Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

Posts Tagged ‘government 2.0

The future of the internet will involve more authentication than it does today but here is a potential interim solution to provide some level of authentication for Gov 2.0 presence on online social networks such as facebook and twitter. standard policy of having a reciprocal link back to a facebook fan page or twitter account on a .Gov/.Mil website which the social network page points to could be a simple interim solution. I call it Reciprocal Link Authentication.

Government 2.0 includes a government presence on non-government websites such as online social networks (OSNs) (think facebook fan pages and twitter accounts) so that citizen’s can encounter government guidance and assistance where they ‘live’ in cyberspace.  But how can citizens be certain that the government account/representative is authentic?    If you run into someone in the street and they say they are working for the government, how do you know for certain?  They provide you will a badge or ID right at the beginning of the conversation.

If we encounter government workers as official government representatives in non-government cyberspace, should we also be able to see some sort of identification?   Since cyberidentity is more easily assumable in many cases than aliases in real life (especially on social networks), shouldn’t there be a way to verify the authenticity of someone claiming to represent a government? Often times government officials on OSNs such as agency fan pages on facebook or informational twitter accounts will have an official seal or emblem. The problem with this is that it is trivial and relatively low-risk to copy or create an image of a seal or official looking emblem and put it on an anonymous OSN account compared to duplicating a paper credential which someone might show you in person.

The commercial solution for authentication won’t work on social network pages. Here’s why.

Commercial websites sometimes provide SSL encrypted links to independent authentication websites (Verisign, Godaddy, among others) to prove their authenticity.  The problem with the government using this method is that it would add paperwork and costs to implement SSL badges or require changes in existing online social networks profile options.  Also I don’t think there are products which work with OSNs and the authenticators to verify anyone on social networks yet.  Perhaps more importantly, the government would be then depending on a commercial company to prove its authenticity.  Basically it’s a non-starter if you want to actually achieve a Government 2.0 presence online in the near future for several reasons ranging from practicality to policy to politics to costs.

But wait, there may be a much easier and better way. .Gov and .Mil web sites already are monitored and checked for authenticity unlike .com and .org sites.   So you don’t need an independent cyber authenticator such as Verisign because any .Gov or .Mil site can serve as that authenticator.

Reciprocal Link Authentication.

Why not have a simple policy that any online social network account or non-.Gov/.Mil online presence have a link to a .Gov/.Mil webpage which then links back to that same OSN account?   So if someone wanted to verify a government twitter account, they could simple click on the URL provided and easily find a linkback to that same twitter account on the .Gov/.Mil webpage they landed on.  If the account is hijacked then a notice of the problem could be put up until the account identity is secured again.  If this is done on all federal OSN accounts, the cybercommunity will become quickly accustomed to the authentication method and if a hijacker removed the authentication link, the visitors will know to dismiss the account.  And if they see something which sounds a bit off, then can instantly verify it by following the link back to the OSN account.     It would not mean much work since online government representatives at non .Gov/.Mil sites almost always have some .Gov/.Mil landscape under their control.

Reciprocal Link Authentication seems easy, low cost and instantly provides a universal method to authenticate any online government representation without much effort.  Sure its not perfect from a cybersecurity point of view, buts it goes a long way to addressing several important concerns about government representation on non-government websites.

This is my rough draft in my work with the W3C E-Gov Interest Group. I wanted to get comments from those working on social media in government as we work to finalize our recommendations. Please keep in mind this is for an international standard, so I have no assumed that 508 compliance is required but rather wrote about what compliance policies in digital age should take into consideration.

Multi-Channel Distribution Standards.

Distribution to Non-Government Websites and Platforms

In an age of connected data, standards are not just about the format of information but are also about accessible and fair distribution. That having been said, a balance must be achieved so that distribution of information does not become a barrier which limits the amount of information which is distributed.

In the digital age, information is key to both economic and social development of societies. Therefore, governments need to prioritize making the most information available through broadly distributed channels over limiting information in order to make it most broadly available and distributed. This is a classic 90/10 effort issue, where the last 10% of effort to broaden distribution and availability to near perfection would take 90% of the effort. Too often governments have opted for an all or none method in information distribution and it has resulted in less distribution and a lesser good for the public as a whole. The amount of information is too vast given the current state of information storage formats and technology to make all information accessible through all conceivable methods and channels. Accepting this fact and opening up government data needs to be the priority.

That having been said, wide-spread availability should not be discarded but rather a system should be in place to determine which information warrants the broadest, most accessible distribution and which information should be posted but resources are insufficient for the broadest possible access.  (Of course in both cases, the format chosen should be a non-proprietary an,d when appropriate, ‘mashable’ one so that the public may redistribute and remix the information if it chooses.) Concern for availability to all may be handled by providing a government sponsored service which can provide specific data in  alternate formats on demand.

This is not a radical departure from traditional accommodations but rather a continuation of choices which have become routine. An excellent example to understand how this is an extension of existing policies is to consider library books and the blind in the US. Library books for the sighted are more widely available and more easily available at libraries across the country,  but Braille versions of books can be accessed on demand through the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped. A similar program could be developed for on-demand access of multimedia material for the handicapped. That having been said, basic accommodations which can easily be built into websites to promote accessibility should be addressed with social media providers by encouraging broad accessibility to their material and links should be provide on multimedia home pages on how to request more accessible versions such as closed captioned videos.

It seems some people are misunderstanding this as advocating abandoning progress in accessibility.  I assure you this is not the case.  But it is simply stating plainly what already occurs throughout society and government already.  If you look at multi-lingual issues, not every document in the US from governments is immediately available in Chinese, or even Spanish for that matter.  I simply am saying if that EVERYONE is better served by as much government information as possible being available in some way and that should be the priority.  It is imply not possible to make everything avilable in all possible ways but when the need arises, on-demand services can supplement  the less broad methods of making information available. I hope this clears it up.

Availability in Social Media and Across the Digital Divide

Availability is determined by 3 factors which form a digital divide in most countries: device, bandwidth or connectivity, and user disability in using the device (commonly known as 508 standards in the US). Device availability varies because interoperability standards but also based on lifestyle, screen size, audio clarity and raw processing power. (My blackberry can play audio and some video but I am not going try to access a lot of that content in reality even if there is a way to squeeze it onto the device.)  Both wider broadband distribution and availability of information on mobile devices can help to solve this issue. One of the ways in which governments are broadening broadband access is through free internet enabled computers at libraries and kiosks. The type of access which is made widely available to citizens for free at public locations as well as the connectivity and devices available at the lowest price points should be considered when choosing data standards, platforms, devices and websites for the bulk of information. If broadly available public access is not compatible with how the majority of a country’s citizens use the internet, then clearly public internet access is not adequate.

Fair distribution on Non-Government Portals.

The lower costs devices and the lower costs access in most countries means that whether a website or platform makes text based information available on low cost mobile platforms should be taken into account. While most platforms are multimedia, there is still often the opportunity to provide some information in text form for mobile access.

The availability of multimedia information should be announced and searchable through text based services so that users who have limited access to multimedia enabled workstations, can find out about resources they need and go to a kiosk or library which better connectivity or devices are available. To prevent those without full access even to discover what is available would effectively block its use, since time and context when accessing the public internet is limited.

Fair distribution becomes an issue when government distributed content through selected websites, platforms or devices creates an unfair advantage for a particular device, platform, distribution network, or website or disadvantages a defined demographic among the citizentry. It seems appropriate for governments not have to expend resources on wide distribution if the bulk of the intended audience is on one platform or website, but some consideration should be taken so that governments do not become unintentional monopoly makers through their social media distribution choices. Again this consideration should not take priority over wide distribution of the bulk of information but be a factor in making policy choices.

Posting Information on the Social Web

The nature of social media information is that it is posted on locations which are not on government servers under its control and is distributed though social connections not through formal organizations. Social media information is distributed on websites which choose whom to allow access to the website and which behaviors are acceptable for participation. Also a user’s activity and connections on a social media website determines to some extent how much exposure they receive to information available on that site. For instance, someone is who is a friend of a person who participates in government discussion boards will be more likely to be exposed to government distributed information than someone who is not similarly friended. Likewise, people who belong to communities who choose to participate in smaller online venues will not be exposed to the government distributed information on the larger venues. For instance, what about the parent who blocks Youtube on the household computer because of objectionable material? Some consideration to the unevenness of social media distribution should be made.

Multimedia central feed for externally published info.

Therefore a government using social media to distribute multimedia, should create a public location which announces distribution of documents and content with links to their openly accessible location.

A central text feed of all distributed info will serve four purposes:

1. Provide the public with a completely open and highly accessible index to content provided through social media channels.

2. Provide the government content in a form isolated from other content to broaden distribution to those who prefer to avoid mixed distribution sources.

3. Provide other smaller content providers and websites a mechanism to have the same government content as larger providers.

4. Provide a central reference location for any on-demand accessibility service requests for government sponsored or partnered services such as closed captioning or braille.

This media index feed could be in the form of a searchable text feed which link to the original documents. The text feed would be searchable from text based mobile devices as well as web browsers. Search would be provided through a tagging mechanism which at the least allows those posting the information to create new search tags and categories. It also may allow the public to tag items to create a folksomy based search. Documents would be in a freely accessible format, so long as that format allows for the same distribution both in context and content to other websites as was carried by government officials. For instance, if a document was associated on a social media website with certain search tags, titles and description attached, those tags should be indicated in this feed.   If a document had hyperlinks or embedded content placed in it by government officials, those hyperlinks and content should be preserved in this centrally stored format.

Video and audio should be available from a link on this central feed in an instantly playable format such as a progressive player linked to cloud based storage so high demand will not slow distribution, as well as a downloadable format which can be used to replicate the distribution on other websites. Again the meta or context data which allows for duplication of the original post to the primarily distribution site should be stored in the feed or the linked files.

In the case of virtual world information distribution, some capture of the virtual world experience would be attempted to replicate the primary message in some way such as a video of the experience. If it is possible to store in an open format 3-D objects or actions, that content maybe also be considered for placement in this central data store.

To the extent that an industry standard is developed to allow easily subscription or importing of documents and audio/video content to alternate media websites and platforms, governments should adopt these methods to support their central feed.

Conclusion.

Governments should clearly prioritize distribution and accessibility options which do not pose barriers which would result decrease the amount of information distribution. At the same time some consideration to disabled users, users without high bandwidth and high cost devices, as well as devices, platforms and websites with smaller audiences should be taken for high priority information as well as possible on-demand conversion services. A low-barrier method which could serve as a base from which to achieve these accomodations would be a central text-based multimedia index feed containing hyperlinks to content in open formats. This feed would be searchable from both text based mobile and internet browsers and contain context information which would allow replication of the content posting which were created on non-government websites by government officials.   If possible this central feed would facilitate posting of content to websites by those website owners, so that the websites themselves can opt in to the distribution.

In the policy to effort session at Government 2.0 camp, Lovisa Williams of the Department of State summed up the problem of building on cross agency’s efforts as “Don’t share your best practices, share them when they are good enough.” It sounded like a good start to a blog post.

For more on workplace collaboration check out the workshop I am organizing on April 23rd.

The essence of collaboration is to steady build on one another’s ideas bit by bit until you get a solution. Of course contributions in reality should be somewhat thought through but by no means need to be final, because if sharing final plans were enough, then there would be no need to collaborate.

The current cross-agency practices seem to be built on sharing each other’s best practices, which means they have been fought for, tried out, approved and finalized within an agency and no one in that agency has any stomach for opening up that can of worms again.  So suggestions for improvement from the outside, after the practice is shared, are not  as likely to be incorporated.

Sharing these final lessons learned, does not accumulate ideas from different perspectives and situations to create cross-agency solutions and support. Instead it passes an agency specific solution to another agency, at which point it gets rewritten.  There is some efficiency gained, but it doesn’t seem to compare to a truly collaborative process in which ideas are shared and accumulated quickly showing an agile and responsive result.

If collaborative efforts begin with sharing final outcomes which the authors don’t want to change because they have invested in these as being final, then essentially the collaborative process doesn’t begin. It’s more of a building on lessons learned than a collaboration .

It’s kind of like growing your vegetables in your own walled garden and only sharing the seeds after you have harvested the first successful crop.  In order to build an agile and responsive government, we need to all plant  seeds at the same time and figure out together how to get them to grow in the first season.

The systemic problem with sharing methods and ideas before they become a ‘best practice’ seems to be fear of acceptance within the agency or worse yet criticism from outside the agency.   A best practice almost by definition means it has the stamp of approval by agency heads.   Therefore by definition a “good ‘nough” practice does not have the stamp of approval and there is a fear of implied ‘approval’ and finality when you share it cross-agency. It seems we either need to create semi-private cross agency channels so people can be comfortable in sharing practices still ‘in–progress’ or overcome the fear of unfinished solutions being seen.

UPDATE:  I just put this data into google maps here.

Disclaimer: Wordles are often more artistic than informative but I thought it might fun to visualize the voice of the people.

A lot to write about from Government 2.0 camp but I am a bit under the weather and wanted to relax a little tonight.  So I created wordles of the top 100 questions  to President Obama from each category of the  Open for Questions application on Whitehouse.gov .  I also appointed myself the moderator and ruled that marijuana is a legitimate health reform issue but not a budget, financial stability, green jobs and energy or jobs issue.  The off topic questions were removed from the top 100 in those categories.  However if you want to see the complete raw data in Wordles, it is available here.

Phase net from IBMs Many eyes. Top 78 words and their relations from all categories. (Top 100 from each after moderation).

Phrase Net from top 50 words from Open for Questions

Word Tree All Categories starting with Mr. President

Mr. President Word Tree

The full wordles below are on Wordle.net.  Click on the thumbnail to see the full wordle:

Top 100 from all questions combined:

Top 100 Questions from all 10 categories

Education:

Education Top 100

Home Ownership:

Homeownership Top 100

Health Care Reform:

Health Care Reform Top 100

Veterans:

Veterans Top 100

Small Business:

Small business Top 100

Auto Industry:

Auto Industry Top 100

Retirement Security:

Retirement Security Top 100

Green Jobs and Energy:

Green Jobs Energy

Financial Stability:Financial Stability

Jobs:
Jobs Top 100

Budget:
Budget Top 100

Ken Fischer is Chief Innovation Officer for ClickforHelp.com and thinks about social media, economics, linked data and Government 2.0. Let himknow if you want your web presence to be made more interactive and relevant.

This post is in beta. I am looking for help in better understanding the connection between policy and effort so we can discuss it at the upcoming Gov 2.0 camp.  I am not an expert by any means in this area, but am struggling to understand the problem from a data perspective.  The semantic web initiatives and in general the goal of a collaborative government drove me to seek this understanding of how policy is connected to effort.

One of the 3 things which the NAPA paper on Enabling Collaboration:  Three Priorities for The New Administration identifies as a barrier to a more collaborative government is  ‘An inability to relate to information, and information to decision making.’   This hints at a critical problem in creating new initiatives which is not having enough information to plan a path to implement a new initiative.  I believe the solution is to map the connections between policy, responsibility, effort and procedure as critical pieces of data to inform decision making.  This has the potential to speed  progress in creating a more agile, innovative and collaborative government  just as mapping the genome has sped progress in genetics.

Specifically, I see missing connections between policy, responsibility, procedure and effort required to create new initiatives.   Let’s call it PREP (Policy-Responsibility-Effort-Procedure) data since everyone loves an acronym.   So PREP is essentially a line connecting 4 points from policy to the person trying to create a new initiative.  From a policy at a high level, to offices which have responsibility to ensure the policy is followed, to procedures created by those offices and to the effort to follow those procedures.  (I am sure in reality its more complicated than that but lets keep it simple for argument’s sake).  Of course each initiative has multiple policies it must be compliant with, so multiple lines between the effort and policies.  The procedures are often interdependent, yet created independently by separate offices often in isolation from what other offices do.  In the end you have a thick mesh to get through, that needs to be rediscovered for each new initiative.   I  have come to the conclusion that mapping PREP data is critical to creating a more collaborative, agile and innovative government.

The problem starts with policy being handled as a 19th century invention, that is as an isolated document.   Then the document is passed to various departments with responsibility to make sure the policy is followed.  These departments create procedures to ensure the policy is followed. When someone wants to create a new initiative or project, they need to determine all procedures from all policies involved and then put in an effort to follow  these often disjointed procedures which often have hidden interdependencies.  This seems to be a primary cause of what we commonly call the ‘bureaucracy’.

Many well intended policies come together to produce unintended, entangled procedures which form a barrier to quickly creating new initiatives.  Essentially this is a emergent property of the many policies which have been implemented over the years, as well as the many offices created to follow the many policies.  The result is fewer or slowed new initiatives leading to less innovation and collaboration. (Since almost by definition collaborative efforts will involve new initiatives.)  A confounding problem is that new technology is causing procedures to have to be reconsidered and policies reinterpreted which adds to the complexity.

There is data on policy to effort connections but it does not seem to be centrally accessible or uniformly stored.  And the large differences between  interpretation by individuals on every node in the PREP data which can change for every decision confound the problem of understanding what is really happening.

New policies to instigate new initiatives are now being issued and fast results are expected, but because of this unseen mesh which holds up execution, the top levels are frustrated with the work not getting done.   Meanwhile the people in agencies feel that they are too constrained to get the new initiative started.  Since the mesh is invisible, solutions to change the system become confusing and difficult to follow because they normally add to the mesh rather than disentangle and streamline it.

Solution: Map the PREP (Policy-Responsibility-Effort-Procedure) data and use this map to create guidance on streamlining implementation of policies as well as identifying duplicate or unnecessary procedures.  The data should include the amount of ongoing or one time man hours involved in the effort to follow a procedure, the average calendar delay caused by a procedure, and any interdependency with other procedures.

How? Initially just collect the data in a standardized and centrally accessible format.   It will be almost immediately useful. Use collaborative techniques to collect a lot of data quickly even if it means lower quality data initially. Then gradually move the data to a Semantic/RDF storage system where it can be queried in many different ways and linked to the broader set of definitions such as law, case history etc.

This will be the start of making a more agile, collaborative and data centric government.

The Challenge to this approach: Besides data management which is not too bad initially.   A lot of these hidden paths are not 100% ok with 100%  of interpretations of policies,  so how do we create a collaborative environment without people worrying that the interpretations which allow them to get things done will be ruled to be incorrect?  It seems this needs to be a research project that can’t be looked for that purpose.