of the IBM offerings for which I wish to make my bias obvious, as they are the products I use on a daily basis. Social collaboration softwares can operate through a single user friendly dashboard. They can integrate email, communities, chat, filesharing, virtual meetings and e-signing. Through this single window sign on extremely disparate branches of the same agency can work together as though they are sharing an office. The speed with which they can interact with one another and conduct business can be in nearly real time. This intense level of collaboration can speed the efficiency and encourage highly successful branches to be able to encourage and assist those in their organization in need their help. The ability to sign documents virtually saves shipping money and can cut turn around to a fraction of what it currently takes making every employee more effective.

 

The cost of these softwares can be further managed through the purchasing of cloud offerings. Additionally the transition to a different email system is one of the simplest movements to cloud. Combining business collaboration and cloud computing initiatives could be one of the most effective ways to move towards the goals of Government 2.0.

One of the most compelling stories I have seen from a user perspective is UPS:

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President Obama’s most recent Executive Order on Improving Regulations and Regulatory Review lays out “his regulatory strategy to support continued economic growth and job creation, while protecting the safety, health and rights of all Americans.”[1]

In the guidelines he lays out the priorities of new regulation to focus on inter-department collaboration, cost saving and appropriate input of the American public. Not surprisingly the cost cutting has been one of the most highlighted parts of the order, with the President emphasizing that any actions must be fully cost justified.[2] He emphasized that the efforts should be “transparent, coordinated and simplified, flexible, necessary and up-to-date.”[3]

Within 120 days of this order all agencies must have a preliminary plan submitted to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.[4] In just 4 months all of the diverse agencies of the US government must find a very cost effective way, as there is very little money available for IT spending, to reach the public and gain their participation in the regulatory process. In addition to traditional modes of communication with the public, I believe that social media may be the answer to this challenge. There are numerous free sites frequented by millions of Americans daily, where agencies can solicit response from those they serve. Twitter and Facebook could be used to communicate the period of time set aside for public comment and a simple survey engine like Survey Monkey could be used to track results. The President specifically specified that that such participation should be made available via the internet in an effort to reach as many Americans as possible.[5]

 

Interagency collaboration is a different kind of challenge than reaching out for public input. Based on existing laws and regulations, agencies will likely have to procure collaboration software from one of the major tech companies. Though the free social media offerings are exciting ways to reach the public, they are not secure enough for interdepartmental communication. As software licensing can become costly depending on how many workstations are enabled, this may be another instance of where federal agencies can implement cloud technology to minimize their spending and meet the federal cloud mandate.

 


[1] Alice Lipowicz,  “President wants to put rulemaking and compliance activities online,” Federal Computer Week, http://fcw.com/articles/2011/01/18/obama-issues-order-on-regulatory-transparency-and-review.aspx, Posted on Jan 18, 2011.

[2] Barak Obama, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review- Executive Order,” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/18/improving-regulation-and-regulatory-review-executive-order, Released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 18, 2011.

[3] Lipowicz.

[4] Obama.

[5] Ibid.

The debate over the place of social media in the US federal government has been heavily debated over the last decade. As social media further cements itself into the lives of everyday Americans, it can no longer be ignored by the government.

 

Critics claim that social media leaves the government too open criticism suggesting that the government would be compelled spend resources to respond to such comments.[1] But this reliance on old methods of communication will lead deepening the chasm between government and constituents. The volume of Americans who daily use Facebook and Twitter cannot be ignored by a government that wishes to inform its public. There are government agencies already using Twitter to inform those they serve. Two excellent examples are @DeptVetAffairs and @CDCgov. Personally as a mid-twenties US Citizen, I believe that the use of social media could keep me and my peers engaged in the movements of our governing body. I follow the President of the United States @BarackObama, because I care what the executive branch of the government is focusing on.

 

The ways in which social media is appropriate for government has been left to each individual agency to define. For obvious reasons the DoD has one of the tightest set of guidelines, which are likely to become more restrictive this year when the current set expires on March 1.[2] Other agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs uses twitter to reach the service men and women they serve with messages that remind them of deadlines and updates how they can best use the benefits they earned through their service. For ideas in how to implement social media policy, The Collabortation Project has one of the most complete guides.[3]

 

One of the greatest challenges that agencies must still face is the preservation of social media records. Even tweets are subject to the same laws about documentation.[4] How the federal agencies will tackle this ever growing problem remains to be seen and Patricia Franks of San Jose State University believes agencies will not be able to maintain the records without help.[5]

 

And perhaps the analysts are correct. Social media may not have quantifiable business value, but I believe that the potential social benefit could prove essential to communication with constituents. And if this is not the purpose of government, what is?

 

 

 


[1] Andrea Di Maio, “Could Facebook or Twitter Have No Business Value for Government?” Gartner, http://blogs.gartner.com/andrea_dimaio/2011/01/14/could-facebook-or-twitter-have-no-business-value-for-government/, Posted on 14 January 2011.

[2] Amber Corrin, “DoD Social Media Policy Set to Return to Limbo,” Federal Computer Week, http://fcw.com/articles/2011/01/14/dod-social-media-policy-in-limbo.aspx, Posted on 14 January 2011.

[3] Center for Technology in Government State Universiyt of New York at Albany, “ Designing Social Media Policy for Government: Eight Essential Elements,” The Collaboration Project, http://www.collaborationproject.org/designing-social-media-policy-for-government-eight-essential-elements/?sms_ss=twitter&at_xt=4d3078e14f2bc894,0 .

[4] Alice Lipowicz, “Social Media Records Prove Tough to Preserve,” Federal Computer Week, http://fcw.com/articles/2010/12/21/federal-agencies-preserving-social-media-records.aspx, Posted on 21 December 2010.

[5] Ibid.