Archive for December 4th, 2008

Web 2.0 in Obama Administration

December 4, 2008

There have been a series of stories exploring the potential use of Web 2.0 technologies by the Obama Administration, both inside government to make it more effective, and outside to engage citizens in their government.  For example, just this morning, the Washington Post showcased an effort by HHS-Secretary Designee Tom Daschle to launch a grassroots engagement of citizens around healthcare reform.

Mark Drapeau, in a blog on TechPresident, entitled “Presidential Transition 2.0:  How to Use New Social Media,”  said the Transition team could be a starting point:  “Social software has many applications here. Tools like blogs, wikis, and collaborative software can be useful internally to make information more widely available, searchable, and discoverable, and it can also promote and aid discussions between relevant transition personnel with areas of overlap.”

He also noted: “Governing is very different from campaigning; the president must look out for the needs of the entire nation. Social software can help with this too. . . .Bi-directionality is the essence of Web 2.0, and it is what people increasingly demand from the organizations, companies, and local, state, and federal governments that they deal with. In a recent report, the consultancy Gartner suggested that citizen social networks will enhance or possibly even replace some functions of government – at lower cost – in the near future.”

“Finally,” Drapeau notes, “citizens should be engaged in the transition process,. . . . It means full multimedia engagement using blogging, speeches, informal gatherings, mobile technologies, podcasts, online video, and widgets. The outreach should also use social tools that allow bidirectional conversation, increasing citizen participation and interest in government.”

In an article for CIO.com Magazine, C.G. Lynch, in “How Obama Will use Web 2.0 for Change,” notes that “Obama has carried Web 2.0 into his upcoming administration by launching Change.gov, a website that allows users (or citizens) to interact with their new president by weighing in on issues of importance to them. A user could click on “health care,” for instance, where they’ll be taken to a page where they can send their ideas to the new administration.”  He also observed that: “Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs have a way of vetting information more thoroughly than the mainstream media, which will help candidates when false information gets stated about them.”

Several Washington Post articles have explored the topic, as well.  One by Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk, “ Obama Set to be 1st Wired President,” noted that:

“Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media.

After Obama declared victory, his campaign sent a text message announcing that his supporters hadn’t heard the last from the president-elect.”

They also said: “As part of the presidential transition, Obama officials are looking to add a significant “new media” component to the White House communications operation. The campaign employed 95 people in its Internet operation, building a user-friendly Web site that served as a platform for grass-roots activities and distributed statements, policy positions and footage of Obama events. The White House Web operation will follow a similar but probably more ambitious path, transition officials said.”

Another Post article by Lyndsey Layton, “Group Seeks Web-Savvy, More Open Government,” observes: “As part of the presidential transition, Obama officials are looking to add a significant “new media” component to the White House communications operation. The campaign employed 95 people in its Internet operation, building a user-friendly Web site that served as a platform for grass-roots activities and distributed statements, policy positions and footage of Obama events. The White House Web operation will follow a similar but probably more ambitious path, transition officials said.”

More cosmically, Bill Eggers and Tiffany Dovey, in a Governing Magazine article entitled “Government 2.0’s Inauguration,” offers four pieces of advice for the Obama Administration’s Web 2.0 efforts: 

Get the Web 2.0 culture equation right.
The Obama campaign used Web 2.0 technologies to build and mobilize thousands of grassroots networks, adhering to the bottom-up ethos of Obama’s community organizing roots. After providing the tools and the direction volunteers needed, the campaign got out of the way. It managed to resist, for the most part, the natural tendency to want to control everything.

Tap into the collective IQ.
When Obama was formulating his healthcare plan, he started from the premise that he and his team of advisors, while gifted policy minds, weren’t going to be able to come up with all the best ideas for how to achieve his goal of healthcare coverage for all Americans by themselves. They simply didn’t have the breadth of experience of the American people. So, Obama appealed to his supporters for their ideas on how to fix the system and used those ideas to inform the development of his proposal.

Outsource work to the crowds.
The additional bandwidth provided by tens of thousands of “super volunteers” allowed Obama to do what no national campaign had previously imagined possible: do retail politics in dozens of states-simultaneously.

Reboot the public square.
Log on to the Obama campaign’s Web site and what you find is not so much a Web site as an organizing tool. Users can find other supporters in their area or create their own blog-unfiltered by the campaign. It’s a place where people can go to talk and listen to others. The online commons concept has been extended to the president-elect’s transition to the White House with Change.gov, where citizens are encouraged to share their vision for the country.

What will be interesting is how the Obama folks will address some of the statutory and cultural constraints, as described in an IBM Center Report, Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government.  Already it looks like Obama may lose his Blackberry . . . or will he fight to change the rules?