Good post yesterday from NYT’s Bits blog on some of the challenges involved in implementing social media in US government organizations. Several excellent comments too.
Organizations of all sorts have been trying to figure out how they can adapt social networks, blogs, wikis and other Web tools to their traditional operating methods in order to connect to customers and partners.
But it is tough. “We have a Facebook page,” said one official of the Department of Homeland Security. “But we don’t allow people to look at Facebook in the office. So we have to go home to use it. I find this bizarre.”
It is bizarre, but it’s a fact of life for bureaucrats. Here in the Canadian federal government, we are facing the same kinds of challenges.
But this also shows that governments have moved past the “should we do this?” phase, to being at the point of asking “how are we going to do this?”
It’s here that Web 2.0 brushes up against the “web of rules” in government (bad metaphor I know!).
My take is pretty simple: the ultimate goal of governments doing communications work is not compliance with policies. We do it is support of our organizations’ mandates. Informing citizens of a new programs or services, or issuing research and publications, or consulting with stakeholders, or whatever else.
I’m not saying that compliance isn’t important. It is — how we achieve our goals is an important part of the process. It’s just that many of the rules out there, especially those affecting web communications, are based on old paradigms or situations that simply don’t square with the realities of the participatory web. Top of mind examples: privacy, accessibility, contracting, endorsement, gifts.
In a lot of cases, the requirements of policies in these areas simply assume that online communications = the corporate web site. There is simply no reference to using web services or participating in online communities elsewhere.
In fact, there are often ways to accommodate the requirements of these policies, even if the solutions are not identical to the techniques that are spelled out in [insert name of directive or standard here].
As a starting point, the American Federal Web Managers Council put together a document that outlines practical responses to many of the perceived barriers to adopting social media in Government. And here’s a fellow government communicators’ guide to getting the organization started down the road to social media adoption.
Coming back to the NYT post, I’m with with the commenter in the discussion who pointed out that:
The key is we have to focus on the spirit of the law and not the minutia of the detail. The issue is risk mitigation and not risk avoidance. In the end, the purpose of government is to better serve its citizens. Government 2.0 has a lot of opportunities to further meet this goal.
Update: fixed a disastrous typo … had left the word “not” out at a key point. You can see it pretty clearly above! That’s what I get for blogging late at night when I should be asleep.