Gov 2.0 Hero: Lewis Shepherd

Gov 2.0 Hero: Lewis Shepherd

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

I’m an odd duck in this realm, a bit older than most of the Gov 2.0 forefront folks. I participated in Gov 1.0, and in Gov 0.9 before that, and in Pre-Wired Gov before that. As a kid in the ‘60s I was a political junkie, and I made candy money at the age of 6 by swarming parking lots for my local congressman in North Carolina and putting his bumperstickers on cars. A nickel a car for me, and no permission sought; people would at some point discover they had been driving around advertising their Member of Congress. Imagine if politicians today were remotely adding a banner ad to constituents’ personal websites and blogs! During grad school at Stanford two of my professors (Condi Rice of the last Administration, Dennis Ross of the new one) arranged a Pentagon gig for me as a Soviet foreign policy analyst in the Pentagon’s “internal think tank,” the Office of Net Assessment; it was 1985 and I already had my own PC, so I expected a shiny supercomputer on my desk at the Pentagon. Instead, I got an IBM Selectric II typewriter. I evangelized use of new technologies then, and again with my early jobs in city government. I worked for the Mayors of San Jose and San Francisco, during the Gov 1.0 era – in 1995 we launched a heavily hyperlinked website for San Francisco’s Mayor, winning awards for innovation, and were praised for being “ the only candidate to post answers to questions from community groups.” But there was certainly no realtime interactivity with citizens and between citizens, which we’d consider a sine qua non of Web 2.0 use. After doing well in the Silicon Valley startup/venture capital world in the ‘90s, the attacks of 9/11 drew me back to Washington where I took advantage of what I had learned for another stint in government, at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2003-2007, where I had the opportunity (and budget & awesome team) to introduce new technologies and social software practices. I made a point of seeking out like-minded folks in other intelligence agencies, DoD organizations, and civilian government departments, so that by the time I left government to join the Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, I was enmeshed in a global web of brilliant innovators at federal, state, and local levels who are defining the frontiers of open, interactive government. I feel like I’ve had an incredibly fortunate career already.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

It depends how you slice ”government.” Here in Washington DC, there’s still a slow awakening of IT professionals within federal agencies to just how cheap and powerful the new enterprise capabilities are, and how easily implemented if you’re tactically smart. Microsoft Research has even been working on the social aspects of nudging traditional bureaucratic thinking towards a more agile Enterprise 2.0 approach to Government, and we’re seeing a lot of success there by partnering with the Obama Administration. Outside the Beltway I’d say that state and local levels have seen the least penetration so far, so there’s enormous opportunity there. I’d also argue that internationally, underdeveloped nations have enormous needs: U.S. policy for instance can now refine the traditional promotion of democracy abroad with support for the actual means of democratic expression, by sponsoring adoption of new software tools and basic web infrastructure expansion.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

Can’t tell you because we’re building it in the lab right now, ha! Seriously, the killer app may be something big and powerful, from an enterprise perspective, though I’d put the odds on something less obvious, but more pervasive. Here’s what I mean. I think often about the roots of the original Progressive movement at the dawn of the 20th Century, and their advocacy of direct-vote referendums, championed by Hiram Johnson and the like. Those give the people a direct say over particular issues, but the downside is that “the people” don’t always exercise informed judgment, and popular opinion can be manipulated and swayed by malevolent interests. So I’m looking to Gov 2.0 capabilities that maintain the representative aspect (the elected official, exercising his or her judgment) while incorporating real-time, structured, unfiltered but managed visualizations of popular opinion and advice. I’m intrigued by new services along these lines like,,, and the like, but I’m also a big proponent of semantic computing – called Web 3.0 by some – and that should lead the worlds of crowdsourcing, prediction markets, and open government data movements to unfold in dramatic, previously unexpected ways. We’re working on cool stuff like that.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

Oddly, not the part I worked on most in the intelligence world, which was mostly helping government folks better share information and collaboratively develop knowledge among themselves. As important as that is, I’m much more interested in the bottom-up revolution, or “outside-in” dimension. Lin Wells and Mark Drapeau call this Inbound Sharing, or “allowing government to obtain input from citizens and other persons outside the government more easily” in their seminal paper on Social Software in government; however I’d put the emphasis not on “government obtaining input” but on the new ability of the governed to drive information flow, governmental processes, and outcomes. You can’t watch what’s gone on with social software use in Egypt’s Facebook Revolution, our own 2008 campaign, or Iran’s election protests, without feeling that Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been prolific twitterers with awesome blogs. I think about that a lot when I blog myself, and I think we’re heading into an incredibly exciting period. There’ll be ugly hurdles and frustrations but I take the long view (you have to at my age). I’m incredibly optimistic about the future, because I intend to help invent it.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at

4 Responses

  1. Lewis is a personal Gov hero of mine. We actually worked in the same shop back in the day at DIA and just missed each other. Had I known he was coming onboard, I would have stayed during his tenure. But then would I be where I am today? I’ve been reading his blog for years internally and externally. And its a sharp, sharp mind he’s got. The great thing is, since connecting in person at an Enterprise 2.0 event last fall, I feel that we can learn a lot from each other and really help make long lasting and positive change for Government.

    Congrats Lewis, this is a well deserve honor.

  2. Tom Nocera

    Kudos. It’s inspiring to know we have skills and experience at work in D.C. in a position to make a positive impact on the future.


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