Last week I was in Portland, OR for the first time. I flew out there to participate in Open Gov West 2011 organized by Sarah Schacht and the Knowledge As Power team. I was going to participate in a panel and meet some of the people in the western part of our country who are doing amazing things in the Open Government space.
I have been to a number of events, conferences and “unconferences” to the point where I am skeptical about how much value they will have for me. I am not normally pessimistic, but so often I have found the conversations lacking at best. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very thoughtful group of interesting people at all levels of government. All were passionate and working hard from their respective companies/governments to make government more open and to allow citizens to participate in a more meaningful way. This was not your introduction to Open Government or social media. These are the people who are toiling day in and out to make Open Government a reality. There were lots of great conversations being had at Open Gov West. If you would like to see some of what was being talked about check out their hash tag #ogw11. Perhaps one of the things I was most thrilled to hear was people recognizing that that hardest part about working on Open Government or Gov 2.0 is not the technologies, but getting the people on board and changing the government culture.
One of the most interesting people I met was Elizabeth Topp from shiftalliance. She specializes in understanding the people and cultural sides of things. She was on a panel talking about how to change the culture of governments. It was a wonderful conversation and not the kind I get to have every day! Two of the keynotes were Alan Rosenblatt from the Center for American Progress and Tiago Peixoto from the World Bank.
Both people I had either met and/or known of, but hadn’t had a chance to sit down and talk in depth to. Open Gov West gave me those opportunities. I was rewarded with interesting conversations that have helped me grow and I hope I have provided equal value by explaining how the Department of State is using social media to engage people around the world.
The panel I participated on was moderated by Julie Germany. The topic was “Growing the Open Government Community”. The other panelists were, Karen Fung and Chach Sikes. The conversation focused on both formal and informal ways of building communities. Some of the takeaways were the need to know who your audience is and tailor your community to their needs. An example would be if you are trying to get stay at home mothers to be involved recognize they might not have time except in the evenings or they may be able to do something during the day if you provide some kind of child care. This may sound simple, but it is amazing how often people forget or don’t take time to understand who their audience is. If you don’t make participating in your community easy then people won’t do it. Another takeaway is government needs collaborators outside of government. Find and convince your local government workers to get involved. The overall message is, Government cannot solve it’s problems alone. It needs lots of collaborators both in the formal and informal sense.
The other thing I loved seeing was the continuation of the conversations we had at Gov20LA. This was done through a number of people participating in Open Gov West who have also participated in Gov20LA such as Aaron McGowan, Michael Riedyk, Alicia D. Johnson and Julie Germany. These connections between events in the form of people are critical to our collective success. These are the things that help keep the conversations going and ensure we make progress.
Last but not least, I was happy to have the opportunity to see my friends from Adaptu and connect with them about the cool financial community the are running in Portland. Check ’em out.
Overall, I had a great time at Open Gov West and encourage those of you who could not attend to think about getting involved and attending next year.