Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Tech@State should serve as a model for other agencies. We should see a Tech@Ag, Tech@Commerce, Tech@HHS. . .

At the most recent Tech@State, I moderated a panel on Organizational Collaboration.  Befitting a State Department event, the panel was composed of members from three continents.  Jutta von Dinklage spoke about her experiences implementing a wiki for Cancer Council Australia.  Lane Rasberry asserted that any American government agency charged with disseminating information to the public should post their updates to Wikipedia pages.  And Gabriel Accascina, an Italian formerly of the UN, who showcased TeamWorks, a people-management tool used for knowledge managers.

(My organization published Professor Ines Mergel's "Using Wikis in Government: A Guide for Public Managers" on the topic.)

But even more than a State Department event, the panel was a tech showcase and one that other agencies should study, so they can develop their own iterations of it.  In short, there should be a Tech@Interior, Tech@Commerce, Tech@Ag and so on.

Any or each of these could explore similar issues facing agencies and demonstrate similar benefits from incorporating social and collaborative technologies.

Three Benefits of Social Media for Agencies


The three main benefits of incorporating social media into as many areas of agency operations are increased timeliness of information and analysis, greater accuracy of that information, and enhanced depth and breadth of conversations and analysis.

Timeliness of information: Within minutes of Sally Ride's death, her Wikipedia page was updated with that information.  And, while that information is important, it's not actionable.  Jutta von Dinklage, however, showed how wikis can be used to keep actionable information up to date.  Her presentation detailed how establishing a  wikis had dramatically reduced the time required to update cancer treatment guidelines.  Surely, State is not the only agency that benefits from frequently-updated information bases.

Greater accuracy of that information: A frequent criticism of Wikipedia in particular and wikis in general is that anyone can change anything at any time, so it’s impossible to know if the article one is reading has just recently been the subject of an attack by hackers.  But Lane Raspberry, a Wikipedia editor of long standing, points out that articles are overseen not just by one editor, but by many, and most articles are nearly as accurate as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.  Further, he points out, by having robust debate over knowledge within Wikipedia, editors are able to tap the combined expertise of many committed, passionate experts.  Many hands make light work, and many minds make tight articles.

Enhanced depth and breadth of conversations and analysis: Arising from these two benefits, one sees the final, and perhaps most important benefit of all—a depth and breadth of information and analysis around many more topics than an agency might see if conversations, information, and the role of analysis is opened up to as many relevant voices as possible.

Gabriel Accascina, the former Director of the Knowledge Management Group at UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy, demonstrated a tool called TeamWorks which adds a social layer into knowledge management.  Ensuring all relevant participants are invited to join a conversation is a challenge for State, with employees all over the world.  But even agencies that operate solely within the US may have a large and geographically dispersed workforce, like Agriculture, for example, which houses the Forest Service.


More than State, More than Wikis


Though this past Tech@State focused on Wikis, these same benefits can be derived from other social media tools, and from incorporating social media more generally into as many agency operations as possible—not just knowledge management, but program development and implementation, budgeting operations, and post-project evaluation.

In my next post, I’ll look at the areas of concern that each agency might look at, and then develop some topics for other Tech@ conferences that I’d like to see.