Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gov't 2.0

1 comment:

DesaraeV said...

Government 2.0: A Theory of Social Government

August 7, 2008 — 08:27 AM PDT — by Mark Drapeau —

mark-headshotThis is the second of two posts written by Dr. Mark Drapeau about government 2.0. Click here to read his first post, “Government 2.0: An Insider’s Perspective.”

In June 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm, released a report stating that, “more than 4 years after September 11, the nation still lacked the government-wide policies and processes called for in law to provide a framework for guiding and integrating a myriad of ongoing efforts to share terrorism-related information critical to protecting our homeland.”

Simply put, people in the government aren’t talking to each other enough. As one person, I cannot pretend to solve this problem, nor even understand all of the issues involved. And understandably, the details of some of the workings of government are shielded from public consumption. But for our purposes here, I ask a slightly different question: Given that governments are inherently reactive, rather than proactive (I need give no examples), how can this be compatible with the rapidly evolving world of social software?

In what I think is a good trend, people associated with the government are using Web 2.0 (whether they know it or not). Increasingly, senior officials in the national security community have LinkedIn accounts and curiously dip their toes in the Facebook and Twitter waters, if only because they hear about these sites from their daughters or research assistants. The only way to truly understand the power of Web 2.0 is to participate in it, and even the smallest foray should be applauded.

Ironically, however, many government agencies block such sites for use at work. For example, I cannot access MySpace or YouTube from the computer in my office at the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security TSA-Security-Problems (DHS) blocks most social networking sites Most-Networked-Executives besides LinkedIn. At least one part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) blocks Google Chat. Not only do these policies make little sense (there are legitimate research uses for all of these sites, while email, iTunes itunes-overtakes-wal-mart-in-music-sales Apr-4-2008 , and non-blocked websites are ‘abused’ daily), the policies are inconsistent.

Despite this, there are overt sprinklings of Web 2.0 influence all over the federal government. For example, in mid-2007, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsored a public blog about pandemic influenza, which I contributed to due to my work on global health security. This was a great early example of a government agency engaging with an interested, and in many cases, expert audience.


Contemporary government blogs include very solid efforts by two agencies that people love to hate: the Transportation Security Administration Best-Business-Travel-Lessons (TSA), and the U.S. Postal Service – the latter of which is a very creative effort. NASA has multiple Twitter-streams in the realm of micro-blogging, and they utilize YouTube YouTube and other new media to publicize their exciting work. More budding efforts abound.

There are also promising extra-governmental efforts. Perhaps most notable among them, GovLoop was built using Ning and in only seven weeks has attracted over 500 users from federal, state, and local governments. There was also an event entitled Social Media in Government, with the goal of the conference to “capture the power of social media in your organization, along with helpful tools, tips and techniques to get started.” Activities like these are already making it easier for public servants to share ideas and knowledge.

At a recent Washington, DC-area conference entitled ”Defense 2.0,” Opening Keynote speaker Michael Nelson pointed out that the Internet has ceased to be a tool, and has evolved into a place. And Marketing 101 teaches that you want to be in the places where your target audience is. For the government, whether interested in recruiting employees, talking to subject-matter experts, or collecting counter-terrorism intelligence, using “rich media” to participate in discussions on the Internet and get people to engage with their “brand” will be increasingly important.

But Defense 2.0 is still in its infancy, with a large gap between vision and reality. Thus far, Web 2.0 efforts, while some of them are very promising (for example, Intellipedia), have mainly occurred in isolation, with lack of coordination and no overall Government 2.0 theory, strategy, or framework for using these new social tools to best serve the American people. Here, I begin to describe the beginnings of such a framework.

Mainstream media coverage of the national security community largely involves “guns and ammo,” but increasingly U.S. armed forces leverage the power of other elements of government including diplomatic, intelligence, and economic components to conduct complex, “low-intensity” operations that involve far more than combat. These efforts also regularly involve groups outside the federal government, whether they are state and local responders, military forces of other nations, or global non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“It’s the notion of unity of effort without unity of control,” says Dr. Linton Wells II, who has a background in the Navy, previously acted as the CIO of the entire U.S. military apparatus, and is now heavily involved with efforts to provide “transportable infrastructures” including inexpensive communications technologies to disaster-relief zones (see STAR-TIDES, below).

Because modern governments now think about military missions for national security in a much broader context, opportunities to use social software can best be divided into three very broad – and diverse – arenas. They are: (1) government internal information sharing, (2) creating and nurturing relationships with non-governmental entities, and (3) empowering people, particularly those in post-disaster, post-war, or impoverished situations. Understanding the pros and cons of incorporating Web 2.0 tools into each of these circumstances is the goal of a research project I have started at the National Defense University called Social Software for Security, or S3.

Internal governmental information sharing means different things to different people. The most commonly-stated objection to the incorporation of social software into national security operations is that malware could be implanted or the social tools could otherwise provide access into government systems, thereby reducing network integrity. However, a good deal of government information, while perhaps private, is not necessarily so much so that off-the-shelf Web 2.0 sites cannot be utilized – they do typically come with some security features.

maverickExamples of such “less secure” information exchanges include Office Directors polling staffs about coordinating schedules or planning social events, Naval Postgraduate School students using iPods IPod with audio/video to supplement lectures, Public Affairs monitoring media feeds about topics of interest, or Human Resources bringing soldiers’ families together using social networks that provide information about local areas. Paraphrasing what Maverick might say about this information, “If I told you, I would not have to kill you.”

In the realm of developing and nurturing a social network of government employees and non-governmental entities, social software also has numerous applications. Sites like kluster can enhance communication and not only help to promote organization within an amorphous and changing coalition, but also help groups discuss problems and arrive at actionable conclusions. Some very important entities, like the Defense Science Board and the Highlands Forum, involve groups of subject matter experts from inside and outside government interacting in various ad hoc ways to solve challenging problems in national security.

A global social network along these same lines is called STAR-TIDES, or Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research – Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support. STAR-TIDES is a network of governmental, non-profit, academic, and other individuals dedicated to providing low-cost, transportable infrastructure for post-disaster, impoverished, or post-war individuals; including cheap mobile communications technologies.


In the social software space, STAR-TIDES has a Twitter stream detailing conferences attended, sponsored events, daily meetings, and the like. The network may also begin using sites like kluster or DeepDebate to go through an organized, collaborative decision-making process to arrive at actionable conclusions.

Finally, STAR-TIDES is utilizing mashups in their humanitarian efforts. One, constructed by InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases, and Disasters), is called Contacts Nearby. This program interfaces your Facebook biography with Google Maps (geographical information) and Twitter (archivable communications), allowing (say) a refugee to read about, geo-locate, and chat with a U.S. Marine unit, members of an Africa-based NGO, and other refugees with recycled, donated mobile phones. There is now similar software for the new iPhone which concentrates mainly on tagging and auto-tagging geo-located photographic information using mashups with other programs like your Google Calendar. All of these data can then be shared on blogs, wikis, and other social sites.

Related to this, online social communication – particularly scalable micro-blogs like Twitter – can also behave as an “early warning system” to rapidly detect natural disasters, and even localize their origins. As someone who researches the connection between infectious disease and international security, I have been thinking about its uses in the event of a pandemic outbreak. Could Twitter power users like Robert Scoble help to disseminate information on government posters like the one I recently created?

In the end, diverse missions will require differing social software. Many novice end users will probably know their mission requirements, but will not know which Web 2.0 tools are the best fit. As a first step towards helping such users, my Social Software for Security project has funded an effort by Desarae Veit to catalog more than 1,000 social networking sites and describe their properties that may be of use in government and humanitarian efforts – like whether they are mobile-enabled, if they are high or low bandwidth, if they are free to use, and so forth.

sniki-logoThis information has now been incorporated into a public website that we have named Sniki, for Social Networking Wiki. To my knowledge, such a public, interactive database has not heretofore existed. I’m happy that the National Defense University could help to provide this resource to the Web 2.0 community, and in the spirit of social software I encourage you all to register on the site, edit it, and consider it yours!

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov via email.

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