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Semantics, like secrets, don’t make friends

December 19, 2010

I’d like to consider myself a part of the Gov. 2.0 movement. As someone who has worked and continues to work with government organizations looking to harness social media, I agree with the need to open up government and encourage government officials and agencies to embrace collaborative tools and increase responsiveness to the American public.

As much as I support the movement and those in government who continue to keep the conversation going, in places like GovLoop, blogs, Twitter and meet-ups and events across the city, I also agree that we do have the problem of talking to ourselves rather than reaching out and spreading the message externally. It’s not a revolutionary criticism, and I know I’m not the first making it. But in the spirit of sharing which is oh-so-popular this time of year I couldn’t help but chime in.

When it comes to the problem of needing to expand our horizons and reach outside our existing circles I think semantics play a role. As long as people have used the term Gov 2.0 there have been folks disparaging the term and calling for a better way to describe government social media use. I’m not going to call for an end to the term Gov 2.0. Call it Gov 2.0, Web 2.0, e-Government – if you’re not defining it for the non-believers than it doesn’t matter what you call it.

Walk around any government office hailing the benefits of “Gov 2.0”  or “e-Democracy” and you’re likely to get a lot of rolling eyes – or strange looks – from the average government employee. And I’m not disparaging government employees for such an assessment. We have to define such terms before they can have meaning, in a government setting or any other. We fail to give the average government employee credit when we lament that federal agencies aren’t embracing “Gov 2.0.” We need to take the time to reach out and actually bridge the gap between the evangelists and everyone else – here are a few tips for doing so.

1. Make social media and collaborative tools a part of workplace processes. I’m not an advocate for using Web 2.0 for the sake of being trendy – I’m only about using it where it makes sense, and where it eliminates redundancy. Don’t just talk about Gov 2.0 within your organization, begin using it in place of existing processes. Make your daily updates available via RSS, and upload documents to wikis or Sharepoint rather than creating an endless e-mail exchange.

2. Create training programs for your organization. Even better, use online training modules to provide training on social media, and follow it up with classroom style, hands-on training. There is a learning curve to understanding social media, so don’t assume your organization will embrace it without education.

3. Use your evangelists. Social media doesn’t necessarily require reinventing the wheel when it comes to your organizational structure. Accomplishing Gov 2.0 success is best achieved when it is integrated across an organization. This is best accomplished when your social media rock stars are spread across your organization, and when their skills are put to use to educate, inform and inspire their coworkers.

Change takes time, especially in government. We do ourselves more favors by taking the time to explain what we’d like to accomplish and taking reasonable, measurable steps toward completion rather than just talking about what we’d like to see happen with other true believers.

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