Open Government & Innovations Conference: Overcoming the Great Divide

Aug 04, 2009

People from every corner of the government filled the The Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the first Open Government & Innovations (OGI) Conference, held July 21-22. Many came from agencies using social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies in new and exciting ways, but there were many more "enthusiasts" who weren't yet allowed to use those same technologies, hoping to hear change will come.

The event was an energizing, interactive forum with live crowdsourcing, and available presentations being posted to OGI's website. One of the most engaging activities of this event was its Twitter frenzy. #OGI Twitter-feeds were broadcast throughout the conference encouraging attendees to share instant reactions to speaker remarks and connect to participants. OGI took Twitter by storm during Aneesh Chopra's keynote address, when #OGI became one of the top five trending topics. In fact, the 4,423 #OGI tweets and 629 contributors during the conference are being consolidated into an OGI Conference Tweetbook, a collaborative project by the GovLoop Web 2.0 community.

David Wennegren, deputy assistant secretary, Defense for Information Management, was up first to motivate the 600 attendees, recommending they share, collaborate, and develop more agile services to rebuild and reinforce trust in their agencies. On day two, he stirred things up by sharing his 10 tips for change management. Although Wennegren is a great motivational speaker and advocate of Gov 2.0 technologies, with 60% of the attendees coming from government agencies, many wanted to hear solid examples of case studies that provided measurable value and a reasonable ROI so they could use them as ammunition to inspire and motivate their own organizations.

Impressions of the breakout sessions seemed mixed. Everyone I spoke with learned a lot, but some felt they only got a few concrete tools to help make open government happen. They wanted more lessons learned and practical "baby steps" to overcome the obstacles their agencies face on the social media front. Speakers from the "Web 2.0 and National Security" session gave the audience practical advice on developing social media strategies, suggesting it's okay to experiment, and "fail small" to learn about social software.

The "Cross Agency Collaboration" session cited their biggest barrier to interagency/intra-agency collaboration as a lack of access to common tool sets and platforms. The panelists encouraged their audience to participate in the Social Media Sub Council developing government best practices, MuniGov 2.0 which explores the use of Web 2.0 across federal, state, and local governments, and to use Second Life for virtual meetings. This was the first time many participants learned of these available resources.

Many were curious to hear Aneesh Chopra, President Obama's new CTO. He spoke to a standing room only crowd challenging them to remove barriers and find "quick wins" powered by new technologies, and people's preferences. His approach to drive innovation across the federal sector included transparency, open data standards, and an "outside-in" model for participation in policy making. He cited the new Federal IT Dashboard as an example of transparency creating a culture of accountability.

After hearing Chopra's message earlier in the day, the audience quickly filled the room to attend the Town Hall Meeting led by Obama's new CIO, Vivek Kundra. He gave a glimpse into the future, technologically speaking. He said to focus on translating transparency into actionable results by encouraging citizens to be co-creators, innovators, and watchdogs. The long list of Q&A topics included using social media to capture the expertise of retirees; eliminating redundancies within agencies to increase efficiencies; and capturing the most valuable thinking within the federal government. It was evident he understood the challenges ahead for agencies to build more transparent, participatory, and collaborative environments.