MuniGov Milestones Merrily Met!

Less than 5 short months ago,  a dream was born.  After several months of solo exploration on the potential of Web2.0 in government, I met up with a kindred spirit in Pam Broviak, a Public Works Director in Illinois.  After a few conversations whining about the lack of good resources for governments interested in 2.0, we decided to put our money where our mouths were and build one ourselves.  So we built a collaboration portal and an office in the virtual world, Second Life.  Our goals were simple, straightforward, albeit perhaps somewhat lofty given our lack of resources and time:

  • 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
  • Have a Little Fun Along the Way
The MuniGovers pause for a quick picture before a recent virtual meeting.
The MuniGovers pause for a quick picture before a recent virtual meeting.

Looking back now, I can’t help but be proud of the work we have accomplished to date towards these goals.  This week, we hit two milestones that underscore the success and value MuniGov2.0 is bringing to the government sector.  We surpassed our 300th member mark.  Little did I realize setting up our membership form a few months ago would it get such a workout!  What started with just Pam and I has, literally, gone global with members around the world, at every level of government, and from a dozen different disciplines.  We are now over 300 strong from technology, engineering, libraries, marketing, human resources and many more.  This size and diversity lends itself well to having valued discussions both in real time during our weekly virtual meetings and via our active list serv.  In addition to our growing numbers, we have also been able to move past the general “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if” discussions into providing tangible, valuable (and free!) resources to our members.  Last week, we released the details and registration information for our first virtual conference, to be held in April in Second Life.  Although this is a virtual conference, the planning and effort required to pull it off rival that of a real world conference.  And I am happy to say that the MuniGov group members eagerly rose to the challenge and are focused on all of the details that will make this conference successful: logistics, appropriate venue and facilities, dynamic speakers, effective marketing, etc.  The diversity of our membership and its belief in the value of 2.0 has already made this conference a success, long before we actually have virtual butts in the virtual seats!

We are using a virtual world to meet and plan the conference.  One on one planning discussions occur via Skype.  We have a collaboration site to share info and conference registration.  We are using Twitter, blogs and social networks to help us get the word out.  We will be recording and posting the conference sessions online via YouTube.  We are developing a wiki to help us keep track of all the important details covered in each weekly meeting.  The MuniGov group to me is the epitome of why Web2.0 is a good thing.  We are living proof that the tools are valuable, easy to use, effective and they are proof that you can do a great deal of good for your organization without spending money.

I am very proud to get in on the ground floor of such an exciting and adventurous endeavor.  We’re already getting good results and yet as Karen Carpenter would say, “we’ve only just begun!”

Virtually Yours,

Confessions of a Government Twit

twitterread.jpgOkay, technically in the hyper-jargon that has emerged surrounding Twitter, the alpha male of the micro-blogging world, I am considered to be a Tweeter.  But for some reason, twit just seems to work better for me.  I get a lot of ilTwitterate people asking me why I consider Twitter to be so valuable.  Granted, I don’t really care so much to hear that you are currently picking belly button lint (yours or someone else’s).  Nor do I need to read your tweet railing against the driver next to you who is texting while driving. (The nerve of some people, eh?)  I do, however, need to find an easy way to keep up with some of the news that affects my world – government, technology, Web2.0, life here in western VA, etc.  Who has the time to keep up with all that is going on in the world around us today?  How many good articles and links have you had to pass up simply because it was the only way to keep your Inbox from a massive melt down?  As much as I like to think I am not chained to my job, the truth is, I’ve got the shackles on and if the cage door was ever left open, I think I’d probably shut it myself, just to keep the other freaks out.  Bottom line, I do not have enough time in the day to keep up with all that I should or would like to.  So, I turn to the Twitosphere and rely on my Tweeters to keep me informed.

There are three crucial parts to an effective Twitter engagement:  the Followers, the Following and the Posts. 

First – the Followers: I welcome any and all followers (except for those rare yet mega-annoying Tweetspammers).  I welcome followers not because I am vain (I mean come on – look at the photo I chose for the header of this column!)  Nope, tis not vanity at all!  I welcome followers because it is an opportunity to build community, albeit a community that speaks in 140 characters or less in a sometimes cryptic language of abbreviations and tinyurls.   But, those tiny posts can often speak volumes and lead me off in new directions of information sharing and news from the world around me.  It can change my thinking and I certainly meet new and dynamic people who are in no obvious ways akin to me.  Honestly, I love it when I see that new people are following me.  I presume it means that they dug in a little bit and saw that I had something relevant to say to them.  Perhaps it was a topic I posted or a question I posed.  Perhaps it was simply that I said the right thing, at the right time, in the right way that answered a burning question they had.  Then again, perhaps they were just drunk-tweeting and clicked on me by accident.  Regardless, the point is, I see it as a sign of interest in the work I am doing and any connection is an opportunity to expand on the group symbiosis I gain from Twitter.

So that brings me to my Following list.   I’ve had to cultivate the list of people I follow.  I do not automatically add someone just because they choose to follow me.  I do not mean offense by this, but with the overwhelming amount of information out there, I have to be a little picky lest I get overwhelmed with updates that don’t do much for me personally and what I am trying to get our of Twitter.  So until I see the Binford Do-It-Yourself Cloning Kit on the shelves at the local Walmart or learn how to manipulate the time-space continuum, I have to try to line up the most applicable, prolific and accurate Tweeters I can find.   I’ll generally do a quick scan for a few key words of the updates and make sure they seem to erupt on a fairly regular basis and somehow fit into one of my loose info categories and with the click of a Follow button, a new tributary to the Greever Tweetstream is born!

Finally, in order to get some real value out of the Twitterverse, you need to be sure that there is a communal send-and-receive habit within your own personalized galaxy.  Invest some time and energy in following those links.  Answer the questions that are posed by those in your stream – if you can help out, do so and in return you can expect the same treatment next time you are stuck! Also, keep it real. Say something if you think it needs to be said, but be mindful of the context and that you are still a representative of your organization (unless of course you are doing this on your own time with no reference to your day job).  Try to be useful.  Trust me – it is much harder than it sounds when you only have 140 characters in which to hurl some useful info chunks at your Tweet tribe.  As with all 2.0 tools, there is no harm in checking this out.  I personally never have made any promise that my Tweets will be interesting, informative or even coherent.  I was a fly on the wall for a while, started making some comments and my own posts about the work I was doing in the 2.0 and slowly it became for me an invaluable tool to learn, educate, inform and communicate.  Every day new tools are emerging that make Twitter a more valuable and effective tool, but the true burden and the value of the tool relies on you and what you want to get out of it.  Like Luke Skywalker rocketing down that trench on the Death Star, you are in complete control of whether or not the tool works for you.  You don’t need the computer to do it for you.  Use the force to…okay, you get the point.

So, for those of you visual learners out there, here’s a sampler platter of the loose categories of people I choose to follow on Twitter. Given the amount of people on Twitter these days, I am confident you can find your own peeps and get your very own Tweetstream flowing in no time!

Web2.0 in Action (Shout-Outs to: pbroviak, sarahintampa, GovDelivery, govloop,)

Information Security & Technology
(Shout-Outs to:  govtechnews, Bwoolley, vcuinfosec)

Government/Education Leaders
(Shout-Outs to:  Bill Schrier, ujdmc, bashley, egvick, webgoddess)

Govts on Twitter  (Shout-Outs to: RoanokeCountyDowningStreet, LAFD, Blacksburg_Gov)

Insight & Generally Thought Provoking
(Shout-Outs to: LPT, lewisshepherd, careerdiva, queenofpith)

Star Wars Humor
(Shout-Out to: DarthVader - his twitticisms are as funny as his soul is dark)

Virtually Yours,

Need to Boost Your Web2.0 System? Consider a Dose of Vitamin CCC!

So hopefully by now, we all at least get the meaning of Web2.0, or at least some flavor of it!  I have found in my own net travels that Web2.0 can mean a whole bunch of things depending on whom you ask, and when you ask him or her.  But basically, for the purposes of this blog, let’s define it as a group of services and principles that elevate us beyond the basic producer/consumer roles of the first generation of the Web. 

vitaminccc.jpgFunny thing is, at the core, Web2.0 is not really about technology.  The key to Web2.0 is more about the culture of an organization and how it chooses to interact with its diverse audiences.  Technologies are the buzz words surrounding 2.0, but those technologies are the just the vehicle…you need the keys to make it work!  Much like my freshman year of college, my definition of Web2.0 rests solidly on a foundation of three “C”s.  (The other three grades were “A”s, thank you very much!)  Web2.0 is about collaboration.  It is about communication.  And it is about community.  Take any one of them out and you do not have true Web 2.0. Instead, you’ve got some hybrid approach that will probably move your organization forward in some way, but not with the thoroughness and meaningful value you’ll get out of fully embracing 2.0. 

Web 2.0 relies on the simple concept that, via collaboration, we can create a better product than we ever could have on our own.  Sound familiar?  The open source code community has been doing this for years!  Ask and they’ll tell you all about the tremendous value inherent in sharing from concept to completion – always able to tweak and improve and benefit from the experience and point of view of a new voice.  So, why not take that to the next level?  Take it out the code base and start talking in business terms.  Break the static mold of serving up stuff to be consumed (documents to download, pages to read, taxes to be paid) and compliment it with the tools that get people in touch with your organization on their terms.  This connection can take many forms and those forms are constantly evolving based on consumer demand, bandwidth availability and good ole usability.  Think of collaboration as your framework and your guiding principle moving forward.

Communication is a very over-used word in our sector of the world.  Every one agrees that communication is valuable and nary shall ye find someone who claims to do a lousy job at it.  But the sad truth is, we all fail at it sometime.  Central to effective communication is a solid understanding your audience, AKA your community.  Too often we make assumptions about how people want to get info from and interact with us.  We jump to conclusions based on our personal frame of reference and then we build grandiose info silos on terms that make little sense to our community.  So, how do we fix it?  Simple!  We go out amongst our peeps and take a stroll through what works for them.  Web2.0 didn’t evolve as business tools…it evolved out of that stuff that turns people on – common interests, friendships, family videos and the like.  People became interested and familiar with these tools because they WANTED to, not because they HAD to.  So, the trick is, move beyond our traditional govt space and get out to where the fun stuff is happening.  Learn to integrate our messages, our tools and our services into the media and forums that people are already accustomed to and use by choice.  Communicate on their terms, using their tools, in their time frames.

And the final tentpole of the Web2.0 effort is Community.  Community is an essential part of creating a meaningful and valued government “of the people”.  Community is your audience.  Without it, your message and your methods are all wasted.  As with communication, you find your community by evaluating and implementing the methodologies that are used by your audience.   Post your info in the proper forums and methods, and your community will find you.   As an example, here in Roanoke County we launched a Twitter stream so quietly last month that you could actually hear us thinking about dropping the proverbial pin.  No press release, no announcements, no fanfare, just a simple link on our Web site.  As of this writing, we’re about to break the big five-oh.  Not too bad considering this is a totally voluntary communication channel.  As with our Twitter experience, you can develop your own following of people who sought you out and found your stuff to be useful to them.  And then that community can potentially evolve into new ideas and new innovations…sounds very collaborative, eh? 

To be clear, I am not talking about starting some three-ring “no holds barred” circus act at your service counters.  I am talking about taking an innovative yet measured approach to adopting these three principles, your daily dose of Vitamin CCC.  Most local government organizations will be leery of the Web2.0 world at first glance, and rightfully so.  As stewards of the public dollar, we do not want to ever be accused of “goofing off on Facebook” on a taxpayer’s dime.  And we’ve all got those global fears of security, privacy, eDiscovery and how to ensure new services comply with regulations regarding public forums and records management.   Sure, there is work involved, but that is to be expected, particularly in the public sector.  But hey, none of us signed for this govt job for the fame, glory and the paycheck!  (If you did, I have some very, very bad news for you my friend.  Please see me after class).

If your organization can have an honest, open-minded discussion about how communication is evolving and how we can keep up, I think the naysayers and the fence-sitters will be willing to come together to solve those problems for the greater value that 2.0 brings to the organization.  Next week I’ll cover some solutions on setting up an internal Web2.0 group and some of the key members and processes you’ll want to establish for success. 

Virtually Yours,