For the past few years, my primary advocacy focus has been on increasing government efficiency and transparency through technology. One of the areas of focus for me and other government-reform-through-technology advocates has been "open data", or increased access to government information, in machine readable and structured formats where possible. Other prominent open data advocates include Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and the Craigslist Foundation, and Tim O'Reilly, a tech publisher who has popularized the notion of "government as a platform" for economic growth and innovation.
Over the past several months, I've been supporting a California initiative that would incorporate a modest "open data standard" into the California Public Records Act.
The bill is backed by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the SF Tech Dems (a group I co-founded last year), the California Faculty Association, California Teachers Association, Common Cause, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and many other prominent good government and employee groups across California and the United States. The most important provision of the bill, the California Senate 2011-2012 session's SB 1002, by Sen. Leland Yee, would ensure that when available, records would be produced in electronic form searchable by free software. The changes the bill proposes to California law are key to ending practices of posting records in unsearchable formats that are not indexed by search engines and are of low value for resuse and research.
Regretfully, the lobbing group League of California Cities has made gutting or killing this modest and needed reform one of its top priorities. The League, in a muddled screed nearly as long as the simple open data bill, makes false assertions about its language and intent, and attacks the aims of open data advocates: "It appears that the bill sponsors are more focused on imposing a new mandate requiring public agencies to create new data files and formats on request, to facilitate the creation of commercial, information-based products and services at public expense." In fact, open government advocates are very forward about our goals, which include reuse of existing government data as an economic engine. It is befuddling and troubling that the California League of Cities would object to beneficial reuse of public records and adjacent economic growth. (Ironically, the League's effort to kill this important economic growth and government transparency bill is funded by your money and mine in the form of its public funding for Capitol lobbying on behalf of city executives.)
SB 1002 is the product of open and public discussion by open government advocates around the state, nation and world. The League of California Cities has participated only through misleading lobbying and efforts to mute open data advocates.
Adriel Hampton is an entrepreneur, private investigator and journalist. He is a founding employee of NationBuilder, founder of Gov 2.0 Radio, advisory board member of LegiNation Inc., and co-founder of the SF Tech Dems. Before joining NationBuilder, he worked for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office for six years, where he developed the office's social media practice, and as an editor and writer at the San Francisco Examiner, ANG Newspapers and the Lodi News-Sentinel.
One of the great local government examples we've looked at is the Flickr activity of the Washington State Department of Transportation, managed by Jeremy Bertrand. Today, we opened an official Flickr account for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office, where we hope to not only highlight our great city, but also feature photos that illustrate the work of our office, from the hard-fought battle for marriage equality, to City Attorney Dennis Herrera's anti-gang initiatives.If you are a San Francisco photographer, or just interested in connecting with our content and San Francisco favorites, please add us on Flickr. We also welcome suggestions on how you think we can best use this channel.
Stephen Collins: Government 2.0...it can be a reality
David Forbes: I Do Not Believe in Collapse
Kristy Fifelski:ÃÂ 'Govsourcing' the Reno.gov homepage
Sarah Estes Cohen: Hybrid 2.0? How to leverage social media for emergency management and response
Dan Slee: Social Photo - 11 groovy ways local government can use Flickr
Andrea DiMaio: Human Resources and not Communication are the Front Line of Government 2.0
We have advocated for humanizing government, and for using new tools to bring more citizens into the deliberative process and to help shape the future of both our democracy and the bureaucracy. One of the main tools for the Gov 2.0 movement has been social media, as activists and line workers join technologists and political reformers in calling for more open communication between officials and agencies and the public they represent and serve.
Last week, Government 2.0 Ã¢ÂÂ a term first used by Bill Eggers in his 2005 e-gov-focused book of the same name, and that has become almost synonymous with Web 2.0 as developers have turned on to the promise of government-brokered data troves and universal open standards Ã¢ÂÂ won a significant victory. Twitter, the popular social media messaging service that has serves as a platform for thousands of startups using its architecture and user base, announced that it is hiring for its first field office, focused on the government sector.
Twitter Goes to DC
Twitter's job posting and further remarks by corporate spokesman Sean Garrett explain the DC-based position as the first step towards a public affairs unit, with support for innovative and engaging uses of Twitter in politics and policymaking. A new blog by Garrett and his team has since March been highlighting interesting government uses of the platform, from San Francisco's integration of Twitter and 311 non-emergency service requests, to construction updates and border crossing wait times by tweet, to the British Prime Minister's communications usage.
Twitter, thanks to millions of active and aggressive content-sharers and innovators around the world, has transformative powers. Conan O'Brien took to the service to recreate himself after losing his show, creating numerous accounts, rallying his fan base and using the free and frenetic publicity it to launch a comedy tour. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert, after panning Twitter as trite, has become one of its staunchest advocates, using it to deliver and amplify commentary on everything from film to politics to sport and humanism. Newark Mayor Corey Booker has used it to spread a hands-on philosophy of hope far beyond his New Jersey township.
Twitter Grows Due to User Innovations
Twitter's growth and popular features have often evolved from the minds and whims of its user base, from the intensely popular "retweet" convention for repeating and affirming others' messages, to the hashtag form of semantic tagging in its short messages, to Follow Friday, the day that tweeps around the world recognize friends and favorites.
Government 2.0 Ã¢ÂÂ which first hit Twitter's mainstream of "trending topics" during a March 16, 2009, pilot broadcast of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast including govies, contractors and consultants calling in from South by Southwest and their DC-area homes Ã¢ÂÂ is now set to join the legacy of user-driven Twitter conventions. The first Twitter office outside of San Francisco will help connect politicians with their constituents and agencies with the public. It will help serve an engaged and innovative Government 2.0 movement, while that movement continues to shape and grow Twitter's utility.
Government 2.0 and the use of social media for politics and public service are still in their infancy, but it's safe to say that Twitter's new focus on this arena is a milestone of which we can be proud.
Clever Twitter Accounts ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ Government
How Conan OÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂBrien Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter
Roger Ebert ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!
There's been a lot of reading between the lines of Twitter's job posting for a DC-based government liaison (and even one instance of actual follow-up reporting). One post really caught my attention - because I disagree with it so vehemently.
My friend Alan W. Silberberg, a Gov 2.0 innovator and founding organizer of Gov 2.0 LA, argued that, "Twitter needs a government relations expect who is also a social media expert. Not the other way around." His five-point post went on to urge a traditional (if exceptionally well-qualified in the type) Beltway insider for the new post, which Twitter envisions heading up an emerging public affairs shop.
Wrote Silberbeg (who said he is not applying):
Because of the Giants amongst us like Microsoft, Google, Facebook - Twitter's entry into the Government space has to be taken carefully. The Giants have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, pr firms, etc. The Twitter person needs to be able to navigate these waters with firm decision making. Time spent getting up to speed will only hurt the company, and its investors like Union Square's Fred Wilson. This goes back to my first point. Twitter needs to hire someone known in the Gov 2.0 space - but also known in DC. IN Government. No offense to my peers and friends applying for this job - but it clearly says that they are looking for a DC area person who already has Government experience. That really means connections, access and understanding of the policies and ethics surrounding these changing times.
I'm not going to do a point-by-point, because Alan's arguments are sound from the perspective of traditional government relations.
But our times urgently call for the non-traditional. I often say that my social media-fueled campaign for Congress last year was a few years too early.
Hiring anyone but a visionary for Twitter's first government-facing employee would be be a few years too late.
As a friend in government recently said to me, "We have the next 10 years to shape the next 30." Our government is a massive public engagement fail, and aping its nature of privilege and insider connections would be a disaster.
Another friend, Shaun Dakin, anti-robocall activist and dot-com era veteran, is applying for the post and today gave his reaction to Silberberg's post and the job description's inclusion of "entrepreneurial" qualities.
People used to working in Gov't and big companies (I was there, big time, with Fannie Mae and FedEx) are used to WAITING for permission to do things. They do research. They go to meetings. They brainstorm. They rarely DO anything.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, don't really ask anyone for permission. They just do.
... Critically, I think, they know how to get things done with few resources.
Perhaps Twitter thinks that whomever is in this role (he or she) will be really "starting up" not just a new office but also a new line of business for Twitter.
So, my recommendation to Twitter would be to look hard at if the person has had to DO.
In the past couple years, hundreds of driven and innovative political and government media and engagement strategists have qualified themselves for this position. I hope Twitter picks from that number.
Silberbeg: Gov 2.0 and Twitter Finally Tweet-up!
What are some of the ways that agencies use a suggestion box? What are the benefits and risks of taking the review process from an insular committee to all stakeholders?
Computers have already helped us move beyond the simple wooden box and slip of paper to ideas like online sourcing of budget suggestions and process reforms from citizens and employees.
Taking that process to a whole new level, Web 2.0 tools like UserVoice and IdeaScale open up the suggestion box to internal and/or external stakeholders, enabling robust vetting and ranking of ideas in an open forum.
Any agency with a broad front-line community or stakeholder group - any agency, really - could use these tools to empower employees and revitalize its mission. I encourage anyone evangelizing Web 2.0 and social media to bring these tools to top-level decision makers.
Departments and governments already using this kind of collaboration include the TSA and City of Santa Cruz. What would you like to see?
Maxine Teller - MiXT Media
Ari Herzog - AriWriter
Steve Radick - Social Media Strategery
Jefferey Levy - Government 2.0 Beta
Mark Drapeau - Cheeky Fresh
Gwynne Kostin - On Dot-Gov
Andrew Kryzmarzick - Generation Shift
Nick Charney - CPSRenewal
Craig Newmark - CNewmark
Marylin Clark - Hello Happy Pitbulls (a special treat for dog lovers)
Who would you nominate? Who have I missed?
Now, that vision is still quite a stretch in mainstream economy, where another storyline is that software programs are now giving stacks of resumes a first read before traditional analysts get to the digitally harvested cream of the crop. But it does happen.
In government, it happens, too, in certain at-will hiring situations (not talking about Van Jones, where it may have been a lack of pre-hire googling that did him in). But the truth of civil service is that it is highly bureaucratic and process oriented. Civil service reforms themselves drag on for years and often resolve only marginal concerns through concessions hammered out across the bargaining table.
Contracting is even worse, as large or favored entities get huge markups to provide quick short-term and project-oriented staff for public initiatives.
The questions looms large if we really are headed into a trust economy where Gen Y workers flit between projects and business entities become much more flexible: can government keep up? Will public agencies simply pay much more for that type of agility, or lose top talent in stodgy hiring and promotional practices?
Before social media, reputation-based hiring happened, too. So are we seeing a transformation, or do traditional civil service rules still apply?
What kinds of initiatives are you seeing out there? Where do you see this heading?
So it was quite unusual that this weekend I bought two new books, and on topics that I've been learning enough about free that I hardly needed them. Yes, I went totally fanboy this weekend when I found out that two social media luminaries were in town. I bought marketing blogger Chris Brogan's Trust Agents and headed down to a tweetup in San Jose to meet him and get it signed. Then I headed over to Berkeley to buy Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It! "Garyvee," as the entrepreneur is known (pictured at right), signed books for a decent size crowd.
So why did I feel compelled to buy these guys' books? Especially since with my immersion in social media and Gov 2.0 and the amount of free content Brogan and Garyvee churn out, I probably don't need the books?
I guess I wanted to say with my money and my meager addition to their sales totals, that I appreciate them. And in why I appreciate them, I think there's a lesson for Gov 2.0.
As I looked for Brogan's book Saturday evening at Barnes & Noble, I found a single copy wedged in next to another social media title. As I walked out of the store, I thought about why I was buying Brogan's book, and why I was about to meet a friend for an hour's drive to meet the guy. I also thought about why I wasn't buying this other book, by someone I've tweeted about and could probably meet in the Bay Area for even less effort. And it comes down to this simple fact: Brogan has made the effort to know who I am, the other guy hasn't. And it's not me, it's that Brogan takes the time to organize and remember things about the folks who interact with him on social media, to respond and to teach. If you use social media to reach out to Brogan, he responds.
Garyvee does the same thing. In fact, I think the only reason I connected with him at one point is that someone was tweeting one of his talks and I criticized it. He reached out with something like, "E-mail me, I'd like to know what you think." Pretty basic, and the guy doesn't really know me from Adam. But he centers his business model, the whole "personal brand" thing that's huge in new media, around appreciating people and treating them as important. In his brief pre-signing chat, he said his favorite type of customer is the one who vocally complains, because that gives him a chance to make things right. He pointed out a chat he'd just had on Twitter where he won over a critic of his book.
And he went on to say that he knew the book was going to do well (it has hit the NY Times best-sellers list, as has Trust Agents) because he knew how many people he'd reached out to through Twitter, Facebook and e-mail. People like me who could happily get most of his insights for free were now happily lining up to buy his brief advice book.
So what does this have to do with Gov 2.0? Simply that touches matter. The same affinity that makes me a fan of Brogan and Garyvee can and will endear citizens to governments and officials who show the effort to care (or turn citizens off to those who don't). Try it. It works.