Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When It Comes to Web 2.0, Government is Where It’s At

Agile, innovative and cutting edge - words not historically associated with the US federal government.

Yet, when it comes to social media and Web 2.0 technologies this is exactly how to describe adoption across defense/intelligence, federal civilian and homeland security agencies. It’s quite exciting and, as a taxpayer, I am enthusiastic about what I learned today.

My morning started at an InformationWeek seminar entitled “Best Practices for Making Government 2.0 Work Now.” Sponsored by management consultancy BearingPoint (a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client), I had the good fortune to sit next to John Shea, a public information officer with FEMA.

Shea spearheads the agencies social media initiatives and defined its mission in straightforward terms: making content accessible to key constituents. FEMA has put to use RSS feeds and microblogging to create an interactive news environment.

In addition to proactive outreach and information exchange, Shea also measures success by how FEMA empowers its local offices to engage with citizens affected by a specific event or catastrophe.

I then hoofed it over to the Washington, DC Convention Center for FOSE, the largest government IT conference. I attended the Association for Federal Resources Information Management (AFFIRM) luncheon about the use of social media in the defense and intelligence community.

While nothing classified was shared, Michael Kennedy, the Director, Enterprise Solutions of the Intelligence Community Enterprise Solutions (ICES) group, provided a candid overview of how they are repurposing Web 2.0 offerings for use by field analysts, program managers and policy makers across multiple agencies.

Web-based video and image sharing…got it! ICES has a service called iVideo and Gallery. Instant messaging functionality? Yup…there’s a service for that as well used by more than 18,000 government employees to send more than 5M messages a week. How about enterprise search? They have that as well. In fact, the ICES search offering is used to conduct more than 2M queries a month.

My final stop of the day was at a seminar entitled “Using Virtual Worlds to Conduct Business.” I’ve never been a proponent of Second Life, yet NASA’s incorporation of activities in this virtual reality as part of the agency’s “participatory exploration” initiative is impressive.

Most recently, NASA recreated in Second Life a virtual replication of the Victoria Crater on Mars with the goal of making the Rover mission more relevant and accessible.

While the government workers and public information officers I spoke with all acknowledged they are just beginning to define the most appropriate social media applications for their agencies, what was clear is that there are bright, shining examples of government effectively putting Web 2.0 to work. And we’re all the better for it.