Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Will FedSpace, the cross-agency collaboration platform recently announced by GSA, turbo-charge the Obama Administration's "problem-solving networks?" There are lessons from other similar initiatives worth noting.
The President’s budget for fiscal year 2011 promises two interesting steps toward cross-government collaboration. First was a commitment to using “problem-solving networks,” and the second was to create a cross-government on-line collaboration platform that these networks could use. The General Services Administration (GSA) announced the creation of just such a platform, calling it FedSpace, to be operational by this Fall.
Some decry it as a waste, that federal employees could just use Facebook or Google tools instead. Others feel that some of the initial pilots by different parts of the government – such as the Intelligence Community’s A-Space, NASA’s SpaceBook, and the federal budget community’s MAX Federal Community – have created useful collaboration opportunities that could not have happened in the “open” world. 
So what is FedSpace envisioned to be? GSA has created a description and a team to work on it:
FedSpace is a secure intranet and collaboration workspace for Federal employees and contractors. Designed to be "for Feds by Feds", FedSpace will enable government employees to work collaboratively across agencies, through the use of Web 2.0 technologies like file sharing, wikis, a government–wide employee directory, shared workspaces, blogs, and more.”
FedSpace will:

Provide usable, useful, and compliant collaboration space – Interagency teams and many small agencies currently have limited options/space to collaborate

Help build community and increase collaboration – FedSpace will help answer questions like:

  • How do I find other people doing work similar to me?
  • Has someone solved this problem already?
  • How can I quickly locate someone in another agency? 

Help solve everyday problems- FedSpace will:

  • Allow large file transfers.
  • Coordinate meetings across work groups
  • Provide remote access to work.
Lessons Learned
I thought Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller conducted a very interesting interview with Don Burke and Alex Voultepsis, some of the pioneers behind the Intelligence Community’s collaborative tools such as Intellipedia and A-Space, who offered some interesting “lessons learned:”
Start small and expand. Intellipedia started as a wiki, but as it became institutionalized, it became part of a broader set of tools such as video, picture and document sharing, and new tools are being added, such as the ability to mash-up data and embed widgets and RSS feeds.  As Voultepsis observes: “think big, start small, and scale fast.”
Adopt tools that are already successful on the open Internet. “You have to meet your users’ needs. If you don’t do that, no one will use the tools,” observes Voultepsis. Using open source applications should be the default.
Post information that is vibrant, social and relevant to users. This is the lesson of Intellipedia, notes Burke, who helped launch it with an entry inviting colleagues to define various acronyms used in the Intelligence Community.
Develop functions that are mobile. With the Internet moving to mobile devices, if a collaboration tool isn’t designed with that in mind, it will quickly become obsolete.
But as the FedSpace team develops its platform, it will face challenges that the Intelligence Community didn’t, such as the portability of authentication and profile information between existing and new systems. And the extent to which FedSpace should accommodate vital service delivery partners, such as state and local governments.
Will the site improve government efficiency and squeeze more out of our tax dollars? Only time will tell, but it is clear that the government is taking a proactive approach towards implementing social media.
We’re Not the First
The Australian and Canadian governments have already launched similar platforms for their government community. Australia recently launched a blogging platform to complement its collaboration tools, and the Government of Canada launched a government-wide “GCpedia” over a year ago. It might be interesting to see if they’ve got lessons learned, as well.