Archive for September, 2009

EPA’s web site views

EPA’s site has 400,000 HTML pages.

Guess how many of them (or what %) were viewed more than 100 times in July?

More on this after a while.


Social Media: Citizen Engagement or Gov’t Control?

@BareKnuckleDawg recently sent me the following concerns regarding government use of social media:

  • I regard this “Gov 2.0 thing as the governments way of attempting to spy on the public while “sitting in their lap”, so to speak.
  • The government wants to constantly monitor public sentiment – and I think you are all aiming for a degree of control over it.
  • I believe the government wants to monitor public sentiment in realtime and have the ability to “shutdown” any user they choose

My response was that nothing I’ve said, and nothing I’ve ever heard, matched these suspicions. I’ve talked to a whole lot of people at a huge range of agencies at every level: federal, state, local, and even other countries. In every case, *every single case*, the discussion centers on ideals of citizen engagement, open government, transparency, etc. But I also acknowledged that it’s possible some agencies will use these tools in that way.  I mean, people can use any tool, online or off, for nefarious purposes.

I suspect there’s no way to convince anyone of what we’ll actually do in advance, so we just need to do it instead.  And in a free society, the best defense is citizens keeping an eye on things.

But I also think this is a wide-open discussion topic, and I’d love to see loads of people share their thinking. To get the ball rolling, here are a few questions to ponder:

  1. What’s the “real” reason gov’t agencies want to engage in social media?
  2. Is there any way to convince skeptics like @BareKnuckleDawg that they’re wrong, other than just doing it and showing what we’re up to over time?
  3. If some agency does use social media the way suggested, how should other agencies, the public, the media, etc. react?

As you discuss, feel free to suggest other questions and I’ll update this main post.

Leadership, Stupidity, and Assumptions

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know I favor government agencies using social media to meet their missions. Strongly favor. I see these tools as offering tremendous potential benefits. Yet there are also other considerations at play.

Did you know the Department of Defense runs its own TV station called the Pentagon Channel? I haven’t really explored it, but the point is it exists.

Did you know that the Air Force blocks the Pentagon channel? Yes, that’s right: one of the major military services prevents its members from seeing what the larger organization is broadcasting.

At this point, you’re probably thinking one of two things:

  1. The Air Force IT people are idiots, or
  2. Someone in the Air Force knows something you don’t know

When I hear of seemingly absurd situations, I try to remember that leaders generally aren’t stupid. Partly, that’s because I’ve made my own decisions that seemed stupid on the surface but reflected knowledge that wasn’t commonly known. Partly, it’s because of my basic faith that most people make thoughtful decisions. Even if I disagree with their conclusions, I try not to assume they’re inane.

So I didn’t appreciate this blog post. The writer was so busy ridiculing Air Force leadership that he didn’t seem to read the explanation he included from a spokeswoman: it’s a bandwidth issue.

Not fear of online video, concern about wasted time, or a desire to quash the use of social media. Nor a too-limited focus on information security, privacy, or any of a hundred other reasons government agencies can be slow to adopt these tools.

Granted, I don’t know what else the spokeswoman said, and I don’t know what else the blogger might have uncovered. Maybe the bandwidth concern is a smokescreen. I’ll probably never know.

But that’s my point. It’s far too easy to snipe from the sidelines. Too many people think they know everything going into these decisions, and that they know better what should be done.

For example, the blogger thought it was important for Air Force personnel to be able to watch a cooking show.  As a taxpayer, I’m wondering why my money is going to pay for the creation of such a show, and why my money should be allocated to provide bandwidth for anyone to watch it.

But I also assume there’s more to that story, and that the decision makers have reasons I’m not aware of.

By all means, the blogger and others should ask those questions.  And government leaders owe the public the answers.

But even as you question, and even if you disagree, don’t assume the people making the decisions are stupid.

Is it better for an agency or an agency head to be on Facebook?

In gov’t web management circles, a common assumption is that there isn’t much interest in agency heads.  Rather, people come to us for information or to do things like get their driver’s licenses.  I discuss this idea with my friend Candi Harrison on a regular basis, and she’s blogged about how much she dislikes making a big deal out of agency heads.

I agree with the point that our Web sites should be about primarily about serving citizens. But I’m starting to wonder whether,  in the world of social media, we’re missing an opportunity.

At EPA, we’re trying out a few different approaches on Facebook. Comparing Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s page to the main EPA Facebook page, we’re getting some good data that suggests the personal approach works really well in this venue.

EPA has 2660 fans. Administrator Jackson has 1391 fans, but is growing faster.

On Facebook, fans can click a button saying they like something and they can also comment.  Let’s look at what happened with a recent post on each page about an op-ed by Administrator Jackson on selling environmentalism.

On the main EPA page, 4 people clicked they liked it and 4 commented.  On the Administrator’s page, 33 clicked they liked it and 20 commented.

This result is typical when we post things to both pages.

My takeaway is that for items focused specifically on Administrator Jackson, her page’s fans react much more.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as we make efforts to have the main page be more interactive and personal, and as we focus on a few specific topics.

And while we’re looking at personal vs. organizational, here’s a related question: is it possible to have a Facebook fan base heavily engage with a page that covers a broad variety of topics, or is it better to focus it much more narrowly?  I’m guessing the latter is better in terms of measuring engagement.

Stay tuned.

Engaging the public in policy using blogs as discussion forums

I work at the US Environmental Protection Agency, and we’re trying out some old tools in new ways.

Currently, our enforcement office is using two blogs to post concepts and then taking comments from anyone who wants to join in.

1) Setting environmental enforcement priorities
2) Establishing a plan to improve enforcement of the Clean Water Act

And this is just the beginning. For example, our chief financial officer is going to use the same idea to invite the public to revise our strategic plan. And I know of at least one other program already planning to use a blog the same way.

We’re also avidly exploring how to use social media for formal rulemaking, where the contributions can directly affect regulations.

I’m excited about these developments, and I encourage you to check ’em out!

I’m on Twitter @levyj413