In advance of tomorrow’s Sweets and Tweets event, Social Networking: the Two Dirtiest Words in Gov 2.0, we had the chance to fire some questions at one of the speakers and leading voices on Government 2.0, Mark Drapeau. Mark (@cheeky_geeky) is a biological scientist, as well as a government and private-sector consultant. He writes on science, technology, innovation, government, social media and society at O’Reilly Radar, Federal Computer Week and Washington Life.
There’s a lot of talk about how social networking can improve the process of government. Where, in these early stages, do you see the most significant progress?
The most progress is being made by individuals who — in their spare time for the most part — use new media tools to expand their social networks to get a better finger on the pulse of their areas of expertise, discover news and information and meet people in all the nooks and crannies of the government. These are the folks who are breaking down silos informally.
What tools are being used most effectively?
With regard to Web 2.0 in the wild, I’d have to say that Twitter and Facebook still give the most bang for the effort. When used effectively, they can help you achieve the above. In a hybrid Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 environment, GovLoop.com (Facebook for Govies) has been a very effective — and quickly growing — social network for government employees at all levels, contractors, and other stakeholders for blogging and sharing information. On the Enterprise 2.0 side, many agencies are building their own social networking systems to help government missions. The classic example of this is INTELINK, a system used by intelligence professionals to collaborate on documents, share photos, and so forth.
It seems that the goal of much of Gov 2.0 is to create transparency and improve citizen services. Does a more open government improve processes or simply expose inefficiencies that have existed for years?
Remains to be seen. Probably both.
How should government balance transparency against the obvious needs for national security? Are these inherently conflicted?
There are things that are obviously — or legally — private and will be kept so. But the bulk of government knowledge and information is basically okay to fully release to the world. To take another angle on this question, there is what we might call global transparency (opening up information to the Web), and local transparency, which might just mean the FBI sharing better with the Massachusetts State Police (but not with the public). Transparency within the government is also important for national security and other important areas.
In terms of social media adoption, do you think the government is playing catch up with the private sector or has it gone the other way?
Right now almost everyone stinks at truly running a social government or social business in which the new tools and philosophies are breaking down silos and influencing human resources, accounting, purchasing, management, and even social life. We often compare the federal government to the best corporate examples (“Why isn’t the CIA more like Zappos??”) but the reality is that there are some great government examples, some great private sector examples, and many bad examples. And a lot of companies and agencies are playing a little catch up. Overall, I’d say that the best government stuff is as progressive as the best private sector stuff, though generally they have different specializations. Remember too, that the problems organizations face are often not technological but rather behavioral and cultural.
What are some lessons that business can learn from some of the social media strategies of Government 2.0?
Government agencies like the Department of Defense or the U.S. Postal Service dwarf large corporations in size and complexity. Someone was trying to impress me the other day with the fact that their company had over 80,000 global employees. I think there are well over half a million postal delivery people. Think about that. So I think that, to some degree, Halliburton can learn from the DoD, that UPS can learn from the USPS, and so forth. If the Army can figure out how to do secure social networking and break down silos and encourage informal problem solving within a rigid hierarchy, surely your business can.