This topic has been coming up a lot lately. I wrote about it a few weeks back: Social Tools Do Not a Process Make. A lot of people are overly focused on technology as a solution rather than a tool that can be used to re-enforce good policy, procedures, etc. (Read=Process) Fellow GovLoop-er, and communications consultant, Steve Radick has mentioned this a few times in his blogs as of late as well.
One can argue that “2.0 technology” is so “large” or “innovative” that it’s a game changer, but this is a standard technology argument that is as old as the world it’s self. One must recall the definition of technology to understand my point: (According to Merriam-Webster) Technology=”a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” By this definition technology isn’t a “thing” it’s a how and this is important to understand in discussion. Changing how we do something requires good process, methods, and/or knowledge. Lacking any of these things technology typically serves to only make things more complicated instead of easier. (As stated, how many projects can one point to that has suffered this reality?) Thus, we suffer from the reality that technology can be a double edged sword if not applied correctly to resolve a problem and in fact can end up causing more problems than it was implemented to resolve. (If this is the case, then by technical definition you have already failed.) This is the root problem in technology innovation: We can be motivated to change process due to some shiny new object that promises world peace, when all we really needed was a tool/technology that makes our processes better.
So, I leave you with this: 1.) Innovation for the sake of innovation is typically doomed to fail as it doesn’t have a problem to solve. 2.) If lacking solid process, methodology, and/or knowledge technology will typically lead to frustration rather than solutions. and 3.) Tools/Technology: no matter how shiny and awesome they are, should never be the independent solution, they are only a means to accomplishing the mission/goal.
Technology does make our lives easier, but only appropriately applied technology to existing (and solid) processes change the world we live in for the better. What we need is a “Process 2.0” driven work place, that uses the right techonlogy for the job and appropriately engages people while solving problems.
The good folks at CrisisCommons and the entire #SMEM community constantly are discussion the values and challenges surrounding the use of social media by organizations to pass important emergency related information during a disaster. For this discussion, I will be focusing on the role of social media from the context of keeping people informed. Specifically, I was intrigued to write on this topic after reading a recent piece by Patrice Coultier entitled, “Of Emergency Warnings and Being Convincing.” Patrice, as usual, has provided an interesting (..and international) look at the way emergency management organizations use tone and different styles of approach in delivering important emergency information to citizens. This ultimately got me to thinking about the role of the Public Information Officer (PIO) and the integration of technology tools in assisting in providing information to the masses.
With social media now a more common piece of every day information flow around the globe and very much so here in the United States, I am left to consider its impact on the PIO’s day-to-day job. As many are already aware, the PIO’s primary job is to act as the “official voice” of an organization and in this case we’ll assume the PIO to be a part of a governmental function. Therefore, during an emergency this person is the individual, or team of individuals, who should be providing the public with information on an emergency as the official source. (This is where Patrice’s article on approach, tone, and the like comes to play.) However, I feel that more and more in today’s technology laden landscape the PIO in many jurisdictions have either entirely ignored the social media space, misused it, or are just starting to grasp it. To this end, I think there are some key items that should be considered:
- Be the Official Source: This seems far to logical to be stated, but I feel a lot of jurisdictions have let this basic concept of PIO work go by the way side, simply because a new technology is at play. Think of it this way: The PIO’s job has not changed in the new social media landscape, it has simply been expanded. PIOs should not be doing anything more, less, or different than before. Social media is simply another tool in the tool box of a communications professional (the PIO) to use and reach his/her target audience. To this end, the PIO should work in social media, as appropriate, to their communciations plan and work with social media outlets to obtain “verified” and/or “validated” accounts where possible. This allows the PIO’s presence on the internet to be a confirmed, trusted, and official source for information.
- Open the Two-Way Street: For the longest time the job of a PIO was to push information. With today’s technology PIOs can act as a two-way conduit for information to the public and information received by the public. Opening up this two-way dialog during an emergency allows PIOs to get the important, validated information out, but also take in new information from the public. This allows response organizations to better plan for operations, but also allows the PIO and the emergency management organization to validate issues and reissue confirmed statements to the public writ large. Remember, this is a huge issue with social media: After a disaster many people will begin self-reporting information creating a cross section of accurate, embellished and completely false information that many people will take as accurate unless someone steps in as the official source and validation point for information. This is a function best owned by the PIO shop and is honestly the best place for growth right now in the SMEM world in my opinion.
- Be Honest: One item that used to be difficult for some PIO organizations was the ability to be 100% open and transparent during events. This is an older model of only releasing 100% confirmed information while remaining silent on unresolved/unconfirmed issues. To this end, social media has made it more possible for PIOs to obtain more information faster and get it back out faster and more widespread. (Just as mentioned above, the two-lane street is open for business and can some times be a super highway.) One of the greatest impacts of using social media is the ability to interact and be part of the situation. Often times PIOs are seen as the one on TV that just pushes random information while being separated from the event. Now, PIOs can be in the mix and engaging their public directly and one of the best ways to obtain trust and authority is to be honest in your transactions. I think you will find that many people will provide more information and be more willing to follow instructions and guidance if they feel like they are directly involved.
- Recruit, Standardize, and Innovate: Let’s face it, PIOs have it pretty rough some times and much like their host organizations they are generally drastically understaffed when things start happening. This is not lost on many of us, in fact there are many volunteer organizations out there that exist purely to fill the void during disasters, however it’s time we start looking at the problem in front of us and begin working on filling the gaps. Social media use in disasters have resulted in a flood of information at the one time that many shops down’t have the personnel to sort through the noise and find the information that is most important. To resolve this I am becoming a heavy supporter in the age of the “digital first responder.” A phrase, that the Red Cross seems to get most credit for coining, that basically means volunteers that will help become the PIO’s filter during an emergency. This cadre of volunteers can be brought together whether it be via existing Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, Red Cross volunteers, or via standing up a specific volunteer group for this function. Train these individuals in the processes of you organization, basic emergency management, and put them to work in front of a computer helping to organize information as it comes in. This frees up the PIO, but also ensures that the public is heard and answers are provided. (They help the two-way street from becoming one-way and a potential hazard to your communications.) This is the greatest area organizations can innovate and help standardize their social media engagement during emergencies.
I got to thinking the other day..which is a scary concept at times..when I was informed that the E-Gov initiatives in government cost the great taxpayers of this nation millions of dollars a year. Wait, roll that one back: Yup, I said the words 1.) Millions and 2.) Years in that sentence. So, let me get this straight.. We pay millions in tax dollars for a bunch of contractors (..well..actually only a very limited subset of contractors..) to do what?…Build websites. That’s right people, websites. Something a high school student and/or an undergrad does for fun and/or could do as a class project, we pay people millions of dollars a YEAR for. (Before someone goes off the deep end, yes this is for development..not so much for hosting space..and that should make people even more upset.) This is only compounded in my head by the simple fact that websites and hosting is pennies on the dollar cheap in today’s could based world. The cost is almost purely in project management and development cost more so than steady state. Yet, operations and management costs seem to remain in the millions just to pay for nothing more than hosting and tech support and I’m sure there is a better way.
Alright, so what’s my point: In-sourcing and/or innovative alliance with the academic sector to provide transparency, civic entitlement to students, and a way to further public engagement..all while saving the government money.. PRICELESS. You know..didn’t Woz say something about this recently.. (yup…) It’s time as a government we start looking for the cost saving methods and this is a great place to start. I see this as a chance to engage more of the public, while also providing transparency.
..Think about it..
I think everyone probably has at least heard bits and pieces of what Steve Wozniak’s Key Note at FOSE yesterday, however I think it’s very important we wipe away our awe for a moment and look long and hard at just what he said. To most technorati, or at very least technology proficient, folks in and out of government probably agreed with the core basics of what “The Woz” shared. However, as you read on below I want to ask you to consider this: What are we doing as a Government, a Public, and as an Individual to actually affect the types of changes that are required to move towards a better future?
To the point, GovWin’s Knowledge Editor Sean Tucker, has laid out his take on the major themes of Mr. Woznaik’s Key Note and I have laid them out below for easy consumption:
On the Role of Technology in Our Lives:
“Instead of the three-day workweek we envisioned, we now have a world where both parents have to work full-time just to pay the bills. I’m not sure how we lost that dream.” –The Woz
Seems like a fairly valid point, when the development of technology lead us to the point that we are required to undertake more effort and time to complete tasks that would have taken less time without technology. Granted, there are plenty of examples time saving is demonstrated by technology. However, I believe the point being made here is that we have created technology (e.g., netbooks, tablets, smart phones, etc) that seem to only distract us more than simply complete the tasks of making a phone call and/or checking your email.
On the Role of Government in the Technology Market:
Primarily the point to take home on this topic is that it has been a long held belief that the technology market is and has been driven by government need (e.g., science, military, etc.) creating a bit of a technology trickledown effect. However, Mr. Wozniak reiterated that the consumer markets really should be where the tech drive comes from; building on his point that technology is supposed to, “make life easier.”
On Motivation, and Innovation:
“You learn so much when you do things for yourself, for your own personal reasons,” – The Woz
Mr. Wozniak went on to explain that many tech companies in the past and today have allowed employees to explore innovation personally and that this pays in dividends time and time again. When you have personal drive to accomplish something you are interested in, as humans, we typically step up in order to solve the problem. A re-innovation of self-motivation is long overdue in government and out. How do we re-ignite the “spark of innovation?” (I think there are a few things at work now, but more can always be done to unleash the power of the individual.
Additionally, Mr. Wozniak also made one statement that largely impacted me: (To paraphrase) Woz pointed out that more focus should be made on in-house innovation and development than on commercial off the shelf (COTS) type products. Having the ability to have coders and innovators in house means you can develop to solve your problems, your way. In the long run this equals more innovation, streamlining of processes, and systems that can be adjusted in a more agile environment where you no longer have to rely on contractors and/or the vendor to make changes. (Novel concept.)
On the Cloud:
“The cloud is getting closer and closer,” he said. “Close to 15 years ago, at my father’s wake, Steve Jobs talked to me about ‘oh my gosh, some day all these things we do that are close to us are going to be out there, done in the cloud,” – The Woz
Yup, so the cloud is here, now what? (This seems to be the main point being shouted by most.) Mr. Wozniak seems to think, and I agree, that we are looking at a culture issue and not much else. The technology is there, it’s getting better every day, so why aren’t we doing so much more in the cloud? Well adoption of the technology and a confidence from a security perspective is probably what holds us back currently, so focus must remain on gaining acceptance.
On the Future:
“All this technology — what has it done for the world?” he asked. “Well, computers allow each person to do more work and use more energy, and more energy means more pollution, so computers have probably increased pollution in the world. Every time we make a computer that can do something for it, we make ourselves less important.” – The Woz
And he’s right, his theme rang throughout his statement and he concludes on the same topic: People matter.
So, what does this all mean? It means there is a lot to be done, even though a great deal has been done to get us here. Time to pick ourselves up and become motivated, even in the face of adversity, to go forward and innovate for the sake of doing so, to better the world.
“Every time we say we’re just at the start, we’re right,” –The Woz
…and we are just at the start of something, are you in?