Earlier this Week, NextGov and ReadWriteWeb reported that the US federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) had signed memoranda of understanding with several well known social sites: YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo and blip.tv.
These MOUs are aimed at making it easier for American government agencies to use these platforms. They serve as templates for individual organizations to use when signing up to use the free services of YouTube, Flick, et al.
Previously, it had been impossible for US federal government organizations to agree to the standard terms of service for these sites due to legal requirements under which they operate. According to ReadWriteWeb,
the GSA had a number of other legal concerns about the standard terms and conditions of these services, including problems with indemnification clauses, liability limits, and endorsements, which led it to enter negotiations with these services. Also, a lot of the standard agreements call for dispute resolutions by state courts, while for government agencies, federal law has to apply.
In addition to the video and photo-sharing services that now have agreements with the government, the GSA is pursuing similar arrangements with the big social networks, Facebook and MySpace.
What’s the Significance?
I see this as a really positive step. It’s something that US public servants can point to in their efforts to reassure their managers and executives that it’s OK for government to be on these major platforms. This will make it easier to go to where online audiences actually are.
We need the same kind of thing here — PWGSC and other central agencies are you listening? (Time to get on the phone to your counterparts in the GSA and ask them to share their templates!)
However, dealing with legal liability is only one of many barriers to convincing the org to move forward. If I consider the situation in the Government of Canada, we’ve got many other policy requirements on the books that impede participation or engagement in the social web – privacy, accessibility, various web standards, information management, official bilingualism, the list goes on. I’m sure it’s a similar situation in the US.
Leaving aside the “web of rules,” there’s still many other challenges on the road to government 2.0.
- coherence and consistency — various govt agencies take different approaches to all of these issues.
- bureaucratic culture — a traditionally command and control environment that is uncomfortable with the idea of direct engagement with stakeholders.
- Learning curve — for those public servants taking the leap into the social web in a work setting.
… And these are just a few of the angles to be considered. So while this news is welcome, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.
The NextGov story mentioned that:
the GSA did not make an agreement with the online messaging service Twitter because the agency determined the provider’s standard terms and conditions aligned with federal requirements.