Friday, November 21, 2008

Homeland Security: The (Not Yet Created) TechSolutions Wiki

Last week, while attending the National League of Cities conference in Orlando, FL, I connected with representatives from the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. Our conversation began by them highlighting a new website called TechSolutions. According to the website:
The TechSolutions Program was established by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to provide information, resources and technology solutions that address mission capability gaps identified by the emergency response community.
Currently, “only first responders are eligible to submit capability gaps.” TechSolutions vets all capability gap submissions through a group of first responder subject matter experts. If TechSolutions identifies a technology solution as a high priority, and if no such product exists or no research is ongoing, it moves into another phase of potential development with a more in-depth process of examination before becoming a full scale project.

I thought the concept sounded great: encourage the end user community - in this case first responders – to contribute and critique their needs and ideas. In fact, it represents a Web 2.0 mindset of seeking a collaborative path rather than operating independently. So far, so good.

But then the conversation continued.

I learned that the process for collecting these submissions was done via email. TechSolutions recognized that this process was somewhat inefficient, so they have devised an automated process, where responders will fill out an online form that will populate the database…versus someone receiving the email submissions and entering them manually. So they’ve taken one step out of the process.

But what if they went one step further? How about a Tech Solutions Wiki? Envision TechSolutions setting up a wiki and designating several pre-determined categories and links to spark submissions. These categories would not represent a comprehensive list, but attempt to capture the major themes or target areas for feedback. These themes could also be based on S&T’s 6 divisions: Borders and Maritime Security; Chemical and Biological; Command, Control, and Interoperability; Explosives; Human Factors; and Infrastructure and Geophysical Division.

When visitors access the wiki, the individual that was previously capturing and compiling data from emails now serves as a monitor and moderator. Ultimately, however, the wiki participants will take ownership for the ongoing creation, organization, review and analysis of their data. The real asset of a wiki solution is that each of the contributors will be able to see in real-time what one another are saying. They will be able to comments on each other’s respective contributions, brainstorming toward solutions that enable DHS to more rapidly produce the products and procedures that keep Americans safe. If security is a concern, then potential users could gain permission to access, as with the OMB Max Federal Community. Only users that register are given permission would be allowed to participate. DHS may even wish to grant varying levels of access based on the stage in the submission process.

In the book Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, the authors claim that “the new Web is helping to transform the realm of science into an increasingly open and collaborative endeavor characterized by:

• the rapid diffusion of best-practice techniques and standards;
• the stimulation of new technological hybrids and recombinations;
• the availability of “just in time” expertise and increasingly powerful tools for conducting research;
• faster positive feedback cycles from public knowledge to private enterprise; and
• increasingly horizontal and distributed models of research and innovation, including greater openness of scientific knowledge, tools and networks.”

While DHS is to be applauded for seeking input from their constituents, affordable tools and technology exist that make the process even more powerful. Why not use an even more efficient and potentially effective method of collecting and sharing information such as a wiki platform?

Perhaps the key point here is that every agency should take a careful look at every attempt to acquire or share information and consider if there is a more robust solution than more traditional methods - when “traditional” now means practices that were common just 4-5 years ago (such as email and online forms).

If DHS (or other agencies) are looking for examples of other public sector organizations that have deployed successful models, here are a few websites to examine for best practice information:

USA.gov – this is a page dedicated to wikis, including examples of wikis used by other government agencies.

Collaboration Project – reveals best practices in using social media/Web 2.0 tools at all levels of government.

Intellipedia – although closed to the public, the intelligence community has been running three wikis where thousands of personnel with appropriate clearances from 16 agencies are contributing important information that helps in the protection of American interests. I'll even bet DHS has a couple people involved in it...

Do you have other examples or ideas to share that would assist our public sector servants at DHS?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Social Media, Millennials and Obama...and FDR?

There is no doubt that social media and the Millennials were two intertwined forces that propelled Obama to the Presidency.

Offering evidence to the idea that Obama will be the first President to use web-based, social media as a primary communications tool, this morning I saw a link on Yahoo! to what is about to become a weekly radio address from President-Elect Obama. Of course, there are already links on YouTube and Change.gov as well. It's being dubbed a "'web-side" or "Tube-side chat", remixing the fireside chat used by FDR to reach Americans right in their living rooms during the dire days of the Depression. Only now Obama is meeting people everywhere and anywhere they happen to have a link to the Web.

As often happens to a Web wanderer, one link led to another and before long I found myself watching Obama's election night acceptance speech for the fifth time. At about 1:15, the camera pans viewers to give a glimpse of crowd reaction. I was struck by this image:

For me, this young man's expression captures the essence of how many Millennials looked at Obama from the start, spurring them to mobilize on his behalf in unprecedented numbers.

The key, of course, is for Obama to harness and channel this energy in the months ahead, asking not only Millennials but all of us to sacrifice time and energy for one another as Americans, and especially for those citizens who are most vulnerable and hardest hit by the economic downturn.

I'm not the only one speaking about this connection. First, spend some time with this article by Jonathan Alter entitled, "Reaching Out with Radio. I'll quote at length since it's so applicable:
A few days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office, he sat in the White House working on a radio speech about the country's banking crisis...It was the depths of the Depression, with a quarter of Americans out of work, homeless and destitute.

The American economic system was in a state of shock...The New York Stock Exchange had suspended trading, and the Chicago Board of Trade bolted its doors for the first time since its founding in 1848. This was the bottom. I

Roosevelt's inaugural address at the Capitol had begun to restore hope...Then FDR used a new medium in a new way to change millions...FDR brought natural talent to the role. His speaking voice was a beautiful, relaxed tenor, not the contrived basso profundo of pompous politicians.

Roosevelt owed much to technological good fortune. In 1921, the number of radios in the United States was in the thousands. By 1928, there were 9 million, and by 1932, 18 million, with about half the households owning at least one radio.

Gerald Ford, about 20 at the time, remembered FDR's Fireside Chats as "big events -- we would all stop and listen." Ronald Reagan's biographer, Lou Cannon, has written that Reagan's "metaphors [were] the offspring of FDR's." And Bill Clinton recalled hearing his grandfather talk about how he sat in rapt attention, "then went to work the next day feeling a little different about the country."
Let's return to 2008. Here's another link to some brief comments on Salon.com from Paul Levinson, a professor of popular culture and media studies at Fordham University...and an excerpt:
I think what we have been seeing on TV is very similar to what took place on radio during the Depression, in that both are about reassurance...Just as hearing Roosevelt's words reassured Americans that things were going to get better...What we have been seeing the past weeks reassures us that America has not been hopelessly diminished.
While I never thought that America was "hopelessly diminished" and it is far too early to compare an Obama presidency to FDR, it is clear that Obama will continue to use social media in a way that capitalizes on its best elements: giving each of us and all of us the ability to connect and collaborate beyond time and geography to discover solutions for the challenges that can only be addressed through a profound change in approach and action.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

OpenGardensBlog

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across the OpenGardensBlog, authored by Ajit Joakar, "the founder of the London based publishing company futuretext focussed on emerging Web and Mobile technologies." According to his website, the OpenGardensBlog was recently rated a top 20 wireless blog worldwide by readers of 'Fierce wireless' and he keynoted the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo in April 2007.

What caught my attention was that he is already talking about Web 3.0! In particular, Ajit shares his views regarding "the role of Europe in a Digital world in 2025 with an emphasis on Mobile, Web 3.0 (EU vision) and Seamless / converged infrastructures," which coincides with a presentation he is delivering to the EU parliament. Here's an excerpt:
In a nutshell,

a) Governments and governing bodies like the European Union can act as a competitive advantage - hence the EIF and EU Web 3.0 visions take a greater significance.

b) I don't believe that an individual like Tim O Reilly, no matter how influential, can define the future of the Web any more. This would need people and organizations that can define but also execute that vision. Again, this makes the EU Digital vision important as does it's emphasis on Web 3.0

c) Finally, the locus of power and influence will be decentralised to many points globally - apart from USA, we will have Europe, China, India and potentially Brazil as important players and centres of commercial and technological excellence.

We are seeing very good responses from many governments and in future we are likely to see a greater role for government all over the world. This makes it all the more important to have a government or a governing body that has a visionary strategy towards Digital technology.
Here are the rest of his thoughts.

We've emailed back and forth a couple times, and he mentioned that he was authoring a book on the subject. To the degree that he would like ideas from this side of the pond, I hope to contribute. If you have ideas, be sure to link with him as well.