We are living in interesting times, especially if you are in the Government and happen to be working on implementing Government 2.0 in your agency. Doing this is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time and perhaps more importantly it takes dedicated, passionate people who have patience and a lot of intestinal fortitude. There are a number of challenges we must address as we work on trying to help our respective agencies use these new technologies in the most effective and responsible way possible. Some of the challenges we must work through are: privacy, security, personal vs. professional selves, ethics, contractual issues, intellectual property and copyright issues, procurement concerns, records management, accessibility for the disabled, legal issues and many more.
This only addresses the immediate concerns that effect all of us, it doesn’t get down to mission specific issues or the cultural changes we have to battle with daily. These can seem insurmountable, but in just over two years the government at all levels has come a long ways. This has been accomplished through the hard work of dedicated people who wear their scares as badges of honor.
One of the ways agencies have begun to organize themselves is by recognizing they have new responsibilities to take on due to the advent of social media and the influx of new emerging technologies. In some cases agencies have added these responsibilities to existing people’s portfolios, in other cases they have hired people specifically to address these issues. Over 50% of the agencies, who answered my recent survey, had either developed a social media office or had added these responsibilities to an existing group of people.
The responsibilities that are or what people want a social media office to handle are as follows. Not all items were ranked the same, but all were considered important responsibilities that need to be considered by all agencies. See Figure 1 for the top ranking responsibilities.
- Research emerging tools and technologies
- Develops custom apps, sites, platforms etc.
- Provides one-on-one consultations to others in the organization
- Develop resources to help people use emerging technologies
- Create policy and guidance for the effective and responsible use of emerging technologies
- Manage an agency’s website
- Manage an agency’s social media presence
- Develops content for websites and social media
- Provides Community Managers
- Provides training for all employees on use of social media
- Provides graphic design expertise
- Manages a centralized Help Desk for Social Media
- Develops strategic and tactical direction of the use of emerging technologies
Why is this important? If we recognize that the world has changed, how we do business also needs to change, and the tools are constantly evolving then we have to figure out how we are going to address these changes. Gone are the days where we could afford not to be proactive. Now, we must start thinking more strategically. We must be thinking about how to build a strong foundation for our future.
If we are to remain relevant and if one of our goals is to develop a government that can better relate to its citizens, then we need to find better ways to engage with them. We will need to build working relationships with them. We are now in an age where citizens must participate in their government as much as governments must reach out to citizens. We are now equal partners in this new age. If we are to be successful and ensure our joint survival then we are going to have to start thinking about how we can establish this foundation for success. One of the ways we can do this is by making an effort to encourage innovation and by establishing the structures to ensure these innovations become institutionalized into how we do business.
Innovation is the lifeblood of all organizations and countries. Innovating a new way of doing business or developing a new process isn’t enough. We must establish organizations who can help us through these changes. They must be agile enough to sit at the intersection of government, citizens, and technology. They must be able to have the vision to see what new things are coming. What opportunities and risks are present with introduction of these new emerging technologies. They must evaluate them for government and citizen use. And perhaps most importantly they must help employees leverage these technologies so that they can effectively and responsibly use them. People have an emotional response to change and it usually is one of fear. It can be decreed from on high, but if people aren’t willing to embrace and adopt the changes then it won’t happen. People need help to be successful.
Most people understand the first part, the researching and evaluating what new technologies are out there. More often than not, they forget about the rest because this is the harder part. Plus it’s a lot more fun to talk about cool tools than it is to actually integrate them into your work. This is where we have to balance the current laws and our operating environment with how these emerging technologies will change how we think about our work and how we do this work. If we haven’t established policies on how to use these technologies, helped people overcome their fears, and taught them how to effectively and responsibly used them then ultimately we fail. This is where having an office or group of people dedicated to these responsibilities will help ensure our success and our ability to stay relevant.
The biggest problem is we have a long ways to go. Most agencies feel they don’t have an environment where innovation is part of the culture or is encouraged. There are significant deficits in training, responsibility for training and the development of training resources. Agencies have also identified the need for additional resources, funding and more empowerment to make decisions as areas that could significantly help them better integrate social media and other emerging technologies into their organization (Figure 2).
We are in challenging times where hard decisions need to be made. Some have already been made that could potentially be putting a major agency at risk. When employees don’t have access to the guidance and training they need, the potential for error increases. How can we expect employees to know all of the legal issues and other complications that make using social media difficult for government? We have people working full time on these things. They are not intuitive. By not establishing a group of people to take responsibility for addressing these concerns it puts all of our future at risk. You are building a foundation of sand.
With the threat of a Government shutdown looming, we need to think about the future we want and how we plan on getting there. Agencies are already struggling to determine if they are willing to make the investment in emerging technologies since they have to choose between funding existing programs and cutting new programs like social media and emerging technologies. We need to balance our existing programs with what we need for that future.
This is more than just funding for programs, but also the ability to maintain and keep intellectual resources. With a potential government shutdown, government faces not just the loss of funds and programs, but perhaps even more critical the potential loss of younger workers. These are the employees who have the skills and knowledge we need for our future success. We need to invest in the future we want since it doesn’t happen overnight, but is built day by day, one brick at a time. As President Obama stated, “…it will also require investing in our nation’s future – training and educating our workers; increasing our commitment to research and technology; building new roads and bridges, high-speed rail and high-speed internet.” As with most things, the most valuable thing we have is our people and our investment in them is our future.
If you are interested in voicing your opinion on my survey about the role of the Social Media Office please add your thoughts here. Final results of the survey will be posted in a separate post by the end of March 2011.