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

GovTechOn Thursday, July 18th, the 2013 Digital Counties Survey awards were announced by the Center for Digital Government in conjunction with the National Association of Counties. The winners were chosen for efficiently and effectively using technology to better the lives of local citizens and improve operations for the counties.

Tough budgetary times can lead to paralysis or provide the opportunity to forge bold new plans that can radically improve the situation on an organization.

At GovDelivery, we love hearing about how local governments are embracing new technology solutions to dramatically improve service to the public and create efficiencies for government employees.

“The annual survey, which recognizes leading examples of counties using information and communications technology, chose winners that overcame tough fiscal barriers to improve government services and efficiency,” writes Digital Communities.

We specifically want to highlight the award winning work being done by our clients who have recognized that using digital communications to communicate with the public, as part of a comprehensive technology plan, is a win-win for citizens and the county.

Congratulations on your well deserved award win!

Photo credit: GovTech

sh Last week, one of the greatest cheesy movies of all time debuted on the Syfy channel. Sharknado.

In case you missed it, here’s the premise. There’re lots of really big sharks in the ocean and they’re all really angry. Due to some weird weather, the sea level begins to rise in Los Angeles and a freak tornado scoops up said sharks and rains them down on the city. 1990’s ‘C List’ stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (appropriately named ‘Fin’ in this film) take to the streets to kill the sharks and blow up the tornado using dynamite. Mayhem ensues. A cult classic is born.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey pal, where’s the spoiler alert warning?!?!”

Sorry about that.

Obviously, this movie is designed to be a low budget, tongue-in-cheek, comedy/thriller that’s the entertainment equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies…at first the idea sounds delicious, but you end up regretting it by the time you’re finished.

The thing that’s most amazing to me about Sharknado is that it actually is a good case study in communications best practices, so here I’ve compiled the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications.

1)  Be trustworthy

You might be wondering what could possibly be ‘trustworthy’ about this movie. Well, it’s called Sharknado and features Tara Reid and Ian Ziering battling airborne sharks in a tornado…you immediately know what you’re getting with this one. No one is tuning in thinking this is going to be Spielberg’s next Oscar winner. You watch because you think the idea of tornadic sharks sounds funny.

In the same way, your messages need to be honest and transparent about what you are trying to communicate, even when the information might be difficult to deliver. Always give people the straight answer. People will be far more willing to hear tough information when they feel like you’re telling them the truth, but rarely forgive if they feel they’ve been deceived.

2)  Give your audience what they want

The folks in charge of programming over at Syfy know exactly what their audience is interested in. A quick Google search delivers a long list of awesomely awful movies Syfy has aired. These blockbusters include masterpieces such as Sharktopus, Piranaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Megapython vs. Gatoroid, and Dinoshark.

Clearly, there is a subset of the population who loves these kinds of movies and keeps coming back for the content they love.

This same approach works for communicators too. At GovDelivery, we advise our clients to offer a wide variety of topics that people might be interested in as subscription topics. That way, people can sign up to get the exact information they want.

For example, one person might go to the IRS website to look for information about filing personal income taxes. Another might search the site to find out how to file business paperwork to get a taxpayer ID number, and another person may want to know about the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit.

By allowing people to subscribe to only the information they find valuable, you can provide excellent customer service without burying people in superfluous information they don’t want or need. Your customers will be happy and you won’t be wasting people’s time.

3)  Spread the word

One of the things that Syfy did expertly with Sharknado, was create compelling content that people wanted to share and then get that message out to the masses. Sharknado generated more than 604,000 tweets in an 8 hour time period on the day the movie premiered. That’s 1,258 tweets per minute! The official movie trailer has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube and the movie poster showed up all over my news feed on Facebook.

While not all of the information you need to communicate is as riveting as Sharknado, efficiently getting your message out to as many channels as possible is essential for ensuring maximum viewers. Try to find tools that will simplify the delivery of information. It will save you time and make sure you are catching your audience on their channel of choice.

4)  Capture people’s attention

No one can deny that Sharknado was attention grabbing. But what if you are talking about something more mundane than flying attack sharks? Just because your message isn’t flashy, doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to jazz it up.

For example, you’ve probably heard how the CDC made emergency preparedness interesting with their Zombie Apocalypse campaign. The US Census Bureau found a way to make economic statistics come alive with the America’s Economy mobile app. The Virginia Tourism Association tapped into the growing craft beer trend and created an interactive map for a craft beer tour. You know there’s an audience out there for that idea. Louisville, KY decided to try new ways of capturing people’s attention by putting city content into a new channel where people were already congregating. The Washington DOT even found a way to make traffic information compelling by using a map goof-up to highlight road improvements.

Before pushing your information out there, take a few seconds to think if there’s a way you can make your information more compelling. If you can capture people’s attention, you will have a better chance of them remembering what you want them to know.

5)  Don’t be afraid to have some fun

Sharknado is a great example of having some fun with your content. No one expects this movie to win any awards; it’s purely for entertainment purposes.

Remember your main goal as a communications professional; you are trying to get people to engage with your content, sign up to get additional information from you, and come back for more in the future. If everything you put out is safe, boring to read, boring to look at, in outdated mediums and doesn’t move anyone, most people won’t be back.

Even serious government organizations can have some fun every now and then. And, finding new and exciting ways of getting your material in front of the eyes of the public should be fun for you. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I went this direction to make my message more engaging?” Don’t stress yourself out with this. Take it slow. Bite off small pieces at a time and get creative. Maybe you’ll come up with something even more interesting than Sharknado.

There you have it, the top 5 things a cinematic masterpiece like Sharknado can teach us about communications best practices.

What things would you add to my list?

Oh, in case you missed it, Syfy is re-airing the movie in August. And in case you’re already a diehard fan, Sharknado 2 is already in the works! Syfy is even offering a chance to get in on naming it. You can submit your title ideas via tweet to @SyfyMovies using #Sharknado.

There are many ways to tell a story. In my last post, Jazz Up Text with Graphics to Capture Reader Attention, I discussed why infographics are so important to communicators – and to the story you’re trying to tell.

From comic-like images to instructional diagrams to traditional charts and graphs, visuals can increase readership and drive traffic to your website. But where do you start with creating a visual or graphic that helps you tell your story? Here are a few tips I’ve learned from developing infographics that you can easily use to make the most of the stories you need to tell.

Keep your audience in mind. This is first and foremost, as with any communication. What information would your readers find most useful? What challenges are your readers facing? How can you help them solve their problems? If you’re not sure, survey your readers. This can provide useful quantitative data that can be used in an infographic. Also, consider following your key stakeholders in social media forums for qualitative information that you can pull into a story.

Do your analytical homework. What are your top performing web pages and which ones fall short? What keywords are driving people to your website? Which resources get frequent clicks or downloads? Knowing what your visitors are already reading will help you understand the type of information they want most.

Shape your story. Once you have identified your readers and their interests, you can shape your story. Depending on the content you are publishing, certain graphics may be better suited to sharing your story more effectively. For instance, if you have information on the impact of the flu, a map is a great visual to help you tell that story. Or, if you want to share the average time it takes for a bill to move through Congress, a timeline can be helpful. Make sure you identify the sources of information on your graphic. Doing this builds trust and also serves as an additional resource if your audience wants to learn more.

CDC Flu Map

Publish your graphics in a dynamic design that appeals to your readers. Accompany the graphic with text and use the word “infographic” when naming it to increase search engine optimization. Post the graphic on your blog and social media sites. Infographics with accompanying text not only help you tell your story better, they are also useful for social sharing and increased website traffic.

Share your graphics as broadly as possible. And allow others to share them. Pinterest is an ideal place to post your infographic, since it’s a social network built around visual pinboards. Share on Twitter and make sure to use the hashtag #infographic to optimize your graphic in searches. You can retweet the infographic several times, using different text or statistics from the graphic to generate increased viewership. Strategically choose which Google communities to share with for greatest impact. By now you probably have a visual in your own mind of the ripple effect you are creating as the audience for your key messages grows exponentially.

Decide what you want to measure. Before posting an infographic, decide what you want to measure so that you can determine if the communication is a success. This can be dependent on your mission goals. How many people have clicked to view your infographic? If the infographic is part of a larger campaign, like the StopBullying.gov infographic mentioned in my earlier post, include a call-to-action and measure the response. Which sources are people downloading from most (newsletter signups or other resources)? Has the interaction on your social media sites increased? Do you have more visitors to your website and more followers on Facebook? Are people sharing your infographic in their networks?

Release your infographic at the right time. Releasing your infographic at the right time can help maximize impact. A great example is the infographic released by the United States Census Bureau on Memorial Day honoring America’s veterans. There wasn’t a specific call-to-action, but it was timely and relevant with the US holiday and generated more traffic to the Census website.

US Census Bureau Memorial Infographic

These are some of my tried-and-true tips. How about you? Have you started incorporating infographics in the stories you tell for your organization? What tips do you have for other government communications professionals looking to enhance their messages?

To read my last post, click here.

In my last post, I discussed how a siloed communications system doesn’t work in emergency communications. The term, silo, refers to departments within an organization working separately with little to no communication with each other. For example, in the public sector, emergency notifications are typically handled separately from the communications team.

Taking full advantage of technology and the wide variety of communication tools available is often a bit slower on the adoption scale for government organizations. Add to that a siloed communications approach, and you have a combination Emergency Informationthat creates both inefficiency and ineffectiveness in reaching the people you need to reach in emergencies.

In a crisis situation, reaching the maximum amount of people that you can within the community that could be affected can be the difference in saving a few lives versus saving a lot of lives.

The Town of Ocean City, MD, discovered this need firsthand in 2011 when Hurricane Irene devastated the area. In the aftermath of the storm’s destruction, residents felt that the town’s communication could have been better before and during the storm. The town knew it needed a better communication system and a more flexible way to quickly get messages to more residents, especially in times of emergencies.

Ocean City administrators began using their website as a way to gain subscribers with the help of a digital communication management system (DCM) and started offering various topics that would be of interest to residents, allowing people to sign up for information and emergency alerts. When Hurricane Sandy hit the following year, the city was prepared, pushing important information alerts out to residents via SMS/text messaging and email.

So how can your organization gain more reach?

By making it a priority to get as much information as you can from your stakeholders before an emergency. What type of information and how much you gather will depend on your organization, but you must start with the basics, such as phone numbers, email addresses, home and work addresses, and any other contact information that you need from your stakeholders. Getting this information before an emergency strikes allows you to proactively get critical information out to residents, which can in turn potentially save someone’s life.

Join us for the second podcast for more on the importance of getting rid of siloed communications, and achieving maximum reach in emergencies.

Guest post by Jim Garrow, Operations and Logistics Manager, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

When I follow emergencies unfolding online, I follow them using Twitter. It’s where news breaks these days. The problem is that it keeps breaking. Over and over and over again until the entire situation is a mish-mash of unhelpful posts.

Let me explain.

See this post?

Topical, relevant, timely, eminently share-able, excellent. And it was shared, at least four times. Viral emergency messaging for the win!

But what you don’t see on this snapshot is when those retweets came. I know that at least one of them came around 10:30am that day, which was when I saved the tweet. I saved it because, well, a tweet about a Severe Thunderstorm Warning at 10:30am doesn’t do much when the Warning ended at 10:15am, and the storm about ten minutes before that.

Now, imagine if the original OEM tweet didn’t have a time on it. Every retweet thereafter runs the risk of alerting people to information that is out-of-date. Runs the risk of unnecessarily scaring folks, inflaming folks, misleading folks. And in some emergencies the cost is much worse than confusion. Think of the Oklahoma tornadoes from last month, when some meteorologists told people (incorrectly) now was the time to go home to avoid the storm. Delays in delivering that information could have life-threatening consequences.

The absolutely amazing Greg Licamele discussed a similar topic recently around flash flood warnings in the DC area.

Two-day old info is obviously not true and storms are not minutes away. It’s impossible to “train” casual Twitter users to manually add a date and timestamp, so those of us in the response business must be diligent to timestamp our info when appropriate so our own tweets are not errantly retweeted days later.

Greg recommends that Twitter update their time-stamping tool, which would be ideal, but in the meantime, I think that our good friend Marcus Deyerin had a great suggestion for what we should be doing in the meantime, very similar to what Philly OEM did:

If you’re sending tweets with time-sensitive info, add your own time stamp (e.g. 1015hrs).

Maybe we should include more, like a time and a date. Maybe more consistent messaging, such as posting when a message is out of date. In an information vacuum filled with a need for more, more, more, people will take the last thing you posted as the latest information, often incorrectly. And we should be careful about what we retweet. You’ll notice that everyone that retweeted our Thunderstorm Warning above was an agency, so it was one of us that passed along out-of-date information. We can do better.

To see the original post, click here.

One small change can make the difference between your digital communications getting read or ignored. And it’s an easy change to make. Simply add graphics to your text and you’ll get more traffic, increased readership, and better search engine optimization (SEO). The increases can be quite dramatic.

High quality visuals are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles, and digital publishers who feature infographics grow traffic 12 percent faster than those who don’t, according to statistics published at CustomerMagnetism.com.

As part of Stopbullying.gov’s efforts to provide education and information around bullying, the organization sent an email bulletin through GovDelivery to introduce an infographic on its website. Understanding the power of graphics to help reinforce a message, Stopbullying.gov used the word “infographic” in the email subject line, which helped contribute to an increase in unique email opens by 48 percent (compared to other emails sent). The email itself was visually appealing and included a link to the infographic. This led to a dramatic increase in unique click-throughs – double the amount of any other email sent.

bullying bulletinThe use of charts and illustrations to present information has become a growing trend. The words “infographic” and “infographics” are searched an average of 547,000 times per month on Google. Recently, in a single month, 56,000 tweets mentioned infographics.

As you add relevant visuals to enhance your communications, you should see an increase in site traffic. Stories with graphics are much more likely to be shared, either through email or on social media sites. As your communications and graphics are shared, they should link back to your website, helping to build traffic. Infographics also increase SEO, which results in higher search engine rankings and more visitors to your website.

Why are infographics so popular?

Visual storytelling is a familiar and powerful form of communication with roots deep in our psyches. Ancient cave paintings are evidence that pictures provided our earliest method for communicating stories and ideas. Our visual sense remains strong. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian demonstrated that even today 93 percent of communication is nonverbal.

Visuals make it easier to understand complex information. That’s true for all of us, but particularly for the 60 percent of the population who are visual learners. People learn in different ways, and visual types learn best when ideas, concepts and data are associated with images. They would prefer to get information by looking at a pie chart, graph, timeline or flowchart, for example.

Infographics are powerful

Graphics can influence viewers. Advertisers have always understood the power of graphics. Pictures of babies and puppies are often pictured in ads because they elicit warm, positive emotions in the viewer who then associates that feeling with the product. Given that our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, the influence of a graphic can be quick as well as emotional. Additionally,a 3M-sponsored study at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management found that presenters who use visual aids are 43 percent more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action than presenters who don’t use visuals.

Often graphics don’t have as much impact when they stand alone as they do when combined with text. Without text to explain what a viewer is looking at, an infographic can lose its power. Yet the text without the infographic can be dull and dry. It’s the marriage of graphics and text that makes digital communications featuring infographics powerful enough to engage visitors, increase traffic and ultimately build brand recognition

Given their power to influence audiences, enhance learning, increase readership and drive traffic to your site, it’s not surprising that infographics have become popular with professional communicators. Start thinking about what you need to communicate and learn about effective ways to do it with infographics. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share tips on how to create graphics with great impact.

Data SilosAs a government professional, chances are you know a thing or two about emergency notifications. It’s a critical tool that is an absolute necessity as a means to communicate effectively with the public in times of emergencies. However, what you may not realize is that using a single platform system to manage your emergency communications is just as important in maximizing effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the problem with current emergency communication tactics is that they often exist within a siloed structure. More simply put, many government organizations have different departments that are working separately when it comes to getting the word out to citizens in urgent situations. For example, emergency notification systems have typically been managed separately from the communications department within an organization. Although this may have been fairly efficient in the past, this structure is no longer effective in today’s highly mobile culture.

If your organization is currently working within a siloed communications structure, try using a single platform system instead. With cloud-based emergency notification solutions, your organization’s emergency notifications and digital communication systems can be connected so that your emergency operations center can work seamlessly with your communications department. Role-based permissions help limit who can send what kind of communications, but everything is managed in a single platform. This will increase efficiency in getting the word out during an emergency. And more importantly, work-togetherhaving these systems work efficiently and cohesively together can help to save people’s lives when survival depends on timeliness of emergency notifications.

In the past, using the capability of “Reverse Dial” (the ability to gain access to all landline contacts within specific geographical areas) may have been enough. But many people now use their mobile device as their main voice channel. Mobile devices allow for greater flexibility in receiving information via SMS text messaging, email, or newsgathering through web browsers. We are a hyper-connected society, surrounded by all that technology has brought, and your emergency communications strategy should reflect that.

Think about it. If you found yourself in an emergency situation, what’s the first thing you would want to know? First and foremost, you would want to know exactly what and where the situation is and how you and your family will be protected. You want the right resources, and you want them fast and easily accessible. And in urgent situations, whether it’s a natural disaster such as a hurricane, a water main break that could affect your family or a criminal situation that is close to home, you need that information as quickly as possible.

Join us for a four-part podcast series on Emergency Communications and how you can help your organization better communicate with the public in emergency situations. Listen to the first podcast here:
Siloed Communications Systems Create Inefficiency

If your government organization is one of the many already using Twitter, you are already familiar with the power your organization can harness through hashtags. Hashtags are identifiers that turn otherwise disparate phrases into searchable trends, like #sotu for “State of the Union.” They enable new search capabilities by letting users “discover” messages through similar users and themes.

Facebook hashtags1Hashtags encourage people who are not already following you to participate in the conversation and gain an entry point to your information and breaking news. Twitter was the original platform to offer hashtags as an innovative way to connect content and structure conversations, but other platforms like Instagram have jumped on the bandwagon.

Facebook is the latest platform to jump in the game, debuting hashtags in June in order to keep up with Twitter. And you should start using Facebook hashtags in order to keep up with the social media crowd, too.

Facebook becoming more like Twitter through hashtags is beneficial to government and public sector organizations that use social media to interact with citizens and spark interest in public issues. Hashtags are “clickable”, and allow users to discover what other people are saying about a specific topic or issue. With hashtags, a citizen in your community can connect to other community members and your organization to discuss topics they are already passionate about by clicking and searching hashtags of interest.

Furthermore, hashtags allow your organization to create messages that are more likely to trend with relevant users and even go viral. This is made possible when users and organizations without much standalone online influence are connected through hashtags.

Have you heard enough to know that you need to incorporate hashtags into your organization’s Facebook posts? Here’s what to know before you start:

  • Hashtags were first rolled out on June 12, 2013, and will be rolled out to users in waves in the coming weeks.
  • The new feature will allow users to click on a hashtag to see a feed of what other people and organizations are saying about that topic, trend or event. For example, #skywire linked users to discussions of the recent historic tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon.
  • Users will be able to search for a specific hashtag from the search bar, click on hashtags from their feed or user’s posts, and share their thoughts directly from hashtag feeds.
  • Like Facebook’s other sharing options, hashtags have privacy settings set by each user. Only public hashtag posts will be shared in Facebook-wide trending.
  • Hashtags from other services like Instagram or even Twitter will be clickable when shared on Facebook, making it easier than ever for your organization to share messages across different platforms.
  • Organizations should consider all the opportunities offered with the new Facebook hashtags – and then just start using them! Hashtags enable organizations to interact with the public in real-time, topical conversations, gain insight into public opinion and priorities, and spark interest in events and issues meaningful to the community.

Hashtags are the first step for Facebook users to begin discovering and engaging in new conversations to build richer online communities. Social media platforms will continue to compete with and challenge one another to add new and better features that provide new interactions for users, searchability, and conversations organized by themes and topics. Public sector organizations should learn how to use these new features to reach new audiences and facilitate better conversations with their current followers to improve the impact of their social media presence.

Have you noticed any early successes in using the new Facebook hashtags? Do you have best practices from Twitter you think will translate to Facebook? Let us know in the comments.

As we move through 2013, collaboration continues to be a trending topic in government and one I seem to keep running across, both in my personal and professional life. Having just returned from a study abroad program accompanied by 30 pharrell williamsof my fellow classmates, I found myself a little burned-out in the collaboration department.  After spending days filled with group projects, company tours and exploring the beautiful country of Italy (for which I am certainly not complaining), the idea of collaborating to accomplish just about anything, big or small, seemed a little stressful and exhausting. However, upon my return to work I was struck by intrigue and inspiration when I ran across a particularly interesting Fast Company article, “How Pharrell Williams is the Ultimate Collaborator.” To be honest, it was the Pharrell Williams aspect which initially drew me in, but after reading the article and listening to the accompanying 30 minute interview I not only looked at Pharrell differently, but collaboration as well.

Some of you may be unsure of who Pharrell Williams is or what he does. However, it’s highly likely you’ve heard him on the radio in recent weeks. His latest collaborative success, “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk’s latest single ft. Pharrell Williams) is being played just about everywhere, with over 60 million views on VEVO & YouTube alone. While Pharrell may be most recognized for his contributions to the music industry (he’s a musician, producer and 4-time Grammy winner), there is much more to the famed “ultimate collaborator.”

To call Pharrell an entrepreneur would almost seem an understatement. In his interview at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored Event, Pharrell discusses his many collaborations, focusing on how he finds success through collaboration and how he has come to be one of most successful collaborators in the world.

So where does this fit into government?

As I listened to Pharrell discuss his collaborative endeavors, I began to think about collaboration in government, pondering why I didn’t always feel this excited about collaboration’s potential. Looking at collaboration through a different lens helped me develop a new outlook toward collaboration in government. I realized that although collaboration in government may not consist of working with major musical talent, it can be a great way to energize existing relationships with other government communicators and create a fun way to exchange ideas.

Here are some highlights from the interview that resonated with me.

Collaboration is a two way street. When asked about how he decides who to collaborate with, Pharrell attributes his decision to his “curious nature.” He is constantly looking beyond the world of music, going to see where products are made and asking questions such as “why do you do it this way.” When he has an idea, he will ask around to see if anyone had ever heard of it before. If no one has, he gains the confidence to reach out to a company to collaborate. Pharrell admits that he realizes he may not know a lot about the particular field, but he knows he has an interesting idea. He says, “I get paid to learn, but I also bring something to the experience.”

Collaboration at all levels is a two way street; you give and you take, and in the end it can be a truly meaningful and enhancing experience. Government agencies can benefit from this by sharing resources to reach common mission goals, such as cross-promotion of services or events.


It’s all in the taste and tone. When it comes to the qualities Pharrell looks for in those he collaborates with, he says it’s crucial to look at a company’s history to “find a great consistency of never falling below par with its products [which]… need to be made with functionality first.” It’s important to think about what you need to accomplish and then seek out those organizations who have expertise related to those goals.

Collaboration doesn’t mean you have to give something up. Does collaborating mean that in the end you have to sacrifice something because somebody else had an idea that was different from yours? When asked this question in the interview, Pharrell quickly responded with a “no” and went on to explain his reasoning. While Pharrell enters each collaboration with an idea, he realizes that in order to make an idea successful, he has to learn from the experts and work with them, accepting and incorporating their knowledge and ideas.

One government organization may have expertise in a certain topic or campaign, while another may have expertise in reaching mass audiences successfully or utilizing social media. Working together provides an opportunity for both organizations to learn from one another, maximizing success.

Your ideas have to be part of the collaboration.  Collaboration revolves around sharing ideas. For collaboration to truly take place, everyone’s ideas need to be a part of the process. When Daft Punk first team 4approached Pharrell about “Get Lucky,” they played the song and “just wanted to hear [his] reaction.” From there, Pharrell shared his thoughts on how the lyrics could be. Daft Punk created the music and Pharrell wrote the lyrics, with the overall message of the song agreed upon and created by both parties- a true collaboration. Everyone’s ideas need to be incorporated in some way and need to be heard and considered.

You don’t want to challenge an ego. It’s happened to everyone at some point. When working with others, there is bound to be at least one ego in the group. Egos can be a challenge when you’re collaborating. Pharrell offers up some interesting insight on the subject. He says, “You don’t want to challenge an ego, you want them to feel great and feel the biggest fire they can. If someone is agitated, that’s good.” While this can be easier said than done, when an ego inflates, take a step back and “let them feel the fire.” Good things may come as an end result.

If you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time. Pharrell’s final words deliver an important message. Addressing how he cultivates talent and touching on advice he shared with artist Mayer Hawthorne, Pharrell says, “For the most part, even when those things are happening [advising musicians], I consider myself a student because I am learning something. If you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time.”

I underlined this last statement because it’s by far my favorite and in my opinion, the most powerful. As you go about your day, it’s easy to forget to take advantage of learning opportunities and to remember how important learning, of any magnitude, truly is. Learning should not stop with one’s academic career, it should be a continuous and daily occurrence. It’s how we grow as individuals, students, professionals, as human beings and ultimately, how the world around us continues to grow as well.

To read the Fast Company article or hear the entirety of Pharrell’s creative conversation on collaboration, check out the links below:

Article: http://www.fastcompany.com/3012909/creative-conversations/from-louis-vuitton-to-daft-punk-how-pharrell-williams-is-the-ultimate

Interview: http://soundcloud.com/tracks/search?q%5Bfulltext%5D=innovation+uncensored&q%5Btype%5D=&q%5Bduration%5D=

Guest post by Jim Garrow, Operations and Logistics Manager, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

I work in public health which, as you’ve heard me complain, can be a bit dry.

We talk about very complicated subjects and the people who do most of our talking have numerous advanced degrees and understand those subjects at a very high level. The problem with this is that the people that need the information generally don’t have the background or education to follow along with those conversations. So we have communicators to “bring down the reading level.” We are translators. We transform “public healthy language” into “plain language.” (This is one of my favorite things to do at my job. I make knowledge available to the masses. I educate, I inform, I empower.)

Traditionally this wasn’t much of a priority. An older gentleman in a white coat says something and the public had been trained to believe that information. In a world where information was scarce, it was easy to take information presented in some sort of official format and accept it as right, as gospel.

We don’t live in that world anymore though. Information is anything but scarce. We are buffeted by information from all sides of every discussion. Every arguer on every side has piles of supporting information, some well written, some poorly written, some debunked, some unproven, and only some correct. For folks who have trouble deciphering information, imagine trying to wade through mountains of arguments, all of it contradicting other arguments.

I see an opportunity. We can be that translator. We can reestablish ourselves as the place to turn when people need real unbiased information. I’m not the only one that thinks there’s a role for someone to take charge:

Even some of the most forward-thinking media folks are saying the same thing:

The journalist has not been replaced but displaced, moved higher up the editorial chain from the production of initial observations to a role that emphasizes verification and interpretation.

Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have most effect, by serving as an investigator, a translator, a storyteller.

There are a number of things that need to happen for us to embrace this role, first of which is to accept the gospel of plain language. But we can do more. In this age of social media, it’s not enough to reactively talk like a normal person. This brings me to the money link: Sense About Science. SAS is a new tool intended to decipher, translate, demystify scientific information. But more than just scientific information, but also the scientific process that got us that information. What does peer review mean? Is a particular study valid? What does that mean for me?

Because really, isn’t that why we do what we do? Science for science’s sake is good, but science for the good of the public–the good of the person–is divine.

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