Last week Washington played host to a few events of note for folks interested in government and social media (aka Web 2.0, the Internets, etc.). On Wednesday, The U.S. State Department hosted the first government TED event: TED@State. Clay Shirky spoke about how social media is allowing citizens to engage with (or navigate around) government in the US and internationally, and made the point that governments can no longer expect to establish one-way communications. He touched on the example of Barack Obama supporters using the MyBO.com site during the campaign to protest then-Senator Obama’s stance on FISA. The event was reviewed on HuffPost, PSFK, and summarized on the TEDBlog.
On Thursday, Forum One convened “Beyond the Hype: Government 2.0 for decision makers,” reviewing case studies where government is already using social media effectively. Craig Newmark (yes, that Craig) led off the discussion, offering his help and his wish to “restore the dignity of public service.” Marcus Peacock told stories of launching the EPA blog; Daniel Luxenberg and Sanjay Koyani described Twittering recent FDA food recalls (peanuts, hold pistachios); and Stacey Young of USAID reviewed the online community and conferences they convene through microLINKS to share knowledge among the worldwide community of MicroEnterprise development workers.
And, as if to give proof to these pronouncements, yet another government agency has launched a blog – the FDA Transparency Task Force, to be precise, at FDAtransparencyblog.fda.gov, which invites the following input: “If you have a suggestion about how to improve transparency at the agency, I encourage you to let the Task Force know by submitting or responding to a comment in the blog provided below…” Comments will be reviewed before posting, so this is not a totally open forum, but they are actually asking for citizen comments on a blog and promising to review them.
Other government agencies are going through this process, spurred by President Obama’s directive on Transparency and Open Government, which demands that Executive Branch agencies be more Transparent, Participatory, and Collaborative. It is also worth noting Bush Administration work to advance government use of Internet technology, including guidlines on Social Media and Web 2.0 in Government.
Bottom Line: If you are in the business of citizen engagement, you need to be carefully observing how policy-makers are using social media. There are a whole new range of opportunities for citizen engagement as the government initiates two-way communication, and you may find your next “win” comes not just from driving office visits, faxes, phone calls or emails, but thoughtful and persuasive comments to a blog post on a government web site.