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

top 10 RTP blog postsI know 2013 started just over a week ago, but it already feels like it’s been weeks since I celebrated the holidays and New Year’s with my family and friends. I think part of this is jumping back into the work day after some time off, but part of it is probably due to the fact that 2012 “year-end” reviews started weeks ago. (Google posted their Zeitgeist 2012 video a month ago! If you haven’t watched it, take a look and note how many cool events were driven by government organizations like yours.)

So I may be a little late to the game in adding my 2012 “top viewed blog entries” list, but I console myself that it’s only been a week or so. And with the belief that this list contains good reading that’s timeless. For those who may have missed these along the way, here are the top ten most-viewed blog entries on Reach the Public in 2012 and why I think they’re worth revisiting:

number 1

In this post, Lauren Modeen, Engagement Strategist extraordinaire, answers a question she received in a Reddit chat: how can you use rewards to motivate your online community?

She highlights four different ways that rewards can spur conversation and keep a community engaged, from simply featuring a member’s activity (whether that’s a discussion, question, or profile) to sending thank you notes or swag.

Why do I think this post is worth revisiting now? As we moved through 2012, it was impossible to ignore the impact of social media in government. Not just because it was a “new” way of amplifying the reach of government communications but also because of the emphasis on social. At the end of the day, people want to be part of a community; they want to interact with others who are interested in things they’re interested in. And government organizations began to understand that creating, developing and managing communities could be one way to truly drive mission value in a way that had never been done before.

Using Rewards to Motivate Your Online Community

number 2

This post was written quickly as I sat in a hotel room near GovDelivery UK’s office, up late with jet lag; so please allow me a moment to be a bit proud that it’s in this top ten list.

I logged onto my email to catch up on news in the communications world, and I saw the article on ReadWriteWeb detailing Mark Cuban’s opinion on Facebook. It was a fascinating read to me, mainly because of the very provocative but highly understandable situation Cuban faced with his basketball team (the Dallas Mavericks.) His organization had worked hard to gain Facebook fans, and they’d worked hard to engage that audience over a long period of time. So to come face-to-face with the knowledge that those connections aren’t actually available when you want them — or worse, that you have to pay Facebook to reach them — was jarring. For a government agency, that can mean a matter of life or death when you consider a situation like Hurricane Sandy.

Why is this post worth revisiting? It’s a good reminder that direct connections matter, especially in urgent situations. But it’s also good to remember that an integrated communications approach is still the key to ensuring that your government organization’s message is distributed as broadly as possible.

Abandoning Facebook

number 3

You’ll notice as you go through the rest of this list how much of these posts cover social media in government. Do you think it’s odd that the second most-viewed post was about abandoning Facebook but other posts in the top ten are about how to leverage or use social media? I think this is indicative of our society’s love/hate relationship with social media.

In this post, we summarize one of the most popular webinars I’ve ever hosted in my professional career (and I’ve hosted a lot of webinars). Our main speaker, Kristy Fifelski, also known as “GovGirl,” detailed her top 8 ways for government to engage citizens with social media – and boy, did we learn how hot a topic that was.

With nearly 1000 registrants, we had to expand our webinar contract (which had been limited to 250 “seats” to 1000 just in case everyone showed up.) And we had to expand our teleconference capability to ensure that everyone who attended could hear us. The experience gave myself and my IT team a mini heart attack – but it was all for a good cause, because this webinar was really amazing.

With concrete examples, in-the-field knowledge and expertise, and a fun presentation, Kristy/GovGirl gave our audience of government communicators key tips and tricks that could be implemented immediately to start using social media in more engaging ways. This is one post definitely worth revisiting.

8 Ways for Government to Engage Citizens with Social Media

number 4

Pinterest, another social networking site, launched in beta form in 2010 but didn’t start picking up more traction until mid-2011. By early 2012, it had become, as our post notes, “the hottest thing in social media.” By the end of 2012, the hotness had worn off a bit; but Pinterest remains a solid social networking site, with the most year-over-year growth for social desktop, web and app usage, according to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report.

So take a look at this post on how government organizations can leverage Pinterest. As a site that stresses the social aspect of images, Pinterest can be a powerful storytelling social platform that extends beyond the capabilities of a social network like Twitter. This post reminds you of some ways to leverage this storytelling foundation to generate more interest and provide more value for your stakeholders.

Why Should Government be Interested in Pinterest?

number 5

That’s right, folks. The Internet and technology is no longer the sole purview of the young. In this post, we take on the idea that you can’t reach older demographics with digital means. That’s bollocks, as the British would say.

“Studies show that senior citizens are fast adopting email as one of their primary methods of digital interaction and communication. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 87% of senior citizens use email and search engines, while the Nielsen Company found that checking email was the primary online activity for 88.6% of seniors.”

If that’s not a prime reason to review your communications strategy and ensure that you’re using your digital communications to reach a broad spectrum of stakeholders, take a look at this post to find out which age group uses digital technology to do what (i.e. to get email, to use a search engine, to look for health information, etc.) The statistics will surprise you!

Tech-Savvy Senior Citizens on the Rise

number 6

The title says it all. Here’s a guide to help you with the best practices we’ve found in utilizing digital communications to reach your stakeholders and the public.

The post talks about why the guide is important and some of the strategies used by well-known public sector organizations. In fact, the guide’s been accessed more than 8,500 times since it was released last April.

The guide itself is a pretty deep dive into what works for digital communications, culled from over a decade of work with government organizations worldwide. If you don’t have the time to sit down to read it all, why not download it and try to tackle one tip or trick a week?

Digital Communication Best Practices Guide Now Available

number 7

Our friend and professional colleague, Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop, allowed us to share his thoughts on internal communications.

In the world of Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0, he tackles the next version of internal communications, drawing on current technologies used to communicate with the public to help facilitate internal communications. For instance, Human Resources could use text messages/SMS to remind employees of form deadlines.

As one of the top ten most popular posts of 2012, I think this post speaks to the need not only to reach the public to drive mission value but to reach our own internal audiences to help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same big goals.

Internal Communications 2.0

number 8

I have to be honest: this was one of my favorite posts from 2012. Why? Because it brought something virtual and often “abstract” or conceptual into something physical that I understood: a shining example of how great communications can be.

In this post, our resident community management expert, Lauren, addresses the question, “How do I design an online community? What’s it supposed to look like?” And her answer is, in my opinion, pretty awesome.

If your government organization has an online community or is even thinking about starting one, take a look at this post. It’s a critical piece to consider when developing a community. Oftentimes, when we think about communities, we consider finding people who are going to be the community managers and hype people; how to keep an online community going; or how to generate discussion – all of which is important. But a clean, easy, and structured online community helps with all of that, and Lauren gives you an easy-to-read road map here.

How to Design an Online Community

number 9

Just a few days ago, Joseph Marks posted a short note about content on government websites, noting that most “dot-govs fail on content, not technology.”

That makes this post increasingly relevant. As a communications person myself, the power of content is becoming more and more apparent. It’s what drives connections between an organization and its audience.

In this post, our Digital Marketing Manager/Guru, Mike Bernard, tackles the idea of content marketing for government and provides ten tips that your organization can start using immediately to leverage the power of content to help meet your agency’s goals and drive mission value. From repurposing content to curation to making content easily shareable, these tactics can help you see an uptick in your outreach programs.

Content Marketing – Government Style

number 10

If you’re remotely interested in government technology, you probably already know the acronym “APIs”. It was hard to miss Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel’s tweet about it.

That’s why I think this post was one of the most-viewed from 2012. In 2013, I’d be surprised if APIs weren’t a continuing hot topic. The integrations available with this technology make it a critical component of the Federal Digital Government Strategy, but even more than that, it allows connections in ways that make government more efficient. What’s not to love?

In this post, Richard Fong, a (master) Technical Implementation Consultant, discusses his work in helping the US National Weather Service (NWS) implement APIs to help get the word out with tsunami warnings. Their API integration with their digital communications tool allows NWS to send out tsunami warning communications more quickly than ever before, helping to save lives in situations where seconds really matter.

It’s a good post to end the list, too, because it’s a great reminder of the crucially important work that government organizations do and how critical communications are in helping organizations meet their mission in serving the public.

National Weather Service Using APIs for Tsunami Alerts


So that’s our top ten list of most-viewed blog entries on Reach the Public. Was there one that you found especially insightful that I’ve missed here? Did you find these posts useful? Let me know in the comments!

Last week, FCW noted an important milestone for federal agencies: “On Nov. 23, every federal agency will be expected to meet an important deadline set six months ago by the White House: the establishment of a digital governance structure within their organizations.”

digital government strategy

The article, written by Ed Meehan, goes on to explain why digital governance is critical, especially to the larger directive of improving citizen service delivery and government-to-citizen experiences:

Digital governance is critical to every agency’s mission. Good governance is strengthened by investing wisely in the resources that can improve the digital experiences of citizens and boost customer satisfaction. In order to make the right investment choices, agencies must first develop a solid understanding of how users currently interact with government and how they are likely to interact when digital enhancements are introduced.

I couldn’t agree more. Meehan rightfully notes that redirecting citizen and customer inquiries – often done via telephone or in person – to online channels can improve efficiency and cut costs. Even more than this though, government agencies can move the needle on improving customer satisfaction by offering citizens and stakeholders the option of interacting with government via digital channels. This can help federal agencies be more impactful in delivering value and fulfilling agency mission goals.

Research firm IDC Government Insights recently spoke at a digital communications event in Washington, DC and provided a perceptive look at how government agencies can move towards Smart Government, a model where “a set of business processes and underlying information technology capabilities that enable information to flow seamlessly across government agencies and programs to become intuitive in providing high quality citizen services across all government programs and activity domains.” If you’re a federal agency looking for more information on how to raise efficiency levels within your agency but also between your agency and others, take a look at IDC’s presentation.

If your organization currently uses a GovDelivery solution, you are already fulfilling many of the milestones in the White House’s Digital Government Strategy. Take a look at our checklist for more information.

For some organizations, the milestones set forth in the Digital Government Strategy may not be that hard to meet. For some, there’s a longer path ahead. Regardless of where your organization stands on the spectrum, the goal of delivering better service through digital means is commonly accepted as a necessary next step for government. If you’re part of a federal agency, how have you met this digital governance milestone? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Yesterday, ReadWriteWeb posted an article detailing why Dallas Mavericks owner and tech billionaire, Mark Cuban, is taking his social media engagement elsewhere, effectively abandoning Facebook as the Dallas Mavericks’ primary social media tool for connecting with fans. Why?

The short version: “He’s sick of getting hit with huge fees to send messages to his team’s fans and followers.” In fact, Mark tweeted a screenshot of the Mavericks’ Facebook page, showing the option to pay $3,000 to reach 1 million people.

First, some background. If you’re not steeped in social media news (and who really is these days?), Facebook recently changed their algorithm, also known as EdgeRank, which is a formula used to manage which users receive messages on their News Feed. In news stories around the release about a month ago, the changes were noted more as “tweaks,” which were supposed to simply make it “more likely that posts from brands with high engagement get priority placement in feeds over posts with little engagement.”

Facebook Edgerank, Tim SandersImage from Sanders Says

But Mark Cuban, along with many other users, has seen a distinct change in their Facebook activities. A private company designed to help brands manage their EdgeRank score commented on this change, saying,

Over time we’ve seen Reach slowly decrease as more Pages, and more users, create content. The more content that is posted to the news feed, the less likely your Page’s content will reach your fans. Facebook has also been rumored to provide 80% organic content, and “20% paid content in the form of sponsored stories” for Pages. So, tweaks in EdgeRank can cause fluctuations in metrics for brands on Facebook.

And daily Web magazine, Slate, reported yesterday that there was a workaround, detailed in a Washington Post article, but that the workaround was quickly shut down by Facebook after it started gaining buzz.

Facebook Edgerank Promote Story

But aside from all this Facebook-changing-its-algorithm-to-drive-revenue drama, Mark hits on a key point that is critical for government organizations:

The big negative for Facebook is that we will no longer push for likes or subscribers because we can’t reach them all…Brands have invested in getting consumers to like their Facebook page with the presumption that every like is created equal, that the brand can reach the user easily. That is not the caseFacebook has never allowed 100% reach. I think the disconnect is that not everyone realized that they didn’t allow 100% reach. I bet if you asked anyone who has subscribers if their posts reached 100% of their subscribers, they would say yes unless they have seen the dollar box for promoted posts show up. (emphases mine)


Mark makes an incredible point here that is as relevant for the owner of a multimillion-dollar franchise as it is for a government organization.

It’s impossible to ignore Facebook as a communications channel: if you are hoping to connect with citizens where they are, it’s almost a necessity for your organization to have a Facebook presence. But if your communications strategy is built upon the number of likes you receive or number of comments you get on posts, you should rethink what it means to connect with your stakeholders – and the budget you have to do so.

Mark’s decision to move to the Mavericks’ communication efforts to Twitter or Tumblr or even MySpace is based on the realization that, through Facebook, he doesn’t have the kind of direct connections that lead to the incredible reach that he feels is critical to the success of his business and the franchise.

How does this translate into public sector?

Direct connections matter. The breadth of your reach is critical. Again, if your audience is participating in social media, it may be important for you to be there. But fighting through all the noise on social media also means that there are people you want to reach who aren’t getting your messages. What you need are true direct connections with citizens and stakeholders to help meet your organization’s program goals and initiatives.

Mark makes it known that he isn’t removing the Mavericks’ page from Facebook but that he’s going to start driving Facebook fans to Twitter while looking to build out a Mavericks’ brand page on other social media sites. At the end of the day, he knows that reaching those people who’ve already raised their hands to say that they like a brand or an organization is only the start – the true worth of that action is in how easily and directly an organization can communicate and engage with its fans.

What do you think? If your organization is on Facebook, have you seen a decrease in the reach you have with your posts? Would you follow in Mark’s footsteps or rethink your outreach and social media strategy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

City of Raleigh Update

By Jennifer Kaplan, Product Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

Thom Rubel Cover SlideIf you work in government, you might agree that one of your main goals is to provide services to the public. Thom Rubel, Vice President of IDC Government Insights, recently spoke at the GovDelivery event in Washington, DC. He mentioned a quote from Dave Bargar at JetBlue, who said “We are a customer service business, we just happen to fly airplanes.” Thom helped us see that this translates to the public sector. “Smart government” consists of organizations that think of themselves as “a customer service business first, we just happen to…{fill in the blank with your mission}.” That’s step 1. Step 2 is getting the public to share that vision for your organization.

The best example of this type of public understanding is a story that was told to me by my friend Cindy. Cindy and her husband Ryan have a 2-year-old daughter Mallory.  They live a few blocks from the closest elementary school, where Mallory will attend kindergarten in a few years. While walking the path to the school, Cindy and Ryan discovered that there was a part of the street that didn’t have a sidewalk. The shoulder of the road transitioned directly into the grass. Cindy and Ryan found this concerning, as they didn’t want Mallory walking so close to the road. They were also worried about distracted drivers coming too close to the grass. Instead of complaining, finding a different route, or moving, Cindy and Ryan took action by engaging with their local government.

The city and county in which they lived both had well-organized websites that made it easy to find local resources and contact information for those responsible for issues of this nature. They were able to contact various city officials by phone and email. They attended relevant public meetings, which were also listed on the website. They were able to schedule a walk around their neighborhood with a county official, as well as a traffic monitoring session with someone from public works.

After all of their efforts to engage local government through various channels, the city inevitably put in a rumble strip, a road safety feature that alerts inattentive drivers to potential danger by causing a vibration throughout the car.  A sidewalk is also slated in the coming years. One small step for Cindy and Ryan. One giant step for the future of their community.

I think we need more people like Cindy and Ryan, who know that government isn’t a monolithic entity, but a collective group of people who also have families, who care about their neighborhoods and who they can engage with to get the help and service they need. However, convincing the public that your organization can be valuable resource to help in these types of situations can be an uphill battle. So, it may be up to your organization to start the conversation.

The great news? Government organizations can help motivate citizens to shift their mentality and take action, ultimately increasing their satisfaction. Digital communication channels are the perfect outlet to take the first step towards stimulating conversation and building a relationship, and I’ve seen a few great examples of this come through my inbox lately.

Wellesley Police Department Notice

The Wellesley Police Department takes a proactive approach to fixing street lighting to ensure safety for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They hit the nail on the head when the say “the WMLP can only repair the lights they know about.”  They also do a great job of providing various points of contact for reporting street light outages.

City of Raleigh Update

This example from the City of Raleigh, North Carolina does a great job of getting citizens involved. They explain the background and plans for their projects and invite residents to come and provide feedback or concerns. This communication lets citizens know that the city values their feedback and encourages a two-way conversation about these types of projects moving forward.

Petitions Website - The White House

At the Federal level, petitions.whitehouse.gov gives the public an opportunity to petition the current administration to take action on a range of important issues. Citizens can search current petitions or create new ones. This website was created to be a direct channel to connect with government, because they wanted to hear from everyone. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

The more government takes action to show they value and encourage feedback from citizens in order to improve the services they deliver, the more likely it is that we’ll move the needle on the public’s perception of government. The next Cindy and Ryan might be right around the corner!


Over the past week, we’ve seen how critical communications can be when a disaster strikes. After an event like Hurricane Sandy, it’s clear that government organizations have an obligation to keep the public safe and informed. To accomplish this, people need specific information — such as where to seek shelter if they’re being evacuated or if a levy has been breached and what actions to take if people are still in the area — and they need to receive it quickly and through channels that are available and working. Unfortunately, a recent study found that one third of U.S. residents have no knowledge of, or experience with, their local emergency notification program!

How can this be?

In the past, and sometimes still currently, many government organizations have relied on TV and radio as their primary way of communicating emergency information. With Hurricane Sandy, it was impossible to miss the news coverage of the storm. With the adoption of DVR’s and the move to streaming video over the Internet, the effectiveness of announcements on TV has diminished. CDs, MP3 players, and streaming audio have brought about a similar experience with radio spots. Additionally, many people in the midst of Sandy’s path lost power, thereby losing the connection to TV and radio.

So what can be done? How can government keep citizens safe and informed in these critical situations?

Well, there is one common piece of technology that’s become nearly ubiquiweatous…mobile phones. Obviously, contemporary phones can handle voice, SMS messages and email, yet many organizations have not made the move to mobile when it comes to emergency notifications.

This new white paper explores some of the barriers to effectively alerting people during times of crisis:

  • Damaged equipment
  • Lack of first responder communications
  • Incorrect citizen or resident contact information
  • One-to-one contact trees
  • Ineffective emergency sirens
  • Proper help for special needs citizens

Even though Sandy has come and left extensive damage in her wake, your government organization can still make an impact by understanding how you can be more effective in relaying emergency notifications. Download this white paper to see if your emergency notification alerting system is doing everything your residents and stakeholders need it to do.

By Jennifer Kaplan, Product Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

We’ve all heard the numbers. 8,000+ flights cancelled. Hundreds of thousands already evacuated. Mass transit shut downs up the Eastern Seaboard.* (stats from CNN)  Up to 60 million people will be affected. Hurricane Sandy, now the largest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, is here.

President Obama, addressing the public in a statement this morning, said, “Please listen to what your state and local government officials are saying.” Government communicators are already in the midst of getting preparation and evacuation information out to those who need it. We’ve also seen additional tips for the public on television, radio, through news websites and social media. Here are the top things your organization can do right now if your stakeholders are affected.

Expand Your Reach. The more stakeholders receive your message, the more likely it is that they will be safe and prepared.

  • Update Your Website. Right now is the moment where citizens are most engaged with government organization. Make sure it’s as easy as possible for citizens visiting your website and social media pages to find the sign-up area for your communications. The key to success is a prominent position.  Keep it in the upper right or upper left of your page, but be careful not to blend it with other aspects of your website. For a temporary fix, highlight your sign-up area in yellow or orange.
    Ready.gov website
  • Leverage the Media to Promote Communications. In his public address this morning, President Barack Obama directed citizens to Ready.gov to get up-to-date preparation and safety information on Hurricane Sandy. If your organization is briefing or being featured through any media outlets, be sure to promote your communications and the ways citizens can subscribe to get updates via email or text message. It’s also helpful to include the URLs to your resources in any media graphics.
  • Recommend Power Outage Alternatives. If citizens lose cable, broadcast signal and Internet, they can still receive tweets about the storm on their mobile phone — even if they don’t have a Twitter account. Have citizens subscribe to SMS Twitter alerts. Here’s a great article from the Washington Post on how to do this.

Get the Word Out Efficiently. Be sure to send messages through all your communication channels.

  • Get Preparation or Evacuation Information Out NOW. There is still time to recommend precautionary actions that can be taken by stakeholders. Urge those in recommended evacuation areas to leave. Send reminders to conserve cell and computer power. Ensure citizens have a list of necessary items — enough food, water, cash, medicine and flashlights — should they experience a power outage.
    National Hurricane Center website
  • Don’t Have the Resources? Not sure what information to send out? Leverage existing, official content.  FEMA and Ready.gov, in addition to the National Hurricane Center with the National Weather Service are asking government organizations to share content they’re already creating to spread the word.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, your organization can share the information, tools and resources from these sites. Like and share FEMA’s Facebook page posts. Follow and re-tweet @ReadyDotGov tweets.
  • Continue to Send Updates Throughout the Week. Use email, SMS and social media and other channels to keep stakeholders updated. Be sure to use all means (especially SMS and Twitter) as some stakeholders may not have Internet.Ready.gov Twitter feed

Google has also developed a Crisis Map that provides real-time information about where the storm is moving. The interactive map shows Sandy’s trajectory of the entire country, plus the public can subscribe to additional alerts such as evacuation notices, storm warnings, shelter locations and traffic conditions.

Picking Up the Pieces. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, continue to use digital channels to send updates to your stakeholders. Government organizations will need to work together to communicate relief and clean-up efforts, as well as provide additional resources available to the public. Keep an eye on FEMA, Ready.gov, and the National Weather Service for more information.

My wife is a teacher. Most of her friends are teachers as well. So, I get to participate in a lot of discussions about how students learn and how to make sure all students are being taught in a way that best suits them.

These conversations make me recall my days back in college. I would be sitting in class trying to pay attention to the professor but would often end up spending most of the class making drawings in my notebook. It took a few classes, but I soon realized that if I used my drawing distractions to focus my mind, it could actually help me out with the class. This discovery really benefited me when I took an art history class. As the professor would show an image of a famous piece by Titian or Tintoretto or Nanni di Banco, I would feverishly sketch out what the piece looked like while scribbling important notes in the margins. It worked. This method helped train the mind of this economics major to be able to remember all the important details of these famous pieces of art.

What I thought I had discovered was that I am a visual learner.

Apparently, according to recent research, I was wrong. Being simply an auditory or visual learner is not the way your brain works. But there’s one thing the research finds that I had stumbled upon. Finding ways to keep your mind engaged is key to learning and retaining information.

Few people do this better than Jonny Goldstein.

We recently asked Jonny to attend our Annual Federal Digital Communications Event to give us his interpretation of what our excellent speakers were presenting. Check out what he came up with!


Author Peter Sims discussed how taking Little Bets leads to amazing breakthroughs.


Thom Rubel, Vice President of IDC Government Insights, talked about moving from open government to smart government.


Scott Burns, CEO of GovDelivery, gave advice on how government organizations can use successful private sector marketing principles to transform engagement with the public.


A panel of top government innovators discusses how they’ve revolutionized the way they communicate with the public.

View these visual notes in higher resolution on the GovDelivery website.

Event participants – and our speakers – were enthralled with the work Jonny produced on the fly.  Without seeing presentations beforehand, he was able to pull together conceptual ideas and give them a visual form. This allowed the information being presented to be even more impactful, with participants lingering and taking photos of the graphics to soak up ideas and examples from the event more readily.

We all have sat through boring presentations and long meetings. What are some of the things you use to keep your mind engaged on the task at hand?

By Patrick Fiorenza, Research Analyst, GovLoop

I recently attended GovDelivery’s annual event, Digital Government: The Transformative Power of Communications. The event focused on how digital government, innovation and communications intersect to transform how government operates and provides services to citizens through emerging technology.

The keynote speaker for the event was Peter Sims, author of Little Bets – How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries and co-author of True North – Discover Your Authentic Leadership.  Peter’s keynote was a fantastic presentation on the dire need for transformational leadership and innovation in government. In a time of tight budget constrains, decreasing resources, and rising demand from citizens, leaders are now tasked like never before to navigate the bureaucracy, allocate resources, and streamline operations to maximize efficiency of both personnel and limited resources allocated within the agency.

Peter Sims has also been featured on the DorobekINSIDER as part of the DorobekINSIDER Book Club. (You can hear his the entire interview with Chris Dorobek by visiting here).

Peter started by describing the background of Little Bets, and how at the core of the book is entrepreneurial thinking. Peter started off by telling the story of Pixar, and the growth of story telling through a new digital medium. Peter walked through the history of Pixar, as it’s early roots as a hardware company and connections with George Lucas and Steve Jobs. Peter gave a great presentation; here are some of my highlights from his presentation:

Take Affordable Risks

The idea that Peter expressed is that people need to use and understand how to take risks and identify affordable losses as a way to solve problems, so once you find a solution that works, now that is a solution that can help you go big.  The idea is that you need to make a lot of mistakes to learn how to innovative and how to improve.

Innovation can come from failure

Peter identified that “conceptual innovators” are people who formulate ideas in their minds and manifest the idea in some way on paper, the example used was that Mozart would be able to write a symphony with little mistakes on paper, the opposite is Beethoven, who is an “experimental innovator,” who would work tirelessly and work to perfect his craft. Most of us are experimental innovators, and we need embrace that innovation takes iterations.

Get out of Perfectionist Mindset

In order to really be an innovator, it requires to the ability to take risks, open up to feedback and criticism, and look to new ways to improve processes.

We Aren’t Taught to Take Little Bets

We are taught to be perfectionists, and in reality, the opposite is true to be an innovator. Peter showed a clip from Jerry Seinfeld working out some new material in front of a small audience, and struggling to finish the joke. The idea is that people can choose to make “a little bet” everyday, and be more creative, and innovative, it’s just the willingness to put yourself out and take the right risk.

Learn your creative process

Peter showed a few really interesting clips, one was from the documentary “Sketches with Frank Gehry,” which showed that a team that had worked together for 15 years and teammates said they could pick up on nonverbal queues. Knowing your creative process and how you work best, is critical.

Peter Sims also was clear to mention that the dynamics of government leadership is changing. The hierarchical mentality is becoming increasingly obsolete, as the demand for improved collaboration and connection with core stakeholders increases.

The event was a reminder of the power of the digital age. Not only do we now have the ability to instantly collaborate and connect with people, we have the ability to constructively empower citizens, agencies, and communities to take action.

For more, read the original post on GovLoop.

Visual notes from Peter Sims’s keynote available on GovDelivery’s website.

Emily Jarvis, Producer for DorobekINSIDER on GovLoop, recently posted a compelling interview with GovDelivery CEO and co-Founder, Scott Burns, on the changing nature of government communications. Here’s an excerpt from her post:

The government has a history of thinking of communication as a one-way press-release oriented type of activity. What we try to do is help people understand that now you need to personalize the experience with the mission of the organization and keep the individual in mind.

In the business world goals are very straightforward when it come to marketing. Make money. It is easy to measure success and failures. For government it’s much more difficult. We need to help clients understand that the objectives are different.

Lot’s of planning is needed up front, that way communication can actually support the mission not just about about getting more Twitter followers.

[For example last] year FEMA had 8,000 people participate in online communities. This year that number is already hovering at 20,000 people. The online communities are transforming the way people communicate. It’s no longer a one-way conversation, it’s all about direct collaboration.


To hear the whole interview, see Emily’s original post on GovLoop.

Have a question for Scott? Want to hear more about his thoughts on government communications? He’ll be speaking at a digital communications event in Washington, DC on October 16. You can also hear from leading experts from around the Federal government about leadership development, new technologies, and digital communications best practices. Registration is free, but space is limited. Reserve your seat today.

Innovation tableBy John Simpson, Federal Consultant

In July 2012, the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte published a report based on analyzing data from the 2011 Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to summarize the sentiments of government employees on their view of innovation in their working environment. While a significant majority of employees (91.5%) are looking for ways to perform their job better, a much smaller percentage (59.2%) “reported that they are en­couraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things” and only 38.8% responded that creativity and innovation were rewarded in their office. Both stats were lower than the previous year’s results (59.6% and 39% respectively). While the nation’s public servants are overwhelmingly eager to find new ways to improve their performance, office leadership sometimes isn’t there to encourage or nurture an employee’s drive for creativity or innovation.

Rocket ship launchingThe study continued to detail which federal agencies received the highest and lowest marks according to the level of perceived innovation. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and General Services Administration (GSA) were among the highest ranked in agencies that federal employees viewed as innovative. NASA, the leader in the survey’s results for the second year, even has a page on their site that advertises the different ways that its innovation “creates new jobs, new markets, and new technologies.” Although other federal agencies could reason that NASA has always been about innovating technologies and its scale is far beyond the reach of many offices, the funds and the tech are only secondary to what allows NASA to reach the top of the charts in the minds of government workers: its attitude.

The path to a truly innovative agency is more than fulfilling an Executive memorandum to have more mobile access to government data or a directive for better customer service. While ever-evolving technologies have opened up new avenues to increase government-to-citizen engagement, the best cloud solution isn’t going to be effective for a work environment that doesn’t support a staffer’s desire to try something new. Becoming a more innovative agency is about changing leadership’s perspective and office culture around how best to serve the public; it is about encouraging employees to think, “How can we better reach the public? What old problems can be solved with new approaches or modern technologies?” If agencies and employees fear  the consequences of being creative or thinking outside the box, the government will always be one step behind the expectations of the public. Yet, waiting for this change to happen from the top-down is hardly the most effective solution.

Little Bets Book Cover by Peter SimsIn Peter Sims’s book, “Little Bets”, Sims writes that part of the problem is that most were simply taught a certain way. We’ve been hammered that “memorization and learning to follow established procedures are the key methods for success.” We are not often given opportunities for original experiments or to flex our creative muscles outside a narrow, established parameter. In the public sector, rules and regulations regarding the use of government’s time and taxpayer money can often limit any room for trial-and-error projects even further, especially when the return on investment is very gray. Sims explains that “engaging in discovery and making little bets is a way to complement more linear, procedural thinking. No one can take their eye off their core business or responsibilities, but anyone can spend a portion of their time and energies using little bets to discover, test, and improve ideas.”

Spurring innovation in a government agency does not always have to start with an Executive mandate or a clean sweep in leadership. It can start small, with federal employees building on successful projects that move beyond what has always been done to placate problems. Although some agencies’ leadership could be more open to supporting their staffs’ desires to find new, creative solutions to better reach the public, an agency’s attitude and work environment will only change after there are examples to point to and successful projects that can support the idea that “there is a better way to serve the public.”

A question for many is how to make that first step. How does a public servant know when it is the right time or situation to try something new? What are some examples of how others have taken that chance to be innovative and met success?

GovDelivery logoOn October 16, GovDelivery is inviting government workers to take part in discussions with Peter Sims and inventive government leaders on how to best seize opportunities for innovation and share best practices for expanding government’s reach to the public through dynamic digital communications solutions. To attend this free event, register online.

While most agencies cannot expect to become like NASA or NRC overnight, the road to a more innovative government and changing the attitude of offices begins with government employees learning lessons from their successful colleagues and becoming their own leaders for change and innovation.


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