Below is a copy of an article that appeared in the Spring 2010 Government by Collaboration newsletter, a product of the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Communications. I have reprinted it in its entirety, (with permission from the GSA of course!) because I thought it was germane to my typical blog fair. Enjoy!
By Bill Greeves and Pam Broviak
Come Mix it Up With Us!
In September 2008, we were both civil servants on a mission, scanning the horizon from our work stations in city and county governments 750 miles apart, looking for better resources for government foot soldiers to take some Web 2.0 action. We met through a mutual online colleague and discussed some great ideas via Skype and Second Life, but when we returned to our respective work in Geneva, IL and Roanoke, VA, we found it hard to find some solid resources to help us build on our ideas. We whined about it for a little while but soon we decided that if we couldn’t find it, we’d build it! So we put our money where our mouths were, and we founded MuniGov 2.0. MuniGov 2.0 is a coalition of federal/state /municipal and international governments focused on exploring the use and principles of Web 2.0 in an effort to improve citizen services and communication via technology.
We based the group solely on the idea that there was value to be had in collaboration, and that Web2.0 could be just the platform we needed to promote and leverage that collaboration in government.
We started the organization with a collaboration Web site using Google Sites. Then we built a Google Groups discussion board and established a foothold in the virtual world by setting up a MuniGov HQ in Second Life. These initial efforts attracted a community of like-minded peers with a common interest in applying Web 2.0 concepts to local government. Our growing group embraced the use of these online tools and started documenting Web 2.0 resources and best practices. We welcomed ideas from around the world and opened the group up to collaboration from anyone working in or for government. Word of mouth and some very timely media coverage did the rest. We grew rapidly, nearly exponentially, as the demand skyrocketed for guidance and camaraderie and the journey of 2.0 use in government became commonplace.
We modeled MuniGov on the following principles to allow the group to evolve as more governments begin exploring and applying the concepts and technologies of the Web2.0 movement:
- The more people participate in the development of the product, the more valuable it will become
- All ideas and collaboration are welcome
- Individual feedback and submissions will make the group a truly effective resource and create an environment in which everyone learns from each other.
These principles were enhanced with the following basic goals:
- Become a recognized, powerful and dynamic resource for governments implementing and innovating via Web 2.0
- Establish a strong set of virtual-world resources for government agencies
- Coalesce into a large, active, and innovative user community
- Seek innovation and opportunity in difficult economic times
- Have a little fun along the way
The group continued to attract interest because Web 2.0 in government could no longer be ignored. The Web site expanded as more and more participants shared their best practices, policies, ideas and suggestions. The list serve started rolling with dynamic questions and answers from all areas of government. Both of us, along with several other members of the group, began to participate in discussions, presentations and projects in work rooms, college lecture halls, and larger conferences around the globe. Using Web 2.0 tools, we were able to participate not only in-person but often virtually. Our foothold in Second Life expanded as we added free virtual offices for all member governments to use.
One Wednesday last winter, someone came up with a great idea: why not hold a conference in Second Life? This would allow us to move past the general “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if” discussions into providing tangible, valuable (and free!) resources to our members. There was a unanimous group decision to go for it and MuniGovCon09 was born! For several months we devoted our Wednesdays, and many more days, to pulling together a conference in Second Life. The theme of the conference was introducing Web2.0 to the government community. Munigov members met in Second Life to plan the conference and held one-on-one planning discussions via Skype. A collaboration site was used to share information and allow for conference registrations. Twitter, blogs, and social networks were used to help get the word out.
By the time the conference time rolled around, we had nearly 170 registrations. And although we don’t have an exact number, we estimate that the number of attendees was actually at least double this. Many organizations filled a real-life conference room and watched the conference on the big screen via the virtual eyes of a designated avatar. As you’ll note from the session videos, we certainly had a fair share of technical hiccups throughout. We knew this was inevitable, given the heavily concentrated noob herd that the conference attracted. However, the MuniGov2.0 hosts and conference speakers showed tenacity, resourcefulness, and perseverance in working through the problems and putting on a good show.
The speakers at the event included people from local, state, and federal government offices, as well as higher education, all of whom spoke on intriguing ideas and engaging topics relevant to Government 2.0. We even had an interactive Q&A session that engaged the audience with a panel of government 2.0 enthusiasts focused on several social-media related topics. The speakers and their topics were well received, based on the very positive evaluations we collected. Perhaps most importantly in these economic times, we were able to save attendees thousands of dollars in registration and travel fees to attend the enlightening sessions. All they had to do was log-in from a computer. And there was no lost baggage, missed flights, or expensive hotel rooms associated with this conference!
Eighteen months later, MuniGov has grown to nearly 600 members from around the world, and we are happy to report significant progress towards all of our goals. We have a diverse and dedicated membership that literally spans the globe and incorporates nearly all of the functions in each level of government. From police officers to public information officers, technology directors to elected officials, the MuniGov group and its resources have become a powerful asset to use as a resource for 2.0 research and implementations. The group has established a prolific Web presence (www.munigov.org) and meets via avatar every other Wednesday night in the virtual world of Second Life to talk shop about the policies, tools, trials, and tribulations of Government 2.0 or just government in general. We’ve accomplished all this solely thanks to the efforts of a talented and dedicated volunteer group – no budget required!
Thanks to the generosity of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we’ve got a bigger, better home in Second Life as we also begin to explore other virtual world opportunities. And we’ve got big plans with regards to government education and collaboration. There is no end in sight for the future potential of government 2.0 and we hope to continue to be a valuable part of it!
Want to know more? Give us a shout or sign-up today on the Web site, and join in the conversation and the collaboration!
Pam is the city engineer/assistant director of public works for the city of Geneva, Ill. She has been working in the public works field and local government for 28 years. In addition to co-founding MuniGov2.0, Broviak co-hosts the Gov101radio show and manages the Public Works Group, an online resource for public works professionals. She is also serving on the Program Advisory Board for the 2nd Open Government & Innovations (OGI) Conference.
Full profile available at http://www.linkedin.com/in/pbroviak
Bill Greeves is the Director of Communications & Information Technology for the County of Roanoke, Virginia. He has been working at the local level in Virginia government for over ten years. In addition to co-founding MuniGov2.0, Greeves blogs about his web 2.0 travels for Government Technology magazine. He was also recently named as one of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2010.
Full profile available at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bgreeves