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

By John Simpson, Business Consultant, GovDelivery Federal

Just after the new year, the Washington Post advertised a recent study showing that an increasing amount of world leaders are taking to Twitter to increase their reach to the public. While this new report from the Digital Policy Council does show a significant upward trend in the number of leaders that are leveraging Twitter, a 75% increase from 2011, the more revealing graph is the one below that highlights which country’s heads of state have the largest amount of followers and supposedly the larger trend towards open government.

Map: Heads of State on Twitter

The Washington Post continues that “the numbers sound like a big win both for Twitter and for open government, which have gone hand-in-hand since even before the Arab Spring uprisings popularized social media as a form of civic participation in 2010.”

participation medalWhile it is undeniable that Twitter holds enormous outreach potential to a global population that is only increasing its use of social media tools, the assumption that “more leaders tweeting equals a more open society” is a misguided notion. Simply because a member of a leader’s staff maintains a regular presence on Twitter does not mean that anything being communicated is new or the government is becoming increasingly transparent. Having a large amount of followers does not automatically mean that a government is lending itself more to the idea of an active dialogue with its citizens. Without proactive engagement and real participation in public discussions, social media simply becomes an avenue for leaders to spam their followers. It is also not much of an accomplishment to tout a large base of followers over other global leaders when your country already has a large, social media savvy citizenry.military connection mobile

Many organizations that leverage social media, both within and outside of the government, use these tools as simply a device for re-purposing the same, old information. Having a bare bones social media policy does not mean an organization can boast about being more open to the public. Tools like Twitter and Facebook were not conceived as a one-to-many tool, but as a means to connect people across the world and discuss issues relevant to them. Whether it’s talking about your cousin’s ugly baby photos or the organization of a protest against a tyrant, Twitter is about proactive engagement and conversations. A steady and sizable increase in global leaders communicating to their population through social media is a positive trend, but progress cannot stop there. A country’s leader having a large following online doesn’t mean that the country itself is moving towards a policy of open government. It’s what a leader does with his or her social media megaphone that matters.

By Lance Horne, General Manager, GovDelivery Federal

reach out and touch someone

More than 30 years ago, an ad agency came up with a tagline to soften AT&T’s image and position the company as an indispensable element of everyday American life: “Reach out and touch someone.”  After spending the last 15-plus years working within the public sector in a variety of roles, I’ve formed some strong opinions about how agencies can leverage technology to communicate more effectively with citizens. I’ve also seen how more effective government-to-citizen (G2C) communications can boost an agency’s image and position it as an essential part of citizens’ lives, much like AT&T managed to do with its “Reach out” campaign. Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my thinking on this, starting with today’s post that focuses on G2C outreach and communication.

Government agencies have come a long way over the years in jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon – more are using web sites, Facebook and a variety of other social media channels to try to facilitate communications with citizens. But one area that’s still a quandary is how to get better at G2C communications, meaning ensuring that targeted information reaches the right audience, measuring the impact of communication efforts, and providing a conduit for citizens to not just consume information, but to react and respond to it. Many government agencies still rely on the more traditional forms of communication to get information to targeted groups of citizens, including advertising, print media, and channels that rely on physical delivery services.

Government agencies, much like industry entities, are most effective when efforts are focused on meeting the core mission. Things like defending our country, coordinating the logistics involved in keeping people fed and safe after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, and maintaining vital services are just a few of the areas where government focus is critical. It’s understandable that agencies might not have the time – or the expertise – to figure out how to more effectively reach out and touch citizens with vital communications. Clearly, leveraging industry providers with innovative and efficient technological offerings that have the capacity to effectively reach millions of recipients is a better approach.

Anyone who works within government realizes that you’re always going to be asked to do more with less. It’s been a general mandate for the past several years and isn’t going away anytime soon. So what do you do to boost G2C communications? One way is to develop a subscriber base and to immediately adopt subscribers from agencies with interests similar to your own. Working with the right industry G2C partner is something that agencies can do right off the bat to boost their profile and reach out and engage constituents more effectively.

If part of your overall mission is to have better relationships with citizens, then having a process in place for good G2C communications can help you accomplish that. And in the words of the AT&T tagline, you’ll be better able to reach out and touch someone.

Watch for more of my thoughts in coming weeks on topics such as cloud computing, improving communications with returning military and their families, and mining big information and ideas using big data technologies. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on G2C communications. What challenges are you having in this area? What successes?

As your organization fills the fresh slate of 2013 with a new communications strategy, consider the issues and topics that make you squirm. Many government agencies struggle year after year with the same topics that are either uncomfortable for the org or are avoided by the public. Citizens shy away from topics that make them nervous, afraid, or even bored, while organizations skirt issues that are difficult to explain or to present in an engaging way.

Misinformation circulated by journalists on the particle physics work performed at the international laboratory CERN suggested that the lab could destabilize and cause apocalyptic reactions without warning (you can see information about the safety of the lab’s particle accelerator here). This has led to widespread misconceptions about the research and a general fear of “radiation” by the public. PhD students working in the lab decided to try and provide education on the public’s long-standing misunderstandings in a new and entertaining way… with a zombie movie.


Image credit: http://www.decayfilm.com/category/media.html

Researchers with little film-making expertise and a $3,500 budget created a gory flick called “Decay” that takes place in CERN’s real maintenance tunnels. The film showcases brain-eating, undead lab workers in bloody detail but also sneaks in scripted informative snippets on the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest particle accelerator), how it functions, safety features of the lab and the “God particle” discovered by CERN researchers. The creators wanted the film to “[appeal] to a wide-ranging, science-savvy audience, as well as to zombie enthusiasts as a new approach to the genre” and took the chance to “do some satirical commentary on various aspects of people’s perceptions of science.” The film sold out its premiere at the University of Manchester, was released for free on YouTube and has been over 400,000 times, and has gained a Twitter following of over 700 users.

CDC also played on the past few years’ zombie trend with their 2011 campaign, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” CDC director Dr. Ali S. Khan explains, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” The initial blog post includes information on how to build an emergency kit, creating an emergency plan with your family, and the services provided by CDC. The post went viral in May 2011 and the increase in traffic crashed the blog website. The campaign has been so successful since its launch that it has been expanded to include lessons plans for educators, t-shirts, posters, and a graphic novella.

These examples of clever campaigns demonstrate the benefit of sharing information with the public with a “wink and a nod” that is accessible and entertaining. Dare your organization to take a hard look at the keywords and themes that have historically been off-limits and confront them in the New Year. Building a communication strategy around them can provide a fresh boost to your organization’s approach and increase public outreach and education in surprising ways.

What is the biggest issue or idea has your organization been avoiding? Share with us in the comments about how your organization takes on tough topics in out-of-the-box ways!


Statistics on page views current as of 1/6/2013.

By Dave Worsell, Director, Government Solutions, GovDelivery UK

For Government to achieve its aim of Digital by Default something very important needs to change in 2013.

While many public services are available online, the truth is that not enough citizens use them and the considerable investment in the development of electronic public services hasn’t been maximised. It’s a missed opportunity at the time when the public purse can’t afford failure.

The solution lies in how citizens are being engaged by Government and how this engagement is used to increase use of online services.

While engagement of any sort is highly beneficial to both citizens and government I believe that time, effort and scarce public financial resources is fundamentally being wasted in engaging the wrong people.

  • Citizens who use social media already engage digitally. They are more likely to use cheaper online channels and naturally choose digital by default.  You’re preaching to the converted so the return on investment is minimal.
  • Some people don’t do digital, and they probably never will no matter how hard they are pushed. These shouldn’t be the main focus of your efforts.
  • Many citizens will do digital with gentle persuasion. They already make basic use of the internet, have mobile phones and many have an email address. This is your target audience.

My parents fall into the last category. They are in a digital state that I call the Gulf of Engagement. They are prepared to engage digitally but need a clear route with large signposts to find their way. Offline engagement gives them the support they need: it’s easy, and they don’t know any better.

The solution is to build an engagement funnel that maximises the value of offline interactions to capture digital assets (e.g. email addresses, mobile numbers and social media profiles) to initiate that all important “channel shift.” Future interactions can then be initiated proactively by large digital signposts, e.g. SMS alerts and email notifications to drive citizens towards the cheaper online channels. Digital engagement really does drive digital fulfilment.

Engagement Funnel

Tips for guiding stakeholders into the Engagement Funnel:

1)  Re-route the River.  Citizens are like water; they will always follow the path of least resistance. Make it easier to interact online than offline by removing offline contact details from prominent locations on your web pages. Self service must always be easier than making a telephone call.

2)  Digital Shepherd.  Customer service teams are the gateway to your digital world. Ensure they take every opportunity to capture digital assets from offline interactions. Ask for an email address or mobile number during every call.

3)  It’s all Back-to-Front.  Integrate your back office (CRM and service delivery functions) with your front-line digital channels. Ensure systems capture digital assets and use them to drive usage of online resources by alerting users to service changes digitally.

4)  Break the Silos.  Most public sector bodies have a huge resource of untapped digital addresses that could be used to drive engagement if they looked hard enough. Use them.

5)  A Matter of Policy.  Make sure your data and privacy policies allow you to share and re-use the information you collect within your organisation, or you’ll build even larger silos where the full benefits can’t be shared.

6)  Sign of the Times.  Use your acquired digital assets to sign-post your online services and deliver a large, engaged audience where they’ll see and drive the most value.

What do you think? I’d like to hear comments from government organisations on their digital engagement efforts.

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!

If you haven’t heard of Responsive Design yet, you will soon enough. Responsive Design is a new way of dealing with the multitude of devices people are using to view digital content. Responsive Design uses the functionality of CSS3, combined with Unobtrusive JavaScript, to provide an optimal viewing experience across multiple viewing platforms (desktop monitors, ultrabooks, tablets and mobile phones) for websites, blogs and email.

So far, Responsive Design has not been adopted by very many government organizations yet, but as new websites are designed, more and more will be adopting Responsive Design.

Three great examples of what I’m talking about:

1) Here is how Michigan’s homepage looks on my desktop:

Michigan web

And here’s how it looks on my phone:

Michigan Screen shot

2) Rhode Island looks great on a desktop

Rhode Island Web

And on mobile

Rhode Island Mobile Site

3) This very blog uses Responsive Design. Here’s how it looks on a mobile phone

GovDelivery Blog

Two main elements that make up Responsive Design

1) CSS3 Elements

Responsive-Designed sites use the most contemporary CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) design elements to adjust the layout of your digital content to the appropriate screen size. These apply to web content as well as email.  Here’s how Wikipedia explains them:

  • Media queries allow the page to use different CSS style rules based on characteristics of the device the site is being displayed on, most commonly the width of the browser.
  • The fluid grid concept calls for page element sizing to be in relative units like percentages or EMs, rather than absolute units like pixels or points.
  • Flexible images are also sized in relative units (up to 100%), so as to prevent them from displaying outside their containing element.

Basically, to summarize, instead of creating absolute sizes for items, you size them in relation to size of the browser displaying your content. So, instead of setting a table to be 700 pixels wide within a 1,000 pixel web page, you set the table to 70% of the width of the browser. On your desktop, that would be 700 and 1,000 but on your smart phone that might be 350 and 500. You get the idea.

2) Unobtrusive JavaScript Elements

Unobtrusive JavaScript is a new concept that doesn’t have a consistent, agreed upon set definition yet, but it’s generally accepted that there are 2 main components. (This gets a little more technical, so I will try to summarize how Wikipedia lays it out.) Unresponisve JavaScript applies to web content only. Putting JavaScript in email is a no-no!:

  • Separating the JavaScript from HTML – keep JavaScript independent of other code. Think keeping all your JavaScript in a separate area and not inline with your HTML.
  • How the JavaScript “degrades” – Content should be available without all of the JavaScript running successfully and the JavaScript should improve the HTML. When there are instances of people using an unusual browser configuration, things will still render.

So what do I do with all this and why should I care?

Excellent question to ask, especially for the non-tech-nerds, reading this. There are 4 main reasons Responsive Design is the way of the future:

1) We all know smart phone adoption is going to continue to grow in years to come. The same is true of tablets and any other yet to be invented digital technology. As the screen size variations begin to reach exponential numbers, it will become impossible to design digital content that work well on all the different variations without Responsive Design. So, you can either go with Responsive Design or have a website, blog or email that looks good on one platform and horrible on all the others. Also, since your one site works on all platforms, you don’t need to maintain completely separate mobile sites, saving your web team time and money.

2) The Federal Digital Government Strategy lays out several initiatives that Federal agencies will have to meet. Nearly all of the initiatives have a component of increased accessibility for mobile platforms. And, as goes the Federal Government, so goes the rest of government.

3) Responsive Design is a great tool to allow you to have nice looking digital content and still remain 508 compliant. Gone are the days of needing to sacrifice design for accessibility. With Responsive Design, everyone can enjoy the benefits of a great website or email.

4) It helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Since you site looks better and is easier to navigate with Responsive Design, people are less likely to leave right away and will spend more time browsing your content. That directly translates to reduced bounce rates and increased time-on-site metrics. If they are leaving less and spending more time your site, it gives you more time to get them to sign up receive your content in the future, thus converting them from browsing into some you can engage. Finally, having a completely separate mobile version of your site could be seen as having duplicate content on your site, something search engines really frown upon.

I’m sure there are several other benefits I’m missing out on but this is enough to get you thinking. When it comes time to redesign that website, make sure start with Responsive Design from the get go. Otherwise it might be extremely painful to come back in after your site is finished and retrofit Responsive Design techniques.

Speaking of Responsive Design, check out this short video of GovLoop Founder and President, Steve Ressler, talking about how Responsive Design in being implemented in the Federal government.

Steve Ressler talks about the Digital Government Initiative from GovDelivery on Vimeo.

About a decade ago, Malcolm Gladwell published his bestselling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.  In the book, Gladwell says, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” He categorizes these people into the following:

  1. The Connectors – those in a community whom knows large numbers of people and is great at connecting all these people together.
  2. The Mavens – these are the information specialists. They accumulate knowledge and love to share it with others.
  3. The Salesmen – these are the persuaders, the charismatic people who know how to get you to buy into an idea.

If you can get these three kinds of people to connect with an idea, you can create a tipping point, or a point at which the idea begins to be widely adopted by the general public.

I’ve known several of each of these kinds of people throughout my life, but it’s extremely rare to find all three strengths in one person. The only person I’ve ever met who has all 3 of these rare social gifts is Steve Ressler, President and Founder of GovLoop.

In this short interview, Ressler shares his vision for using social media in government and highlights the excellent work being done with APIs that are being used in exciting new ways.

Check out what this Connector-Maven-Salesmen has to say about technology trends within the government.

Community and collaboration tools like Facebook, Google Drive and Salesforce.com are quickly becoming the status quo in the private sector and consumers’ lives, and citizens and government employees are increasingly expecting the same from the public sector in the form of online tools, customized services, and cloud-based document and information sharing. But government agencies are also dealing with the realities of budget allocations, resource constraints and meeting the needs of challenging initiatives. By leveraging the right tools to efficiently connect government resources and develop innovative solutions, government agencies are able to rise to modern challenges in today’s fast-paced and ultra-connected world.

Approaching the Future with Innovative Technology

As companies in the private sector have placed collaboration at the center of corporate IT strategies and frameworks, government agencies have taken note and followed suit. Collaboration tools and proactive IT strategies have become recognized as a crucial component in connecting government employees and agencies:

Government organizations are addressing modern challenges through a variety of approaches that increase collaboration between stakeholders. New technologies improve access to communities and connect government agencies internally, to each other, and to the public.

connecting people

Reaching Outside the Agency

For organizations that place mission value in citizen input and stakeholder engagement, benefits can be gained from connecting with stakeholders internal and external to the agency and communicating within the local, regional, and national communities.

Agency-to-agency collaboration: Organizations can network and collaborate with other similar organizations to leverage successful strategies and drive more value for stakeholders. For example, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use collaboration tools to help keep citizens aware of recommended and required safety measures with a citizen-focused communication approach.

Community-driven collaboration: Community building and engaging in citizen-to-citizen collaboration is more accessible to government agencies thanks to the availability of easy-to-use online tools and the rise of citizen utilization of new technologies.

National collaboration: Building connections across organizations, businesses, communities and government agencies is possible on a national scale with collaboration tools. Cross-functional relationships can help foster innovation, drive healthy competition and impact community-wide issues.

The challenge in engaging across the boundaries of organizations and communities lies in the differences between the basic requirements of platforms serving each of these groups. When compared with business-to-business or business-to-consumer platforms, government collaboration communities have more stringent requirements around:

  • Security and restricted access to communities and projects both behind and outside of government firewalls
  • Accessibility to meet the needs of those with disabilities
  • Ease of use considerations such as Software-as-a-Service offerings
  • Certification and accreditation to the Federal Information Security and Management Act (FISMA)

The benefits in increased value for internal and citizen stakeholders are worth navigating the requirements associated with building communities and collaboration tools for government. Collaborative community platforms eliminate barriers and provide flexibility to innovate across organizations, communities, and geographic locations, and solutions tailored for government offer easy installation, scalable applications and unique security features.

Benefits of Collaboration

An effective government collaborative platform provides a secure community to organize and collaborate with stakeholders and enables organizations to:

  • Connect more widely: Collaborative platforms can help strengthen the relationship and connections between a government organization and consultants, other government organizations, and the public. Wide and deep community connections are beneficial for organizations looking to reach and impact the maximum number of stakeholders. Collaboration breaks down silos and connects decision-makers to stakeholders for broad learning opportunities.
  • Encourage free-flowing communication: More conversations allow organizations to make better decisions with more input. Collaborative tools and websites provide platforms to ask open-ended questions and pull in answers from unexpected sources and perspectives. Collaboration allows government agencies to better serve the public through improved awareness, engagement and participation in government.
  • Reduce costs by streamlining information flow and resource allocation: Online collaboration and document sharing help to  distribute best practices, improve response time, and clarify decision-making to increase efficiency. Organizations with effective collaboration are able to respond to critical needs and strengthen the overall community by sharing strategies that work.
  • Combine traditional-style tools with interactive tools to gain useful data: Community platforms offer tools like events, surveys, polls, forums, integrated threaded messaging, blogs, and moderating capabilities to encourage higher levels of engagement. Establishing groups can help form digital work spaces and project teams for focused collaboration.
  • Improve organizational culture to embrace change and adapt to collaborative work styles: As communication and collaboration shifts to a more mobile and technology-focused workplace, government collaborators will need systems that accommodate different ways of creating and sharing information. Software-as-a-Service platforms often offer easy updates and customizable implementations to allow flexibility.

Collaborative Community Solutions

In order to deliver value to the public, government organizations need to adapt to new technologies that allow connecting with stakeholders in innovative ways to save cost and improve impact. Collaborators need solutions to the barriers they face in:

  • Collaborative document writing and videoconferencing
  • Sharing photos and other files
  • Analytics and reporting
  • Email and discussion forum integration
  • Integration with social media platforms where the public already congregates
  • Administrative overview and control of collaborative participants
  • Government-level security for collaborative media

Today’s technology offerings in collaboration and community management software create value by improving the flow of communications to foster teamwork and innovation. One example of successful collaboration on a scalable platform can be seen in FEMA’s national community, which utilizes an easy-to-use platform to engage the community and rally around national preparedness. FEMA uses the collaboration tools integrated with their platform to put out calls-to-action and improve citizen engagement. Users can join in regional and national discussions, find events near their location, sign up for newsletters, and learn from other members’ experiences.

It is clear that government agencies and employees will benefit from widespread implementation of collaboration platforms. Collaborative communities allow organizations to manage communications at the internal, local and national scale, build dialogues across relationships, and encourage teamwork and innovation to meet the challenges of government in the digital age. Has your organization considered implementing a collaborative community management platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or reach out to info@govdelivery.com for more details and specific examples of real value driven by building collaborative communities from the ground up.


I think we can all agree that we have some pretty big problems we need to solve in the world today. Climate change, the fiscal cliff, healthcare improvements, poverty, clean drinking water, and global pandemics are all massive issues governments across the globe need to solve. There’s smaller scale issues that need a lot of thought to be solved as well. How do we get everyone in the state vaccinated? We need a new bridge across the river but don’t have the tax revenues to pay for it. How do we move more people to using online systems rather than relying on in-person visits? All are extremely complex issues that necessitate innovative thinking.

The emerging field of Design Thinking can shed some light on how organizations can begin thinking differently about complex issues.

Wikipedia states that Design Thinking “is a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking, that starts with the goal or what is meant to be achieved instead of starting with a certain problem. Then, by focusing on the present and the future, the parameters of the problem and the resolutions are explored, simultaneously. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions.”

When dealing with a massive problem like climate change or trying to build a bridge with little money, you begin by breaking the problem down into manageable problems such as “How can we increase recycling by 75% over the next year?” or “What are the economic implications of building or not building a new bridge?” Then, you can use design thinking as you attack the problems:

  1. Decide what issue you are trying to resolve
  2. Research what’s been done in the past and ask end users for input
  3. Generate as many ideas as possible to address the identified needs
  4. Create multiple prototypes, refining each iteration as you go
  5. After reviewing the issue you were trying to resolve, select the best ideas
  6. Put the plan into action
  7. Gather feedback on how well your solution worked

In a recent TED Talk video, Tim Brown states that Design Thinking can help you “Exploit opposing ideas and opposing constraints to create new solutions” or in other words, balancing Desirability (what people want), Viability (does it make economic sense) and Feasibility (what is technologically possible).

In times where we’re facing great challenges, we need new alternatives, new ideas. We need new choices because our existing systems are obsolete. Design Thinking provides a system to begin solving our great problems.

To hear more about Design Thinking, check out this video of Little Bets author, Peter Sims talking about using design thinking to solve challenging problems.

Peter Sims design

What issues are you facing in your job that could benefit from shifting to Design Thinking? How might you begin implementing Design Thinking in your job this week?


By Steve Ressler, Founder, GovLoop

I’ve recently had a number of conversations with folks government on what citizens truly want.

Transactions/FAQ - There’s one camp that argues to focus on the break and butter – For example, the relaunched gov.uk which has a strong emphasis on fixing top frequently asked questions and optimizing 100,000+ transactions. Another example would be Honolulu Answers.

Deep Engagement - There’s another camp that really wants to focus on citizen engagement and action. How do we get citizens to share ideas and take collective action? Think companies like MindMixer that host great online town halls like Folsom 2035 where they ask “What is your vision of this community over the next 20 years?”.  Or crowdsource funding for agency problems (great start-ups like Citizinvestor).

There’s no right or wrong answer but I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a great way to view the citizen demand curve.  You must meet the basic needs before moving up the hierarchy of needs chain.

Fundamental needs like applying for benefits or emergency alerts, are inherently more popular than deeper engagement as I’ve seen from looking at three interesting data points:NC online services

So let me get into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how they relate to citizen’s hierarchy of needs.

  1. Physiology = Basic Transactions – The foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy is physiological – breathing, food, water.  For government, that’s the basic transactions – getting your driver’s license, renewing your passport, applying for food stamps.
  2. Safety = Emergencies/Jobs – One step above is safety – security of body, employment.   Think of this as emergency alerts like text/emails with snow/hurricane information.  Also it’s finding employment – being able to find and apply for government jobs.
  3. Love/belonging = General Agency Content/News – Is a sense of community.  To me this is getting news about your community, getting the parks information for example or the latest on a new school opening.  Or NASA sharing its trip to the moon with you via great images, conversations, and more.
  4. Esteem = Sharing Ideas – Esteem to me is the process of sharing ideas.  One builds self-esteem, confidence, and achievement by the ability to share one’s voice with others – an in-person or online townhall, ability to give feedback on a program, etc
  5. Self-actualization = Citizen Problem Solving - Is the highest level of Maslow’s need and involves creativity and problem solving.  I think of this as building on open data or organizing a citizen watch group.

Conclusion – As you plan citizen engagement activities, think about where you are on the Maslow hierarchy of needs.  Are you meeting the base needs?  Are you connecting the base needs to the deeper engagement?


Original post on GovLoop.

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