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

In 2014, around 100 U.K. government communication professionals were surveyed to determine the most important trends driving public sector communication with the public and stakeholders. GovDelivery published the results in an e-book, the UK Trends E-book. Here are some of the findings. trends-uk

Naturally, there were varied responses to our survey; however, communicators tended to share the top three trends overall:

  1. Focus on Results
  2. Implement a Multichannel Strategy
  3. Increase Outreach

Focus On Results

The goal of many government communicators is to broadcast their organisation’s mission so that more people become involved in their programs.

According to the survey results, 43% of respondents said that increasing stakeholder engagement was one of the top objectives for communications planning. When an organisation communicates its goals, it puts the public at the center of a communications strategy, allowing the public to take action on the messages they receive.

Over time, communicators can measure results with engagement rates, web traffic, subscriber rates, and social media shares or follows.

Implement a Multichannel Strategy

While email still stands out as the most effective channel of communication, a multi-faceted communications strategy is preferred by many communicators.

With a multichannel communications approach, different segments of the public are more likely to be reached. Again, with the recent surge in the use of smart phones, tablets, and other smart technologies, if you want to reach people with a message, you need to send it to them through the appropriate channels.

Increase Outreach

It seems fairly obvious that to be successful in any organisation you must be able to increase your audience size. Building on that, organisations must also engage that audience to create a participatory interaction.

In our recent survey, 78% of professionals said that increased outreach was of utmost importance. A popular and proven way of gaining more subscribers is the cross-promotion across the network of public sector entities. Collaboration opens up each organisation to a wider audience.

The GovDelivery Network gives government organisations the chance to connect with other public sector entities, meaning network partners can reach a wider audience by connecting with over 60 Local and Central government entities affiliated with the GovDelivery Network.

Download the Full UK Trends E-book

These 2014 public sector trends show how important taking multiple communication approaches is for any organisation. By emphasizing results, implementing a multichannel strategy, and increasing outreach, government communicators are able to expand beyond the current limitations of their organisations and make a difference with their messages.

Take a look at our UK Trends E-book to learn more about these trends in greater depth.

3-trends-fedWhat are the top priorities for government communications in 2014 at the federal and local levels? This is the question we posed to 350 government communicators. Take a look at what they said about focusing on results, implementing multichannel strategy, and increasing outreach in this infographic, or grab a copy of the federal government report or the state & local government report to read on your own.

Focus on results with a multichannel strategy

Boosting engagement and targeted messaging were the top two communication priorities at the federal, state and local government levels. However, other areas of focus differed between these levels of government. At the federal level, better content, mobile, and leveraging social media are being prioritized in that order. While at the local level, the priorities focused on mobile, leveraging social media, and better content. This trend indicates that state and local governments  are looking for new ways to “spread the word” on their content and make it available on mobile devices and social networks.

The majority of respondents from the federal government and local governments agreed that growing the size of their digital audience is a priority for 2014. They are also heavily focused on email and social media. However, the majority of respondents from both levels of government stated they have no plans to test email messaging. A few will experiment with content layouts or subject lines, but more than 57% at both levels of government stated they will not test email messaging in any way. This may be a priority to reconsider, since email messaging is a primary method of communicating with stakeholders—knowing what types of messages and content best engage those stakeholders is vital information. If federal and local governments want to better engage their digital audience, testing their email messaging to see what resonates with their target audience is a great strategy.

With both levels of government working to increase their digital audiences, one of the best strategies they can implement is to add an email subscription form to their websites, emails, social networks, mobile platforms, and more. In a constantly connected, digital world, not having a central place of communication tied to every one of your digital presences means you’re missing out on easy ways to connect with more of your audience.

Grab your copy of the 2014 Federal Trends Report or the 2014 State Trends Report and their accompanying infographics to learn more about what is going on with government communications throughout the year.

This blog post was originally posted on the Guardian Public Leaders Network. It was written by Sarah Lay, a senior digital officer for one of GovDelivery’s U.K. clients, Nottinghamshire County Council. Sarah also serves as the communications and community management lead for the LocalGov Digital network.

Councils vary wildly in their willingness to grasp the potential of digital services. Some are using digital technology to help them reshape services, create centres of innovation and harness the enthusiasm of their staff, while others still struggle to get their websites to work properly.

Wearable technology such as Google Glass offers the potential for local government services to be delivered remotely. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

Wearable technology such as Google Glass offers the potential for local government services to be delivered remotely. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

Too much investment has been made in large, unwieldy systems. In fact, local government has been doing the wrong digital activity really well for the past 10 years, according to Devon county council’s Carl Haggerty, chair of the LocalGov Digital network. But this is now starting to change. Innovators, experts and enthusiasts are looking at the example set by central government’s Government Digital Service and are recognising that to get people to access council services online, they have to be so good people actually want to use them.

Some councils are already exploring technology in a deeper way. Here are a few examples. Shift Surrey at Surrey county council is aiming to redesign services radically through its innovation lab. The intrapreneur programme at Monmouthshire council is using fresh ideas from the authority’s own workforce. And FutureGov is delivering services made possible by digital technology, such as its Casserole project in areas of London,which connects neighbours with spare portions of food to those in their community who need a good meal.

Technology has also helped local government to share information and work more collaboratively together. Networks like Localgov Digital bring together councils with digital enthusiasts to share resources, skills and, ultimately, savings.

Digital technology is also an opportunity to engage with residents. Social media is now widely used, with more councils giving access to frontline staff and using it as a conversational rather than broadcast tool. Many councils also offer email alerts, newsletters and social media updates instead of printed material.

What next for local public services?

The sector needs to become more adept at recognising and implementing digital excellence that is already happening in other sectors. User-focused digital delivery should become commonplace, rather than the domain of a few leading councils.

Technological advances will offer more possibilities for local government. Affordable, wearable internet devices and the “internet of things”, including devices such as Google Glass, bio-monitors in shoes or clothing, and connected household goods, have the potential to enable councils, traditionally heavily reliant on personal labour, to provide more services remotely. Bio-monitors in the clothing of vulnerable people could send alerts to careworkers, for instance, while smart systems in car parks could help people find free spaces, as already happens in San Francisco already..

Technology itself can also help us address the digital divide. Councils are already very aware that the people who need their services most are not only among the most vulnerable in society, but also probably the most digitally excluded. There are programmes underway around the country to improve broadband provision but not everyone can afford this. But using technology to increase collaboration could see projects springing up , such as public or shared Wi-Fi and services tailored to smartphones, tablets and other devices. Making council data more open, and encouraging development by local digital enthusiasts could also have benefits, potentially leading to tools that will help communities to help themselves.

And finally, digital technology also has the potential to transform the way people work in local government. Technology like mobile video conference, such as G+, Facetime and Skype, could help council staff become more flexible and dynamic in the way they work.

None of this lies too far in the future. Increasingly, people, things and organisations are going to be connected up. It’s time for local government to harness this potential.


I am an admitted social media addict–I’m constantly connecting, checking and updating my various personal accounts. Although it’s been around for awhile now, lately I have found myself borderline obsessed with Instagram. It’s wonderfully engaging and combines the best parts of Facebook and Twitter through a constantly updated stream of photos. Instagram describes itself as a “fast and fun way to share your life” that works by simply taking a picture, applying a filter and posting it to your account (which can also be synced with Facebook and Twitter).

instaWhile routinely checking my Instagram feed the other day, I began to search for various government organizations and leaders, intrigued by the possibilities of what I would find. I found some organizations doing some great things with the social channel, but only a few. I started to wonder why more government agencies, organizations and leaders aren’t using Instagram and brainstorming the various ways they could leverage this channel to increase engagement with their brand.

I know that Instagram may not seem like the most necessary social network for government agencies to use, but the truth is, Instagram is becoming increasingly more powerful every day, moving from a hip and trendy app to a robust social network comprised of 150 million active monthly users and 7.3 million daily users worldwide. That’s a lot of engagement, and it’s not going unnoticed.  In fact, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies are already using Instagram and that number is constantly growing.  In a world where the public sector has a reputation for falling one step behind in the technology department, creating a presence on Instagram seems like the perfect opportunity to prove this stigma wrong.

Government agencies and their employees may have different missions or goals, but engagement and communication provide a common ground. There are no ‘rules’ for Instagram, just post pictures of you, your passions, what you love and let those following you enjoy and engage. There are already some government leaders doing this successfully, but I see room for improvement and a huge opportunity for government to connect with their audience in a more personable manner.

So how can you get started with Instagram? There are a few techniques I think agencies can easily implement, but really anything goes! Government organizations can have fun. Their employees are fun. Leveraging a little bit of fun can build an emotional connection with your audience, and it’s the emotional stuff that gets shared, “liked” and remembered.  While you brainstorm where you can take Instagram in your organization, here are a few “Gov goes gram” ideas to try:

#corybook#Hashtags.  Hashtags are a huge part of Instagram. I’m a huge believer in their purpose and power (when used appropriately). A hashtag is a metadata tag that provides a means for grouping together messages or photos from various individuals that are all related in some way. There’s already a variety of hashtags in place that government can jump right into leveraging.  For example, searching the hashtag #CoryBooker on Instagram yields 2,365 posts from a variety of people. While Cory Booker, New Jersey’s newly elected Senator, is already an active Instagram user, this hashtag serves as an opportunity for the state of New Jersey or the City of Newark (where Booker has been serving as mayor) to jump in and add their own photos and hashtags and get their pictures seen by the 2000+ individuals who have already posted about Booker.

farmersmarketLocal events like farmers markets are also a great way to get local governments and agencies, such as the USDA, involved on Instagram. Again, a simple search for #minneapolisfarmersmarket yields over 200 photos. Food-related government organizations can join this hashtag conversation by simply liking or commenting on a user’s photo. The bonus is that there are farmers markets held in cities all over the U.S. that local government agencies can use to connect with their stakeholders.

Finally, organizations can always create their own hashtags. If it’s a special day or event, such as National Night Out, cities can promote a specific hashtag and ask customers to tag any photos they’re taking at neighborhood gatherings with that hashtag. For example, Minneapolis could promote #MPLSNNO or #MPLSnationalnightout to aggregate and track how citizens are celebrating the event.

Agency Offices and Employees. It’s easy to forget that behind all the bulletins, parking regulations and information put out by the public sector, there are actual people. By posting pictures of your employees or interesting things going on inside the office, people can put a face to the person answering the phone when they have a question or get an insider’s view of the agency. While this might not necessarily be the most “exciting” information, it’s an awesome way to build a more personal relationship with your audience and in turn strengthen your connection with them. Plus, a lot of what we do is pretty cool. I am sure many people would be interested to see behind the scenes of agencies like NASA (who already has an account with 291,000 users). I know I would.

Your Agency’s Assets. This one is seemingly obvious, but it’s a great way to build a base for your account and it’s something to continually update your account with. Each government agency, employee and the people they serve are unique and different. Why not showcase it? The City of Minneapolis does not have an Instagram account but there are plenty of things they could showcase:NASA  lakes, parks, concerts and movies in the park, the annual gay pride parade and inside views of City Hall (to name a few). The best part is, people are already taking pictures of these things using hashtags like #minneapolis. The City of Minneapolis already utilizes Facebook and Twitter, why not build on these channels with Instagram?

NASA has access to incredible images of our earth, planet, solar system and spaceships. Judging by the 291,000 followers it has,  people love to see these things—they are incredible and for most people, a behind the scenes shot inside a spaceship is as close to space as they’re going to get.

Emergencies and Alerts. While this isn’t the most uplifting idea, it’s important to address. Working in government communications means that it’s our job to communicate everything, the good and the bad. While Instagram is certainly not the first place someone is going to look for information if a hurricane hits, it’s a good way to inform people of the magnitude of a situation. For example, if a pipe burst or a gas line leaked, it’s more important to communicate that information via bulletin, tweet or email first. But posting a picture of the leak and the resulting road closure can be a powerful tool to get people to listen to the alert, and it doesn’t hurt to broaden your reach in this way. Beyond that, showing the result of an emergency situation tells a whole different story. Think back to the Boston Marathon bombings. We were all glued to our news sources for updates, stories and any inside scoop as to what was happening. There was an incredible amount of images shared on various sites that told a story all on their own. People like to see that we are resolving problems, that firefighters are putting out fires and that potholes are getting filled.

As simple as Instagram may seem, it provides a wealth of opportunities for agencies to communicate and engage with their audience. It’s becoming more and more important to constantly inform citizens and to tell stories; Pictures are a great way to do this. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Does your organization utilize Instagram? Let us know your tips for how government could be using Instagram in the comments below.


By Ryan Kopperud, Content Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw this article recently on MarketingProfs, “Three Deadly Reasons Most Websites Fail,” outlining why most websites struggle to get the results they want. While the original post is geared toward marketing professionals, the concepts can easily be applied to communicators in the public sector looking to improve online engagement with constituents.

The article discussed how many websites continue to operate with a limited scope and the out-of-date goal of using the website as an “online brochure” for the company or organization.  These days, successful websites actually serve as a valued resource; share timely and relevant content; and/or deliver services more efficiently or accessibly via online platforms.

For government organizations, a website provides broad access to an amazing amount of resources and content. Many government websites work hard to tailor services and content to reach the widest possible audience. And yet, some government websites still have a hard time attracting visitors and maintaining long-term traffic gains. So what can you do? Here’s a public sector spin on the 3 Deadly Sins for websites:

Deadly Sin #1: Providing an Online Brochure Instead of an Experience

Most companies and organizations with a website consider it a key part of their toolkit for reaching an audience, but not enough think of a website as the core of a well-run communications and thought-leadership strategy. The goal of a website is to attract visitors, provide services, and delight users. Have you built your website around a similar set of objectives? Beautiful design and SEO tactics are not enough – a successful website has to be built around compelling, timely content.

Health-related websites rank high in government website web traffic ranks partly due to the fact that sites like NIH.gov (National Institutes of Health), CDC.gov (Centers for Disease Control), and USDA.gov (Department of Agriculture) provide up-to-date information on topics that are highly relevant and important to the public: health care information, food recalls, and disease prevention. Even if your website serves a different audience, every website can be improved by regularly providing exceptional content that resonates with your visitors’ day-to-day interests and needs.


The key to transforming your website from a flat publication to an interactive experience is to provide ways for visitors to engage, communicate, and share. Visitors should feel they have gained some value when they click away from your website. As an example, if you offer the ability for visitors to subscribe to receive an alert when your web content is updated, they will be satisfied that they will be notified when new information is available, which will contribute to repeat visits and make it easier for them to send that information on to their friends, family, or peers.

Deadly Sin #2: Using One-Size to Fit-All – People Need Personalization

In today’s world of constant consumption and a culture of frequent updates, people expect to receive a constant stream of information that is not only up-to-date and interesting, but also customized for them. Not only do you want fresh content to attract your audience, you need to take that content a step further by tailoring it to meet specific audience segment’s needs. For example, if your organization has multiple stakeholder audiences, why not offer different “sections” for your different audiences? One great example is the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services’ Citizen Resource Center. They clearly differentiate content for different audiences on the main home page, with quick links to content that is most often viewed.

It’s easy to see that people respond to a combination of content and personalization. Many organizations are already segmenting subscriber lists by user interests, frequency of updates, and other characteristics to provide specific content to distinct audiences. Providing customized email subscriptions that link to specific content topics is an effective way to gain access to a wider audience.

Additionally, websites can add thoughtful options for people interested in getting updates or becoming a frequent visitor. SBA.gov (U.S. Small Business Administration) provides a sign-up page for frequent visitors, and a browsing mode called “SBA Direct” that can be personalized with options such as topics of interest and types of businesses. These tools help visitors navigate directly to information that matters most to them and cultivates a positive user experience, increasing the probability they will come back and recommend the service to others.

A more personalized experience provides more value to visitors. Making the effort to hone in on your stakeholders’ wants and needs will continue to fuel improvements to digital communications as information and content changes and grows, helping your website gain more and more traffic as time goes on.

Deadly Sin #3 – Building a Website for Yourself Instead of the Audience

Government websites are meant to be public-facing and should be built with that in mind. Building a website with a singular focus on meeting the expectations of staff inside your own organization could be the worst mistake of all. Instead, consider what visitors would value most and build a website that provides that content and design into your organization’s website.

Utah.gov is one example of a government website getting praise for doing this right. Utah.gov puts search front and center. The design is beautiful but not at the expense of function or user-centric features. The thoughtful approach resonates with the majority of people who are familiar with navigating the web through a search engine like Google.


Not sure how to find out what your stakeholders want from your government organization? Ask them! Seek out ways to reach out to your stakeholders and find out how to improve your website to better meet their needs. A little attention in creating thoughtful, personalized features goes a long way in attracting happy visitors.

Attract, Provide, and Delight – A Recipe for More Web Traffic

Marketers in the private sector focus on attracting new prospects, converting leads, and delighting customers. Communicators in the public sector must similarly turn their focus to creating an innovative and attractive web resource that focuses on:

  • Attracting web traffic by broadening public access to resources.
  • Providing frequent updates that provide meaningful information and rich, personalized content.
  • Delighting web users by innovating and continuously improving the web experience.

Your visitors appreciate consistent, thoughtful content creation and will notice customized features that improve their experience. Happy visitors turn into repeat visitors, and website traffic will soar.

Have you experienced any of these “Deadly Sins”? Share in the comments if you have a good example of a website avoiding these mistakes and boosting traffic the right way!

If a Tweet is published in the Twittersphere and there are no Followers around to see it, does it have an impact? Unlike the classic tree falling in the forest scenario, this question has a resounding answer: No. It doesn’t take a famous philosopher to understand that even the most beautifully crafted Tweets, emails, or Facebook posts don’t count for much if there aren’t any stakeholders reading them.

BeatingOddsIn many ways, effective digital communications is all about the odds. The more people you reach, the better the odds are that some of them will take action. And just like gambling, the real communications “high rollers” are the ones who’ve figured out strategies to beat the odds. In our recent webinar, “Accelerate Your Outreach for Maximum Impact” GovDelivery Engagement Consultants Lauren Modeen and John Simpson offer a wealth of simple tips and tools for taking your government communications plan from the nickel slots to the high-stakes poker table.

Let’s roll the dice and look at a few of them:


In the world of web property poker, overlays are a straight flush. Designed to grab the attention of stakeholders and convert one-time Web visitors to subscribers, overlays are simple, unobtrusive lightboxes that pack a big punch. When a user visits your website an overlay window will pop up on their screen asking them if they’d like to subscribe to updates and prompting them for an email address. By asking your Web visitor to sign up for updates and providing easy access to do so, overlays allow your organization to continue engaging with stakeholders without requiring them to continually visit your site. Deceptively simple but incredibly effective, we have seen government organizations that utilize overlays see an average increase of 250 to 500 percent in new subscribers.

Direct Sign-Up

When it comes to reaching new subscribers, where you put your sign-up box is just as important as what it looks like. Placing a simple sign-up box where visitors will easily find it can increase your organization’s number of new subscribers by an average of 30 percent. Though open website real estate may be hard to come by, dedicating a spot above the fold in the upper right or upper left corner next to your other communications icons will get you more return for your money in a high-stakes game.


checkboxOnce you’ve played a winning hand, it’s time to collect your chips, right? Though it seems obvious, many organizations make the mistake of not taking advantage of a key opportunity. Adding a subscription checkbox at the bottom of any form on your website (e.g. the Contact Us form) that requires a user’s email address is a great way to avoid asking for the same information twice. Getting stakeholders to visit your website is the hard part, so making sure you maximize the opportunity to connect with them once they’re there is crucial.

For more tips, great government examples, and in-depth information about how you can beat the outreach odds and increase your mission impact by optimizing your communications, check out the full webinar.

awardLast week, winners of the 2013 Best of the Web Awards were announced, offering an opportunity to see how state and local government organizations are leveraging the web to communicate with the public. Cities, counties and states were judged based on their demonstration of innovation, usability and functionality for users. Honorees were also required to possess sites “that display effective governmental efficiency and service delivery.”

Alameda County, California, took first place in the county category for their use of a clean and easily navigable website as well as their successful social media strategies. They have built an intuitive website that is highly compatible with mobile devices, making it easy for visitors to get information quickly on their terms. The County also clearly displays all the ways the public can connect with the County by placing prominent digital communication and social media icons throughout their website. This allows Alameda County’s website visitors to connect with the County in the ways they want, receiving information through communication channels that are relevant to them.

“We’ve focused a lot on our citizen engagement with our open data initiative — I think that’s very fresh and current,” said Tim Dupuis, the interim director of the Alameda County Information Technology Department and the county’s interim registrar of voters. “Coupled with social media and how aggressively we’re going after the mobile apps space and self- service — all of these things combine to make something that really engages our public.” (GovTech.com)

Alameda County is just one example of a government organization utilizing technology to enhance government-to-citizen communications. Many of the organizations nominated are doing awesome things, and we here at GovDelivery are excited to congratulate a number of our clients on their awards. Congratulations to additional GovDelivery clients:

County Category:

1st Place- Alameda County, California

3rd Place- Orange County, California

4th Place- Sacramento County, California

5th Place- Stearns County, Minnesota

City Category:

2nd Place- Riverside, California

3rd Place- Raleigh, North Carolina

Finalist- Palo Alto, California

State Category:

5th Place- Maine

Finalist- Nebraska

To see a complete list of winners, click here.

To find out how your organization can be considered for a Best of the Web award, click here.

On this day, we, like many of you, are taking a moment to remember the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks.

In the wake of the many emergencies we see every year, from terror attacks to natural disasters, emergency situations seem to be on the rise. And, as the number of emergencies increase, so does the need for government organizations to connect and alert their residents, communities, and other stakeholders quickly and efficiently.

I recently read the article “3 Tips for Posting Emergency Information Online”. In the article, a product manager from Google’s Crisis Response team discusses a few ways to share emergency information online and how search engines can utilize it.

While it’s always important to make data easily searchable and available on open platforms, posting information on a website or open map isn’t enough. If a citizen is trapped in their basement during a severe storm with a cell phone that doesn’t have Internet capabilities, they can’t utilize a search engine. They can’t access a shared local map. They can’t access an RSS feed. How will they get the information they need to stay safe?

During an emergency, the search engines, maps and open data help, but it’s so much more impactful to push information out and reach people directly instead of relying on them to browse for a landing page.

That’s why I wanted to respond to this article with: 3 tips for getting emergency information to the public

1. Build Your Audience 


While organizations should focus and plan for outbound communications during an emergency, it’s even more critical for them to focus on who they will communicate with. Powerful technology tools and strategies are critical for emergency messaging, but your message won’t matter if no one sees it

When an emergency strikes, that’s NOT the time to try and find an audience of people in an affected area. Emergency groups MUST collect and engage a digital audience throughout the year, making it easier to connect with more people during an emergency.

All departments within government organizations should be building a direct audience of email addresses and phone numbers daily. If someone signs up for Parks and Recreation updates, they should be prompted to sign up for emergency communications at the same time.

2. Reaching People in a Mobile World

Most emergency communicators have an e911 list that gives them the ability to call landlines in an affected area. But the plain truth is that in today’s world, landlines are dying.  Data from a recent CDC study that showed more than 50% of Americans don’t have or use landline phones.  Combine that with the fact that there are over 322 million wireless phones in the United States, and emergency communicators now have a daunting task of reaching everyone on the go.

While it’s important to reach landlines, emergency managers who rely mainly on e911 technology are not reaching everyone they need to. Government organizations charged with keeping citizens safe and informed need to find new ways to communicate, across old and new channels, to provide safety information to citizens during an emergency.


To reach the broadest audience, emergency communications need a multichannel approach: send emails, SMS text messages, voice messages, social media posts AND display emergency information with a prominent Web banner. And if you want to take your efficiency to the next level, you should be able to disseminate your emergency message across all these channels from one platform.


Bonus tip: make sure your organization is able to integrate with FEMA’s IPAWS system, which can further disseminate your message across TV, radio, digital signs, and mobile push notifications (like Amber Alerts).

3. Focus on the content, not the process

But what about when an emergency really does hit? Are you focusing on content or process? Is it easy for you to get a message out, or are you fumbling with a system that you haven’t used in months?

Earlier I mentioned the importance of working across departments to build an audience, and the execution process is no different. If emergency management and other departments combine forces and integrate communications, the key communications staff will be familiar with the system and will be prepared and trained on how to send a message.

Having an emergency response plan in place critical, but emergency management personnel also need to leverage updated technology to take advantage of communications tools that are simple and automated. Because during an emergency, if you can save a few hours, minutes, or even seconds by using automation, that matters.

In the aforementioned article, Matthew Stepka, Google vice president of technology for social impact, was spot on in advising government organizations to publish advised alerts using open Web formats like RSS. Not only does that make this data available to Google, but it also makes the data available for automated and immediate outbound messaging. Emergency managers can hook their digital communications tool to these feeds, which can automatically package and re-purpose that content for email, SMS, social media and more.

The most successful emergency managers will leverage the strategies around sending critical information directly to the public, while also making that information available and open online. In the end, the more people you reach, the more people you’ll save.

By Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See original post on GovLoop.

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