A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues

Author Archives: GovDelivery

By Michael Bayliss-Brown, Public Sector Sales Consultant

How the Ministry of Defence (MoD) can streamline digital communications to engage the public, increase efficiency, improve effectiveness and achieve cost savings.

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Guardian recently hosted a live chat regarding digital transformation at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to uncover the innovation, transparency and citizen engagement at work within the walls of Whitehall. Jon Thompson, permanent under secretary for the MoD, said before the chat: “Defence has long enjoyed digital pre-eminence in the battle space, but we have lagged behind in the way we exploit digital to make our business more efficient and effective”.

This is not the first time you’ll hear government referred to as “a business”. Government and industry leaders recognise the need for a solid business case and process underpinning their digital communications strategies at both the central and local government levels.

According to Liz Azyan, Digital Strategist and Social Media Marketing Consultant, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is setting an excellent example of putting users first with its business tax dashboard:

 Giving small business customers the ability to perform several transactions with the department on a single platform and providing them with the tools and library of information that they need to complete those transactions, puts the customer first. It’s supporting users in a way that says, ‘We care and we want to help you in the best way we can’. And sometimes for users, that’s the best type of support you can ask for – the visibility of thought and care to their needs and also, the ability to give feedback to improve”.

Roger Hutton, director defence strategy and digital leader at the Ministry of Defence stated:

We’re now (as it says in Digital in Defence) concentrating on better understanding the user requirement, developing digital awareness among the department’s senior leadership and skills across its workforce, re-examining our principal interfaces with citizens (particularly for veterans and potential recruits) and improving ICT capabilities for business delivery.”

Currently MoD is leveraging a variety of innovative communication channels to engage with audiences inside and outside the department. Social media is enabling the digital team to quickly gauge public sentiment on subjects and provide important material via new mediums, like photography and video.

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful communications channel, and digital teams should leverage that channel to reach the public. However, according to a Pew Research survey in the U.S., email is the most popular online activity for adults, so it should be the channel of choice for government organisations, complemented by social networking sites.

MoD would benefit from observing the digital technology already in use in other departments as a blueprint for its own digital programme. Many government organisations are solving users’ challenges by simply enabling citizens and stakeholders to receive information proactively and allowing them to subscribe to news that is relevant to their daily lives.

According to Liz Azyan, sharing with and learning from digital leaders at other departments is necessary for government to thrive in a digital environment. During the discussion, panellists cited HMRC and Norfolk County Council as examples of digital transformation at the central and local levels. While local authorities tend to focus on increasing external customer engagement and reducing the cost of that engagement, both central government and local authorities are leveraging technology to engage the public, enhance customer satisfaction, and achieve cost savings using online channels.

According to OFCOM, UK’s independent regulator and competition authority for communication industries, 94 percent of adults own or use a mobile phone, while 55 percent of adults with home internet use social networking.  It’s tempting to assume that social networking sites will ensure engagement with citizens. However, a more effective tactic for reaching and engaging internal employees and the public would be a hybrid approach, utilising direct email and social media to proactively connect with audiences.

A Pew Research survey in the US found that 92 percent of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web, including 59 percent who do so on a typical day. Among online adults, 92 percent use email, with 61 percent using email on an average day. Since the Pew Internet Project began measuring adults’ online activities in the last decade, these two behaviours have consistently ranked as the most popular. Even as early as 2002, more than nine in ten online adults were emailing.

Over 60 UK government organisations at the central and local levels are leveraging GovDelivery’s digital platform; successfully cross-promoting services and news across various departments and geographies. Organisations are able to provide a resident in Southampton, Norwich or Devon the option of subscribing to Met Office, HMRC, Department of Health, or GOV.UK alerts. These government organisations are streamlining communications to integrate with websites, social media and SMS channels and allowing the public to access messages and updates at their convenience. Nearly three million UK residents currently subscribe to government news via GovDelivery alerts. If MOD were able to tap into this existing network, it would help to expand its reach, complement existing communications efforts, and increase engagement.

If MoD can focus on delivering digital services that put users’ needs at the heart of its mission—making it easier, quicker and more efficient for the public to engage and connect—then it would be doing the public and other government departments a huge service.

By John Simpson, Engagement Consultant

The use of social media by government organizations as a means to better reach the public is more often becoming standard practice. Guidance from resources like HowTo.gov and lessons from events like the Boston Marathon Bombing have taken the use of social media from “should” to “must.”

However, the rush to social media can cause the misconception that agencies now need an elaborate strategy for each digital channel. Proposing that you need a “Facebook strategy” is the same as a plumber saying that he needs a “wrench strategy.” If your office switched from Dells to Macs, it would not make sense to develop a “Mac strategy.” tools

Social media channels are only tools that help extend the reach of your message and engagement with the public. Just like your computer of choice, tools like Facebook and Twitter aren’t the end, just the means.

Although outreach tools have transformed from paper to digital, one thing has remained a constant: content.

Understanding what content your office has and how to use it to further your business goals are fundamental concepts that can be lost in the rush to embrace or avoid new digital channels. All of the online followers or subscribers in the world are not going to make a difference if you have not thought through your content’s goals or if it does not compel your audience to take action.

Many organizations may even have more content than they realize, but just don’t see the information as something the public would be interested in. Others are so overwhelmed with materials and requests for their use that they are unsure where to begin. In either case, the first step is the same: take inventory of all of your content. What content do you regularly produce? What should or could you produce?

  • Basics – Most offices have press releases, announcements, or materials produced for public use. Ensure that each of these is being used across all of your channels with clear public calls to action.
  • Events – Are there upcoming events with specific materials, follow-ups, or questions that could be pushed out to social media? Could you live tweet or blog the event? How can you keep the conversation going online after the event has concluded?
  • Experts – Every organization has subject matter experts and experienced program managers. Would these people be able to tell the story of your audience and the work they’re doing to serve the public? If there is a big policy change on the horizon, could your experts be available for an online Q&A or town hall?
  • Stories – Proving that your hard work paid off is not just important for retaining your budget. Your audience likely wants to hear how others are interacting with your office or making use of its resources. Share people’s successes and lessons learned so others can learn from their examples. By telling these stories, you’re allowing others to supply you with new and highly usable content.

While these are just a few examples, the important thing is to focus on the content. How you choose to reach out and engage with the public on this content is where social media and other digital channels come in. After you finalize your content strategy, determine which tools will help you accomplish that strategy. Repurposing your content should not be an “all or nothing” approach. Think carefully on what you hope to gain from each unique tool (feedback, increased outreach, attendance, etc).

Here are a few examples of public organizations crafting an all-purpose content strategy:


Stearns County, MN Sheriff’s Office works to both reduce crime in the area and raise awareness about crime prevention. To better communicate about available public services and receive information back from citizens, the Sheriff’s Office regularly sends updates on resources, crime updates, and alerts in the surrounding area in an interactive newsletter that allows for subscribers to easily submit tips via phone, email, or their online system.


CDC’s National Prevention Information Network (NPIN) collects and disseminates data and materials to support the work of prevention organizations and workers in international, national, state, and local settings. To better educate the public on its resources and involve their subject matter experts, NPIN hosts monthly Twitter chats using a common hash tag (#NPINchat) that encourage the public to ask questions of NPIN experts.

SSAThe Social Security Administration (SSA) has one of the largest and most widespread audiences of any government organization. It is actively involved in many different issues, from fraud to policy changes. To translate these different priorities into clear pieces for the public to digest, SSA creates simple banner images with clear calls to action and posts them on Facebook for the largest possible chance that different audiences will interact and comment.

As your organization looks to become more involved in social media or improve its existing outreach to the public through digital channels, take a step back and think hard on what your content strategy should be. Without a clear idea of what content you are or could be producing and how to best use that content to engage with the public, you are setting yourself up to fall short of your full potential.

GovDelivery client King County, Washington recently kicked off a new mobile communications initiative to spread the word about their healthcare offerings and services. Here is a guest post from King County on how text messaging is helping the organization reach more people. 

An innovative new texting program is making it a little easier to find in-person help with the Washington Healthplanfinder website.

It takes time — and some comfort with online shopping — to navigate the Healthplanfinder website, where residents can compare plans and enroll. For people who’ve had trouble with the website, or are unable to get online, King County has trained more than 600 in-person assisters, real people who can help folks make tough decisions about insurance.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Now, King County residents can use text messages to meet up with one of those in-person assisters.

People can text “KING” plus their zip code to 468311 and get information about opportunities for help in their area. For instance, this weekend, the Healthplanfinder Mobile Enrollment Tour is visiting Kent (Saturday, 2-5 pm). If someone in Kent can’t make it during those hours, they might text “KING 98032″ to 468311. This person will get additional upcoming times and locations where they can find assistance in Kent – all sent directly to their phones.

Someone who lives in Capitol Hill might text “KING 98122″ and receive times and locations for Central Seattle.

A similar idea proved valuable to connect people with a nearby flu-shot during the 2009 pandemic flu scare in California.

Subscribers get a text message each time there’s a nearby enrollment opportunity — so a secondary benefit is getting that occasional reminder to sign-up for insurance.

The program isn’t just about convenience either – it’s about equity. Young, low-income people of color use text messaging more than any other demographic. These people are also a lot more likely to be uninsured, and they’re the people the Affordable Care Act can help the most. Where the Internet and traditional media fall short, text messaging fills in the blanks.

The program is currently offered in English, but a Spanish version will be available by the end of the year.

Other health jurisdictions, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are offering text message programs, but none this robust.

“This program, like any good text message program, is designed to provide customized, valuable information that will encourage people to take action,” said Public Health – Seattle & King County Public Information Officer Hilary Karasz, who has spent several years studying text messages as a tool for public health practice.

5 Reasons to Start Blogging Today

November 20th, 2013 | Posted by GovDelivery in Compelling Content | Weblogs - (0 Comments)

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

Sometimes, finding the right communication channel to best connect with stakeholders can be challenging for government organizations. You might have stories or news that you’d like to share, but the content doesn’t neatly fit in the press release category, isn’t quite dynamic enough for a newsletter, and wouldn’t be brief enough for a Facebook update or tweet. Blog

Enter blogs posts.

A blog (abbreviation for “web log”) is typically a less formal site that often contains news, opinions, stories or links, which is updated on an ongoing and regular basis. Sometimes blogs are organization-wide, where all departments contribute stories and content. In other instances, blogs are offered from a single department or group within an organization. If you’ve been considering a blog, but aren’t sure exactly what value it provides, consider the following:

1)     Connect with your audience – Blogs allow an outlet for content that is often less formal and more personal. Blogs move beyond meeting minutes, agendas and official announcements to initiate a conversation with your stakeholders. You might share stories of people in the department who have made great contributions to your organization’s work, or you might highlight a specific event that your agency is hosting to help spread the word and get more community involvement. Whatever the case, a blog can provide a more relaxed atmosphere for subscribers who want to get to know their government organization.

2)     Showcase your work – Government agencies can sometimes get a bad rap for not doing enough to help their respective communities. In some cases, citizens simply aren’t aware of the great work their government is doing based on a simple lack of good PR work. A blog is a perfect place to showcase your successes – include photos of the work you’re doing to help citizens, talk about your major wins, and highlight the service that you’re providing on a daily basis.

3)     Reduce inbound calls by answering frequently asked questions – What do most people do when they have a question about a project that your agency is undertaking? They might give you a call or send your department an email. This same question might be asked several times a day, or maybe hundreds of times per week. What if you could provide the answers to these questions proactively, instead of responding to each of them one by one? You might be looking at a good chunk of time that your staff could be devoting to other work, drastically improving productivity overall.

4)     Bolster your existing social media – Are you finding that your list of twitter followers hasn’t exactly been taking off? Are your Facebook subscribers not as active as you’d like? Social media stagnation can often be attributed to not enough relevant or interesting content flowing through the channel. Blogs provide a healthy source of content to feed into multiple channels, allowing you to keep your social media accounts alive and thriving with new content and conversations. The more you cross promote within your channels, the easier it will be for subscribers to find you.

5)     Gain insight from blog subscribers – Offering a two-way channel for stakeholders to communicate with your organization can provide a way for your engaged citizens to talk about what they’d like to see from your agency in the future. Communicating with a blog might help those people who can’t make it to a public meeting, or aren’t available to call your organization during normal business hours, but would still like to connect with you to have their voices heard. Much like Facebook or Twitter, you may choose to moderate discussions on blogs to vet comments and make sure they add value to the conversation. You might be surprised at the type of constructive ideas and feedback you will get from your readers.

Looking for some great government blog inspiration? Check out USA.gov’s blog, which provides content featuring “useful, timely and interesting U.S. government information and services.” Or look into Los Angeles Metro’s blog, The Source, which keeps riders updated on all Metro projects and planning, as well as chronicling the day-to-day activities for Metro’s riders and the events hosted by the agency.

And one last tip – don’t forget to allow people to subscribe to your blog, so that your stakeholders can get an update via email when you have new content available. Need more tips for your blog? Leave a comment below and we will be more than happy to answer. Happy blogging!

Integrating Drupal with GovDelivery

November 18th, 2013 | Posted by GovDelivery in Tech | Usability | Web 2.0 | Web/Tech - (0 Comments)

GearsBy Rishi Vajpeyi, Solutions Consultant

Among content management systems—software that enables publishing, editing and modifying content on a website—Drupal continues to be a major player in the public sector space following its widespread adoption by the White House, Small Business Administration, House of Representatives, Department of Energy, and Department of Education, to name just a few customers.  In fact, the United States Federal market has several hundred websites launched or in the process of launching with Drupal. State governments have also begun adopting Drupal as their content management system due to the plethora of open-source, government specific modules currently in circulation.  To date, 175 state-government websites across 38 states and territories are running or launching on Drupal, and this number is expected to grow.

Government organizations are putting more effort than ever into building dynamic and engaging websites. However, the opportunity to provide information to website visitors is limited to their visit. In order to offer the greatest service to the visitor, organizations need to give them the opportunity to continue to receive information even after they leave a website.  The GovDelivery Drupal integration allows government organizations to make their website content available as outbound digital communications, increase their digital outreach and provide mailing capabilities that are both secure and scalable.

This month, GovDelivery is excited to launch new and updated modules that allow organizations running Drupal to enhance the power of their website by leveraging GovDelivery’s digital communications platform and messaging services. The new modules available within the Drupal interface are the Subscription Sign-Up Service, Topic Creation Service and Integrated Transactional Messaging Service.

Email subscription boxes drive an average of 30% more subscribers when positioned correctly throughout your web properties. The GovDelivery Sign-up module allows Drupal administrators to place sign-up boxes anywhere within a Drupal website to convert more website visitors into direct email or SMS communication subscribers.  These sign-up boxes connect to the GovDelivery digital communications subscription process, making the collection and organization of your digital audience easier than ever.

Does your organization have multiple departments? Or a variety of topics that your audience should know about? With the Topic Creation Service module, organizations can easily take advantage of cross-promoting information across a breadth of topics. The Topic Creation module integrates with GovDelivery’s digital communications platform to create subscription topics for every taxonomy term or content tag within the Drupal website, allowing website visitors to subscribe to these topics. When a new page, story, or custom content type is published with tags, all subscribers are sent a triggered email or SMS notification automatically. Creating new topics is a breeze and when you offer more topics, you are more likely to garner a larger audience across the entire organization.

Adoption of government websites and online services drastically increases when paired with transactional messaging.  Any new user to an online system, change to a profile, or fee payment should all generate a follow-up transactional message. Capitalizing on the timeliness of these interactions reaches users when they are most engaged. The GovDelivery Transactional Messaging module gives Drupal administrators access to GovDelivery’s bulk-mail sending infrastructure. This module mitigates the need for a backend SMTP server for a Drupal website by replacing it with GovDelivery Transactional Messaging. Bulk messages can now be sent securely, effortlessly and with ample reporting. Sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time drives the most engagement.

If your organization is using or plans to launch a Drupal website, please contact us through our Customer Support site at support.govdelivery.com. If have any questions or comments about integrating your Drupal website with GovDelivery, feel free to reach out to us at info@govdelivery.com.

By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

It’s no secret that government organizations are large, complex, and ever-changing institutions. But what can be a secret is how those huge organizations responsible for communicating with hundreds of thousands of people, do so in a unified and effective way.

HandHuddleWith a wide variety of information to communicate and needs that differ between departments, regions, and even people, staying on top of communication can be a challenge to say the least.

But when an organization masters the art of interacting with their constituents, it’s a beautiful sight to see; everyone wins. The public wins when they get the information they want and need in the way that makes sense to them, and government organizations win when their job is made easier to do well.

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is a classic example of the unity and effectiveness required to maintain communications within a complex government organization. As a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FSA is responsible for communicating important updates, regulations, financial information, and more with farmers of all types in every single state.

It’s not hard to see how their work can get complicated quickly. A farmer who grows corn in northern Minnesota needs an entirely different set of regulations, updates, and information than the cattle farmer in southern Albuquerque. So how do they stay on top of communicating with such a huge and diverse audience of farmers and invested members of the public?

The FSA leverages GovDelivery’s digital communications platform to communicate the right information to the right people at the right time. The FSA uses the platform to organize its massive content into 2,500 valuable topics representing nearly every county in the United States. This helps FSA more easily manage a complex communications operation.

The FSA has nearly 3,000 administrators working to manage the creation and sending of all of that information, and therefore is able to have unique subject matter experts handle their organization’s wide variety of content needs. Outside of communicating with the external public, the FSA also uses internal topics to communicate information to their own employees, allowing them to use the same technology for interacting both inside and outside of their organization.

social-network-gridAnd for their external communications, which are sent to over 500,000 people, the FSA uses the GovDelivery platform to communicate with farmers of all types, across the country. This ensures that their updates are consistently created and sent using the same technology and allows them to consolidate their communications all under one roof.

With automation capabilities enabled on some of the information topics they provide, the FSA stays on top of the updates they need to send even further by triggering automated messages to their subscribers as well. When new content is posted on their website, GovDelivery automatically delivers the updates to their subscribers without the FSA having to lift a finger. By taking out some of the manual steps required to communicate with their stakeholders, they can stay ahead of the game and get people the information they need even more efficiently.

The Farm Service Agency is a prime example of what communications on a massive scale can look like when it’s done right. With impeccable organization, diverse content offerings, and a unique case of needing to communicate with an extreme gamut of people, the FSA has found a way to not only manage their communications with the public, but to streamline and excel at them.

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

Time is something that communicators never have enough of when it comes to their work: building their audiences, managing their brand, staying current with content, meeting the demands of their stakeholders, etc. Many times the government communicators I work with are  balancing an ever-expanding task list between a few key team members, each working to draft press releases, communicate with the media, keep the website current, prepare emergency communication strategies, respond to inquiries, and manage social media – just to name a few! Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle, especially as demand for digital content and services grow and stakeholders expect to find everything online.

Luckily, today’s communicators have more tools to help them wrangle the different aspects of their job into a well-oiled information machine. And with a few quick strategic changes, they can save more time than ever before while meeting citizens’ needs on a consistent basis.

Here are three key steps you can take that will help you cut down on the time spent communicating,  increase your reach through more channels, and most importantly, connect to more stakeholders.

GovDelivery_ChannelsIntegration – Most clients that I engage with agree that it is no longer enough to only use a single form of communication to reach their diverse base of subscribers, but they also are not sure where the extra hours will be found to manage multiple communication platforms. While it may seem like an impossible feat, there is a solution.- Make your content channels work together in one simple process. You may have 8,000 subscribers to an email list, 10,000 Facebook fans, another 3,000 twitter followers, and another 50,000 people are viewing your website each month. Does that mean a neverending login-test-post-comment-update-edit-repeat cycle for your team? It doesn’t have to. By leveraging  tools that are specifically geared toward making your channels work together, you can cut down on the number of different channels you have to access to post your content, while maintaining a consistent style and voice throughout all your communication channels.

There are various tools out there for communicators to leverage. GovDelivery’s digital communications platform allows content that originates on one channel to be effortlessly communicated across all of your networks with one click.  And social media engagement tools like HootSuite are also helping more communicators manage their social media outlets from a single dashboard that measures the responsiveness of their audience. Furthermore, content management systems can be leveraged to push content from one channel to another with proper programming and permissions.

Collaboration_RSSAutomation – What’s better than channels communicating with each other, you ask? Channels that communicate with each other automatically. With little or no manual process at all, government agencies are able push content to multiple channels through RSS (Real Simple Syndication),  APIs (application programming interfaces), or other feeds to replicate content from one channel to another. RSS feeds are handy because they often come as a built-in feature in most content management systems, and they make it easy to send updates to subscribers whenever a Web page’s content changes. The standardized feed can then be easily read by email clients or web browsers, allowing subscribers to get information without having to continuously check Web pages for content changes.

While RSS feeds are great, APIs take automation a step further by allowing a feed from a Web portal or database to be pushed directly out to applications that interpret and deliver content to subscribers.

A great example of this is Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). WSDOT recently connected their traffic alerts to an API that automatically pushes alerts to subscribers when road conditions in their region are impacted by weather, construction, or traffic congestion.

Social media outlets like Twitter have some great 3rd party automation options as well.   Twitterfeed is a tool that allows you to automatically post content from a blog or Web page to Twitter, making the process of posting and promoting your new content as easy as a simple click of a button.  Another great tool is WordPress’s Tweet Old Post plugin, which helps drive traffic back to older, but still relevant, pieces of content on your blog.

Coordination – Communication, done correctly, is a lot of work. To maximize your output, you’ll want to make sure that all of the work you and the rest of your agency does to reach your target audience is following some sort of unified, coordinated strategy. I’ve encountered a lot of clients who have brand-building rockstars on the communications team who work to create consistent brand image, but they often struggle with other departments within the organization independently creating and sending content through various channels with inconsistent strategy. An uncoordinated communication strategy can sometimes chip away the work that others are doing to build a consistent image and reputation for the organization, and might even be duplicating efforts of other departments. How do you address this without putting sole responsibility on one team to communicate on behalf of all departments? With coordination and standardized expectations for everyone who is responsible for communicating with your stakeholders. Marin County, CA has done a great job with this by creating a Social Media Responsibility Guidelines document, along with a best practice Social Media Playbook. These serve as mandatory training guides for anyone using social media on behalf of their department, and help promote consistent, coordinated channels of communication, each working toward the same goal. The County communications team in Marin keeps an eye on the communication efforts of individual departments without having to bear the full weight of all content creation and output themselves, meaning more of their time is free to focus on their top goals and objectives for continued public engagement and service.

By integrating channels, automating output and coordinating content generation among various players in an organization, government communicators can continue to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to meeting stakeholders’ needs for information and service.


By: John Simpson, Engagement Consultant, GovDelivery

September is National Preparedness Month, an initiative developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake of 9/11 to help citizens better prepare themselves and their communities for emergency situations. Thousands of individuals and organizations from across the country take part in awareness activities and training events designed to help others make an emergency kit, plan for disasters, spread the word about preparedness, and encourage others to do the same. September is full of stories about leaders stepping up and working to make their communities better aware of what they can do to prepare. Yet, people often do not know where to start. Which is why FEMA created the National Preparedness Community.

The National Preparedness Community is an online collaborative community organized by FEMA that allows citizens from across the country to connect with others on preparedness best practices and build relationships with emergency management personnel. With over 38,000 members, those who sign up are able to engage with members in their local area, collaborate with those having similar professional backgrounds, and easily search for events happening in their local area. For example:

  • A small business owner in New York can learn best practices around compiling a business continuity plan from another private sector leader in Illinois.
  • A Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, trainer can connect with another emergency management expert in the same city about classes available in the neighborhood.
  • A local organizer can keep the conversation going after an awareness event by encouraging attendees to join in the online discussions.

The National Preparedness Community provides individuals and organizations the platform to take their passion for preparedness beyond their local community or neighborhood and onto a national, collaborative stage.

But just because September is designated as National Preparedness Month doesn’t mean the collaboration stops at the end of the month. Disasters strike year-round and many emergencies occur without warning. The National Preparedness Community operates every day of the year, providing you with best practices around preparedness and access to emergency management professionals that can share their knowledge on the best ways to protect the people we love. Take the pledge to prepare yourself, your family, and your community by joining the National Preparedness Community.

By Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Innovation is the hot buzzword.  From local government innovation officers to a deputy CTO in charge of innovation, governments are more and more focused on innovation.

But how do you really make innovation happen in government? What are the missing ingredients?

I thought I’d take a stab at an answer so here’s my 10 ingredients missing in federal government innovation:

  1. Big Problems to Solve – Too often government innovation is focused on cool, fun items instead of the big multi-million pain points.  The fun projects often done for free or super cheap.Federal government innovation needs to focus on the hundred million dollar problems (love for example how HHS is doing innovative development work on their core  healthcare.gov, not just a side small project/site). Even at the White House level there is only a $40 million budget for e-gov and innovative projects while the GSA SAM project has a $70 million budget alone.
  2. Understanding what’s out there – We are all busy in our day jobs cranking out work. So as we approach a new idea, it’s hard to know what’s even out there.We need a repository of case studies and templates of types of activities (here’s literally the documents we created internally to run X).  And we need to go past soft high-level information and dive in deep – understand literally how you do it (what was staff structure, what was the timeline, how much did it cost).  Make sure you move past the well-known case studies – we do a lot of GovLoop surveys on topics and every time we hear about unknown new case studies, hear real problems.
  3. Help around (Perceived) Rules  - Generally lots of innovative projects get stalled in a review process around real or perceived rules.  This could be legal, security, 508 compliance, procurement, etc.  While occasionally there are good reasons why an innovative project shouldn’t be used according to rules, I often find projects are stopped or stalled more by perceived rules that other individuals in the same roles in other agencies interpret differently.Recently, I talked to Alan Balutis who mentioned that in the Gore Reinventing Government project they asked this question – what is preventing you from innovating?  And 90% of the rules people mentioned as reasons either didn’t exist or were interpreted wrong.To increase innovation, it would be awesome to have help around these rulings. Items like FedRAMP help as it’s one C&A for federal government.  It would be also great to be able to connect lots of these rule-making officials to learn how other agencies interpret the same findings.
  4. Help Selling an Idea – It is hard to sell innovative ideas in an agency.  Everyone has been in those shoes trying to work up a .PPT on an innovative idea and been in the meeting trying to sell the idea (against many naysayers).It would be awesome to have help “selling an idea”.  It could be a .ppt repository (a Docstoc for government) so there are slides you could use (everyone needs similar #s on mobile stats, BYOD, etc.) and examples from other agencies. This is a huge issue – in GovLoop trainings, we often hear this comment, “These are all great ideas but how do I get internal and leadership buy-in to turn an idea into reality?”  It would be great if you could bring another agency leader on topic to the meeting – usually having an outside person sell the idea works.
  5. Capacity – The challenge with launching innovative projects is often it’s actually more work and most often, everyone says they are busy.  So how do you get capacity to deliver innovative projects?

    There are lots of new ways to get capacity on innovation and they just need to be structured clearly on how folks can engage:

    • SWAT teams (short-term volunteers)
    • Hackathons, challenges, hackdays
    • Internal fellowships – have internal employees rotate on 6 month to 12 month fellowships
    • External fellowships – Bring in external leaders in for 6 to 12 months
    • Universities – Ways to leverage university classes on specific project (lots of smart students willing to help
  1. Foster Sharing of Ideas – The best breakthroughs happen when you are connecting across boundaries.  Part of the idea of the Presidential Innovation Fellows I love is the opportunity to share across sectors.  Put three top government leaders who know a specific problem (say acquisition) really well with three outside innovators who know outside ways to solve problems.  You need the experts and outsiders to make the changes.I wrote a whole post on this but I think there needs to be clear tools with structure for internal use on asking for help, soliciting feedback in a way that can be anonymous for those that are shy.  Kind of a combination of a Sparked / great listserv / Stackoverflow.
  2. Outreach/Marketing/Promotion of these Concepts – Too often innovative projects and approaches are only known about at the high levels (White House, Cabinet, the small influencer worlds).  To get true adoption, you need to get down to the doers.  This doesn’t happen with one email or a short PR stint. It’s like any project – it requires great outreach and marketing.  Hipmunk may be a better approach to travel search but it can’t stop there – it requires tons of marketing to get people to use it (search ads, banner ads, TV ads).

    For any of these innovative solutions to work, it should have a defined outreach/marketing strategy with budget/staff to actually accomplish it.  Just like it requires great effort and skills for Census to get their message out to the public – getting innovative ideas out across a large agency and across government agencies requires time/money/expertise.

  3. Clear Ways to Engage – Even if folks know about a new approach, it needs to be super clear how they can engage.  For any of these innovation solutions, it should be super clear in:
    • Way to submit your project want help on
    • Way to submit your idea
    • Way to submit your solution
    • Way to submit telling your story
  1. Prioritization List – Innovation needs to be practical as well – there needs to be a structure to it.  A flow to it.  For example, research agencies usually come up with a list every year of key topics they are looking for new ideas on as well as open calls. Innovation needs to be the same way in government.  Open calls are great (like SAVE awards) and ground-up innovation is awesome but in addition there should be focused targeted list of needs where need help with goals, timelines, and ways to engage.  And on the reverse side, agency leaders need to know of one clear places they can go with their priorities and needs.  For example, I am looking Some of this is already occurring at challenge.gov
  2. Tools to Prototype - To innovate, you need to be quickly able to mock up your ideas and need the tools to do. Sites like apps.gov provide tools government employees can quickly get going on to prototype. We need those terms of services and tools ready to go – so if you want to mock up something, you can use government approved software they can get off the web.  Too often in an innovative project, it is quickly mocked up but for a beta test to launch it requires 6 months of security & legal work.

What do you think is missing in federal innovation?  What 1 thing do you think is needed?


See original post on GovLoop.

By Richard Fong, Technology Project Manager

Moderate impact. Low impact. Collision. Cleared.

If you travel on highways anywhere, wouldn’t it be nice to have these types of messages delivered to your email or phone so you could anticipate a change in your route and save time?

With some cool technology, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has started doing just that.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit and speak with Tom Stidham, a developer with WSDOT. He stated that, before using a proactive digital communication system, they would post traffic information on their website and then push out alerts via Twitter. While these two channels did their job, WSDOT was looking to increase their proactive communications by providing email and SMS alerts to people traveling throughout the state of Washington.

By using GovDelivery’s Send Bulletin application programming interface (API), Tom was able to quickly a­­nd effectively integrate these alerts with their current work flow process to send automated messages to the public. These messages include traffic incidents, road conditions, and construction­ alerts.

The public can now sign up to more than 50 email and SMS alerts for different regions within the state, including areas such as the Oregon border and the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula, and metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma.

What does that mean for the people who live and visit Washington? They can find out what’s happening on roads throughout the state without having to constantly check Twitter or the department’s website. They get the information they need, controlling what updates they receive by subscribing only to the updates they want. And, maybe most importantly, if there’s a critical road closure (think the Skagit Bridge collapse), the SMS or email message that alerts residents and visitors to a potentially life-threatening road event can help save lives and protect property.

For more information on how you can leverage API technology to help your organization, watch my webinar, “Using APIs for success in Government."

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