Thomas the Train had a vision ("I think I can, I think I can"), never let obstacles get in his way, stayed focused on his goal and eventually realized success! As I looked across the landscape of this year's Open Government and Innovations (OGI) Conference held this week in Washington, D.C. , it became apparent there were more Thomas-train types than the doubting Thomases I talked to last year.
Like Penn Station at rush hour, the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt was jammed as people listened, tweeted and tapped their keyboards to spread the message of the keynote speaker, Cory Ondrejka, co-creator of Second Life, whose message was like a trumpet sounding the cry for government to become more open and agile. To those present, he seemed to say, "You can, You can, You can."
Since the President's Open Government Directive (OGov) came out last December requiring agencies to publish government data online, improve the quality of their data, as well as create a culture and policy framework for open government, every agency realized they had to get on board or be de-railed.
The OGI conference showcased some impressive success stories in DoD, GSA, DOT, USDA, CDC and several other agencies already making inroads last year because their leadership is passionate, visionary and committed to engaging with their internal and external stakeholders. The truth be told, as I spoke with people at the conference, there are still many passionate folks in agencies fighting uphill battles to get social media and Web 2.0 technologies instituted for internal use while their leadership complied with the OGov directive pushing data out to the public, creating Open Government Plans, websites and Flagship Initiatives" to ‘appear' more open.
One of the better sessions I attended focused on creating a blueprint for Social Media to further an agency's mission. It was led by Amanda Eamich and Karen Malkin of the USDA. They broke out the session participants into three groups to come up with challenges and solutions of the key Open Government areas of collaboration, participation and transparency. As each group spoke, it became apparent the struggles are pretty much the same as last year and that instituting change in government culture is going to take a long time.
Common challenges across each area included generational gaps; getting people to open up; protecting your turf; people not knowing the available tools because of a lack of promotion by the organization; a lack of governance models to help educate; a feeling of "aloneness", lack of support and funding from the agencies.
David McClure, associate administrator for Citizen Services & Communications at GSA gave the final keynote address at Wednesday's luncheon. I was impressed to see the progress GSA is making including a Citizen Engagement Platform as well as launching a new Facebook-like site in the fall called FedSpace, intended to provide feds with more opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and share information. This can really change the face government since it will allow feds to write blogs, create wikis, and share files with one another. It will also have employee directories and a search feature. So keep that on your radar screen.
There were certainly more champions, evangelists and cheerleaders getting on board the OGov train this year than last. But there are still many hurdles to overcome, measurement strategies to be put in place, continuing research to identify what the public wants and needs, as well as dedicating the resources and budgets to support these efforts. With all that being done, we can hope the American people will have more faith and trust in their government.