Oct 03 2008

The E-Leap

Are you ready to take a dip in the Web 2.0 deep end? If so, suit up and learn from the lessons of agencies who dived in before you.

“It’s a great reality check to hear what people really think.”

And then, adds Transportation Security Agency Web Strategist Lynn Dean, turn around and use the agency’s Evolution of Security blog to dispel common myths about airport security and TSA that quickly gain traction in the blogosphere and even in traditional media outlets. TSA views this ability to respond in real time and to reach directly out to the public and its own workforce a considerable qualitative return on investment, Dean says.

“We don’t have any illusions that people love us — we’re a barrier to people getting on a plane,” she acknowledges. But people also perceive just about anything that happens in an airport as the work of TSA. “Now, we can use the blog for myth-busting.”

The use of new Internet technologies continues to grow across the government. The Collaboration Project at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), which provides a forum for agencies on how to use new technologies to address complex problems, has identified 48 Web 2.0 projects in government, says Lena Trudeau, program director for strategic initiatives for the Washington think tank.

It became clear about a year and a half ago that Web 2.0 and web tools are “fundamentally changing the way agencies solve problems — for the better,” she says. Trudeau and Dean took part in a discussion about real use of Internet social networking tools in government sponsored by the American Council for Technology’s Industry Advisory Council.

Here are suggestions on how agencies can make safe and smart use of new Internet tools and incorporate them into agency business initiatives:

1) “Make sure that you’re solving a clear problem,” Trudeau suggests. Program managers and IT need to be intentional about the way they choose to solve a problem and how they engage a community within their organizations or outside their agencies.

2) Once you have a web plan, such as starting an external blog, then you must come up with a way to deal with security, says Dean.

Security must address three areas: where data resides and how secure the host systems are; how data is transmitted (In the clear or encrypted?); and how secure and flexible it is to administer security rules (Are you able to set granular permission policies?).

3) Rethink the content that the agency uses in these new media, particularly if the content will be available to the public, Dean says. At TSA, she recruited staff members who had personal blogs, for instance, so that they would create content “that’s interesting, not dull and ‘governmenty,’ like you would expect.”

4) If you create an internal blog or wiki, as TSA has done with the Idea Factory, demonstrate results and make sure that agency leaders act on good ideas, Dean recommends.

“If you’re the guy in the airport on the lowest rung, you want to know that someone is looking at” the idea. So leaders need to get on these networks, comment and respond. Dean says TSA Administrator Kip Hawley interacts regularly with employees, who are identified by name, on the Idea Factory.

5) “There has to be a quid pro quo” to get people in a community to collaborate, Trudeau says. An agency needs to identify a real benefit that the targeted members can grasp.

TSA does this for the Idea Factory by letting people whose ideas the agency decides to make into projects come to Washington, D.C., to participate as project team members, Dean says.

6) “Embrace the opportunity — we all have to fight our inner lawyer sometimes” to overcome the policy and regulatory issues that make rolling out new technologies challenging, Trudeau says.

NAPA is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration to define a core set of draft policies that agencies could share and modify to meet their unique needs.