for those who would make a difference

Category: YasminFodil

Improving Engagement by Understanding People

I’ve been studying and/or working in government and technology (“gov20) since 2007. My original interest in the field was around improving the efficiency and effectiveness of governance. The idea was that if we had better data and information about our work, engaged with the people our policies were designed to impact, and used the best technologies to manage the process, that we could create better government. I still carry this fundamental believe, and over the last few years have had the privilege of working on a variety of different technology and engagement projects with nonprofits and government institutions as well as studying how the best practices in the field from an academic perspective.

Much of the work to date has focused on pushing the use of technology to further engagement, improve the delivery of services and information, and help organizations meet their goals and missions.

In my experience, it is important to think about several layers when designing gov/tech/engagement projects:

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Social Media in the Middle East and North Africa: Why Now? What’s Next?

Last month I went back to the Kennedy School to speak at the Plenary panel of the HKS reunion weekend. The panel was called “Revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa: Why Now? What’s Next?” The panel was moderated by Xenia Dormandy, Senior Fellow at Chatham House (MPP 2000), and featured Tarek Masoud, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Razzaq al-Saiedi, Senior Researcher, Physicians for Human Rights (MPA 2009))

I was invited to provide some perspective on the role that social media has / is playing. I was happy that the panel was so diverse; the focus was not on social media, but rather on the socio-economic and political factors at play, which was quite refreshing to someone embedded in online media.

The panel video is now available in case you want to watch it.

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How Can U.S. Federal Agencies Use Social Media to Enhance Civic Participation?

Anna York and I have spent the last 6 months working on a report looking at how U.S. Federal Agencies can use social media to enhance civic participation. Our work focuses more on the civic participation side than the web 2.0 side, and we hope that this report will help agencies as they begin to implement their forthcoming Open Government Plans.

We would like to thank Kevin Bennett of the Federal Communication Commission’s Broadband Taskforce, without whose dedication and helpful direction this project would not have been possible.

Our advisors, Professor and Co-Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Archon Fung and the Institute of Politics Director, Mayor Bill Purcell were always encouraging and patient throughout this process, and provided helpful feedback during the year. Julie Wilson and Jee Baum were also generous in their assistance as we developed our methodological approach.

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How Do Rocket Scientists Learn?

Rocket scientists, software developers, systems engineers, and all the other people that work at Goddard helping us better understand the earth and space are smart. That’s a given. But how do they improve their practice, learn from each other, and continue to improve on overwhelmingly complex tasks?

In a huge and complex organization such as Goddard, Knowledge Management is usually a core component of organizational learning. I’ve done some work in Knowledge Management in the past, and obsessively read Harvard Business Review articles on the topic, but I was really excited to dig into it in the context of space exploration. I spent a few weeks reading as much as I could on the topic, and was fortunate enough to attend an internal workshop led by the extraordinary Ed Rodgers, head of Knowledge Management at Goddard.

Here’s what I learned.

Knowledge Management at Goddard is About People

NASA creates things that don’t exist yet. Doing that takes incredible talent. At NASA, the talent lies not in its complex technologies, shuttles, spaceships, or intranets, but rather in its people. The products are certainly breathtaking and wondrous, but the success of the things that come out of NASA are a reflection of the knowledge of and collaboration between thousands of brilliant people. This point was really driven home at the Knowledge Management conference I attended…according to one participant:

“we didn’t hire smart people so we could tell them what to do; we hired them to tell us what to do.”

NASA’s work is organized around Missions. When a Mission is stood up people from across the center are brought together to work on the project. In theory, people with similar backgrounds and skills should be interchangeable. That’s where knowledge management comes in – to make sure that anyone from a particular unit that is assigned to a project has all the skills and knowledge developed in that content area within the unit. Each mission should get the knowledge of the whole department when you work with an individual.

The case study ”Goddard Space Flight Center: Building a Learning Organization (B)”[1] summarizes this point really well:

Knowledge Management is “better application of collective knowledge to the individual problem. So we need to develop some systems and do a little more work to share collective knowledge and make us smarter.”

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Five Recommendations for Training Leaders in Technology and Government 2.0

In September I attended the Belfer Center’s Conference on Technology and Governance 2.0. The conference featured amazing attendees – Ellen Miller (Sunlight), Mike Klein (Sunlight), Karen Gordon Mills (US Small Business Administration), Mitch Kapor (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Paul Sagan (Akamai), Susan Crawford (Cardozo), Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard), Nicco Mele (Harvard/Echo Ditto), Archon Fung (Harvard), Tim Berners-Lee (W3C), Clay Shirky (NYU/Harvard), Zephyr Teachout (Fordham/Harvard), and a bunch of other amazing people in the field of technology and governance.

I was there as an attendee, but also had the privilege of participating on a panel with Aneesh Chopra (CTO of the U.S.A), Ian Freed (V.P Amazon kindle) and HKS students Seth Flaxman (he’s also the founder of TurboVote) and Philip Schroegel, moderated by Mary Jo Bane, Academic Dean and Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management.

Our topic was what “Kennedy School Students Entering the Digital World: A Discussion with Aneesh Chopra & Ian Freed.

In general, I think the Kennedy School is an excellent institution in most ways. Great professors are teaching in the field; there are several centers (Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation) that support efforts in this areas; students are demanding more courses in gov/tech (as evidenced by the enrollments in Nicco‘s and Clay‘s courses); there are great speakers series, there’s a vibrant gov20 student community; and a committed external community (including alums) interested in engaging with the school to push it forward in this field.

However, the Technology and Governance 2.0 conference convinced me even more that you need academic institutions in this debate.

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Where Malcom Gladwell Left Off: Social Media & Next Generation Democracy

Last month Malcom Gladwell wrote an article in the New Yorker: “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted.”

I’ve been thinking about this article ever since it came out, and people have asked me to respond on several occasions. When I read Next Generation Democracy and BYO started helping the author (and now friend) Jared Duval, I realized it was the perfect opportunity.

It’s not that Malcom Gladwell is wrong in his article. It’s just one sided.

He starts the article by describing a lunch counter sit in that took place in the Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina in February of 1960, and that spurred a movement in which 70,000 students eventually took part.

These nonviolent actions were a core component of the civil rights movement, and although the protesters advocated peaceful solutions, their lives and limbs were often in danger.

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