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Gov 2.0 Hero: John Lisle

John Lisle, Public Information Officer for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington, DC, shares his thoughts on leveraging social media and the value of using a little personality to connect with constituents.

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

My first government job was with the Arlington County Police Department, and that’s where I had my first foray into social media. We were the first local law enforcement agency to post surveillance videos on YouTube. We also created a MySpace page and encouraged teens to “friend” the department, as a warning to child predators. Both efforts generated a lot of positive media coverage including stories in the Washington Post and on CNN.

At DDOT, we have a Facebook page which has freed us from the constraints of our outdated website (we are launching a new one soon) because it is so easy to post photos, videos, links and other items.

Our biggest success, however, has been our Twitter account. We launched it last year in conjunction with “Potholepalooza,” a campaign to quickly address pothole complaints, and pitched it as another way for people to report problems. It really took off in December during the first blizzard and we got great use out of it during the twin blizzards last week. We pushed out important information, but we also solicited reports and photos of unplowed streets from residents. Before the December storm we had a respectable following of about 740 followers and that has grown rapidly to about 2500.

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

Communications/public affairs for sure, but also customer service. For instanced, some great apps have already been created for the public to submit service requests. The challenge is effectively integrating and utilizing them. We’re still working on that in the District.

How is the work you’re doing changing the way DC operates?

I think all of us who are using these tools are helping to change the public perception of the District Government. It is easy to get frustrated when dealing with a big bureaucracy, but Web 2.0 tools can poke holes in the wall and really improve communications and the experience for the consumer. For example, by responding promptly to questions, complaints, suggestions, etc., on Twitter, it can leave people with a much better impression of our agency, even if they don’t hear what they want to hear, or things don’t get done as fast as they would like. Michael Rupert at DCRA has really used Twitter effectively in this way to assist people who are caught up in red tape. When they voice their frustration on Twitter, he reaches out to them and tries to assist.

What’s the biggest challenge to executing open gov/Gov 2.0 initiatives?

Getting buy-in from upper management might be the biggest challenge. It’s not an issue at my agency – quite the opposite – but I’ve heard from peers who have had a hard time getting their bosses to understand the benefits. Many agencies have also created elaborate rules and policies governing the use of social media, or they only use it to repost their press releases or for other formal announcements. I think that misses the point and wastes an opportunity to give your agency a little personality.

What do you recommend to other cities trying to execute open gov/Gov2 .0 initiatives?

If you’re going to get in the water, don’t dip a tentative toe in, dive in! Use these tools to their full potential. However, you should know the risks, too. You have to understand your audience on each platform and communicate with them accordingly; if you botch it you could set yourself up for ridicule. For example, regularly tweeting messages that are too long and as a result get cut off – it’s been done; and don’t do a lackluster job of it. For instance, I think Twitter is only truly effective if you monitor the incoming messages as much as you do what you are sending out. If your followers get the feeling you’re not listening then you could do more harm than good.

Connect with DDOT

How open was Obama’s YouTube interview?

Earlier this week, President Obama took questions from YouTube via CitizenTube. The event was part of an effort to crowdsource citizen questions to the president after his State of the Union speech. According to YouTube, 772,350 votes were cast on 14,456 questions from 64,969 people.

I didn’t pay attention to the process, so I’m not familiar with questions the crowd may have requested, but didn’t get an answer on. I’m always wary of user comments on YouTube, but here’s a select few from the interview post and the Citizentube behind the scenes post that stand out.

Do you agree? Disagree?

i was hoping this would show the team choosing to ignore some of the most requested questions, but then i recalled that this is in fact censortube

When will you post the video about how you censored the most popular questions?

If the aim was to ask the president America’s top voted questions, then you should have asked about hemp prohibition.
Marijuana legalization comprised 2 of the top 5 or 6 questions in every category and were all censored into ‘Other’ .
If CitizenTube represents the people or has any journalistic integrity you will address this promptly.

Interview:

Behind the scenes clip from YouTube:

4-Star Tweets

National Guard When I saw this article by Air Force General Craig McKinley (@ChiefNGB) about why he tweets, it got me thinking about military transparency. They are, after all, a huge part of the government — I should know, I grew up military, with a dad who’s still serving.

While I was visiting my parents over Thanksgiving, he was excited to show me a new recruiting video featuring some of his people, in a real-life scenario where they stop a piece of debris from colliding with a satellite. My dad doesn’t tweet, but the fact that he was excited about a video showing the real inner-workings of what we monitor in outer space suggested to me something beyond pride in his team. It dovetails with one of the reasons General McKinley gave for his tweeting habit:

“The young men and women joining the service today don’t know what the world looked like before Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. They are transforming the way we do our work. As a leader, if I am not personally engaged in the communications evolution, then I cannot expect the organization to follow.”

Considering that national defense is the largest recipient of our tax dollars, I say it’s about time we got a little transparency. I also like General McKinley’s take on what some would say are the security issues involved when social media comes so close to classified information. He says this type of interaction with the public is necessary, and not going anywhere, so he tells the tech folks: “Figure it out … Some of the brightest minds in the country are focused on securing our networks and lowering this risk. I am confident they have the skills to both empower users and protect critical systems and data.”

Hopefully as change trickles down through the government, more people will begin identifying with McKinley’s school of thought. And maybe one day I’ll even see my dad on Twitter …

Gov 2.0 Hero: Steve Lunceford

Steve Lunceford

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

I’m a communications guy by trade, working in media relations and strategic communications for nearly two decades. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve worked in and around the public sector for organizations like Sprint, BearingPoint and now with Deloitte. Around 24 months ago, it became obvious to me that new technologies and tools were fundamentally changing the way communicators worked — the way reporters interacted with sources, the way organizations disseminated information, the way citizens expected to interact with their government. While I was familiar with eGov initiatives and the web 1.0 services that federal, state and local governments were providing (ordering birth certificates or publishing reports on line and such), it was less apparent to me how new channels like Twitter, YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace and the like could be applied to the public sector. After all, these were “social” tools and seemed more fitting for lighter discussions and interactions, or maybe more relevant for the technology sector, not the business of government.

But as I started experimenting with the tools myself I was shocked to find many government clients, prospects, reporters and more all using tools like Twitter and GovLoop to start meaningful conversations, share relevant information and connect in ways that email and other tools had simply not allowed. As an info junkie, Twitter became an extremely powerful channel for me personally, especially when paired with tools like Tweetdeck or other search sites to find/funnel relevant information. But as enamored as I was with Twitter, 12 months ago it was hard to ferret out who was talking about the business of government or which agencies and individuals to connect with. That’s why I started GovTwit, because I wanted to provide what appeared to be a rapidly-growing community with a one-stop-shop to find others from government using this tool to share information, form relationships and communicate.

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

I think the citizen interaction piece is still largely untapped to date. Many agencies at both federal and state levels have launched programs that use channels like Facebook, Twitter and the like to push information out to where citizens are now “gathering” online. This is fantastic, especially so if you have a mission that partly centers around dissemination of critical information quickly — like the CDC dealing with H1N1. But there have been far fewer instances of government directly soliciting input and having back and forth conversations with citizens about issues that matter to them. There are, of course, many reasons for this, including how do you staff such a model, how do you comply with privacy issues or other regulatory requirements as you interact in a more direct, one-to-one manner, etc. But those are surmountable challenges and tools allowing a way to recreate the town hall experience where everyone gets a voice is an incredibly powerful concept.

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

I don’t think there’s one killer application or tool that will make Gov 2.0 the norm, and I actually don’t think it’s about apps at all. To a much larger extent it’s about embracing a change in culture and a change in processes to look at new ways to accomplish goals. If you approach Gov 2.0 as “I need a Twitter feed” or “I need to blog” you’ve already failed. You first need to focus on your mission objectives, then work from that to determine the right tools to help you meet that mission. Gov 2.0 isn’t something that the PAO/PIO shop should own or something that only recruiting works with. You could use it for internal process improvement like TSA’s Idea Factory, or use it to solicit cross-agency feedback on government-wide issues like BetterBuyProject.com. It’s about *your* mission and how new tools, technologies and applications can help you meet your goals.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

I think its the promise of what government could like like 10 years from now as the use of these tools and technologies become more prevalent. As collaboration increases, as knowledge-sharing grows, as best-practices break free from whatever stove-pipe they were previously trapped within, there’s opportunity for a much more rapid pace of change to take place for the betterment of all.