Tag Archives: government

Is Public Participation in Emergency Management a Problem or a Solution?

Post by: Kim Stephens

The use of social media and Gov 2.0 by government agencies should be viewed as not only a new means of informing the public, but also as an opportunity for the public to participate  in the decision-making process.  In the emergency management field, these new technologies have presented opportunities for direct public participation during crises, notably with information curation, collation, and distribution.  In the U.S. we saw spontaneous applications in Boulder, CO a few months ago in connection with local wildfires that threatened the urban dwellers.

The key question is: when it comes to actually influencing government decision-making, are citizens able to leverage social media in order to have an impact? As I have mentioned before, after the Deep WaterHorizon Oil Spill Admiral Thad Allen said “We all have to understand that there will never again be a major event in this country that won’t involve public participation. And the public participation will happen whether it’s managed or not.”

Ladder of Participation by: Sherri Arnstein

Ladder of Participation: By Sherry Arnstein

I noticed two points of view: those who see public participation as a problem to be solved and those who view this new form of participation as an opportunity to be seized. I commented on this point to my esteemed colleague Claire B. Rubin who quickly corrected me: She indicated that this issue did not just arise with the creation of social media but goes back many decades.  She pointed me to an article dated 1969: “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” by Sherry R. Arnstein. Claire states: “I think there are at least two aspects worth thinking about:  (1.) attitudes toward citizens and their involvement and (2.) organizational culture.”  See the ladder diagram, which essentially is a continuum of power sharing (or not.)

Claire indicated that “…the fundamental issue is how open and collaborative an organization wants to be.  When it is a public agency you would expect it to both serve and respect the views/needs of its citizens. But when the culture is command and control — military, fire, police – their training and orientation is to keep things close to the vest and not open up for collaboration.”

With regard to the second point about organizational culture, Bill Brantley, in the post, “Without Engagement Gov. 2.0 Will Fail” notices some of the same issues:  “For people who are on the cutting edge of the Gov 2.0 movement, we often forget that a majority of government employees are still not enthusiastic about the potential of the new social networking technologies in their workplace. Now many of these folks are using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. to keep up with their family and friends but haven’t made that conceptual leap from using these tools at their job.” Part of the reason lies in concerns over security. Two reports out earlier this year, one conducted by Hewlett Packard and the other by the National Association of State CIOs Social Media Working group (NASCIO), had large number of respondents indicating that security concerns were a barrier to Gov 2.0 adoption.

So how high have we climbed up that ladder? It is interesting to note that some of us seem to be stuck on the third rung: “informing”.  Ms. Arnstein made an observation that could have been written today: …too frequently the emphasis is placed on a one-way flow of information-from official to citizens-with no channel provided for feedback and no power for negotiation. Under these conditions, particularly when information is provided at a late stage in planning, people have little opportunity to influence the program designed ‘for their benefit’.”

Recent disaster experiences in the U.S. demonstrate that the public is demanding more control. While the new information technologies make it easier to keep the public informed, the public now has an expectation that you are listening through this new “feedback” loop; that responsible agencies are paying attention to them; and answers will be provided. The last two items in this sequence are new and important to consider.  During the BP Gulf Oil Spill an open call for solutions was not necessarily proffered, but 123,000 suggestions were received nonetheless, according to this USA Today article. Gerald Baron issues a warning to emergency managers in this blog post to plan ahead for this new form of citizen engagement:

So you are involved as Incident Commander or Public Information Officer  for a large disaster or crisis, take heed of these new expectations. As an event grows in scope and media attention, it may be  filled with challenges. What will the interested public do? We know now that they will come to you by phone, email, web form, text message, social media sites and every conceivable way and they will say: “I have an idea and you should pay attention to it.” Then the media will be there and the idea person will say: “I gave them a dynamite idea, it is certain to solve their big problem, but no one even got back to me to say they are paying attention. These people don’t care about solving this problem.” Do you think that won’t happen to you? Do you think that will only happen to companies? Not a chance.

Survey Results of Federal and State Use of Social Media

Two different organizations recently surveyed State and Federal Government employees and contractors in order to determine adoption, application, expectation and challenges regarding the implementation of social media.  Market Connections, Inc. released a report entitled Social Media in the Federal Community. The other report, entitled Friends, Followers, and Feeds, was written by the National Association of State CIOs Social Media Working group (NASCIO).

NASCIO’s survey had a high participation rate with 79% of states’ CIOs responding. The biggest challenges the states listed with regard to implementing social media included security, liability, privacy, records maintenance/management and terms of acceptable use. On a personal note, visiting with local Emergency Management Agencies I also find these concerns to be the biggest impediments. Legal concerns are troubling to Emergency Management Agencies in particular since they could potentially involve a life-threatening scenario. For example, if someone was unable to dial 911 due to lack of connectivity, but had enough of a signal to send a tweet or a text, would emergency services be liable if they did not respond? (If you know the answer please comment.)

Another interesting finding from NASCIO were the responses regarding “next steps”. Not surprisingly, a large number of respondents acknowledged the need to integrate mobile social media into their communications strategy.

  • “The growth of online government in the future will increasingly be in the mobile environment (emphasis added), and it is expected that state governments will be exploiting this extensively through social media channels. A growing number of end-users already look at their governments almost exclusively through the three and a half inch screens of their smartphones, and this trend will only continue. States will be expected to know how they look and perform through that lens.”
  • “Utah state government has moved quickly in the areas of integration and aggregation and incorporated social media and other Web 2.0 technologies prominently in the major website design of Utah.gov in 2009. (Go see their site, it’s very nice!) Their connect.utah.gov page offers mobile applications and geo-IP location-aware technology to personalize each user’s experience, and dozens of interactive services are provided to make Utah.gov more convenient for Utah citizens and businesses.”

The survey of Federal Agencies and Federal Contractors was conducted by Market Connections, Inc.. They also found security concerns to be the top challenge regarding adoption.  Government contractors, on the other hand, seemed to understand how social media can help  with “building the company’s brand” with 86% percents seeing this as the main benefit of increasing their SM presence. Sixty-one percent of contractor respondents indicated that they plan to increase their budget for SM in the next 12-18 months. This can be compared to the Federal responses where only 22% indicated they plan to increase their use of social media in the next 12-18 months. It seems contractors are starting to see SM as a necessary part of their business plan while some federal employees still seem to view the entire endeavor with suspicion.

A large portion of respondents in all the surveys indicated that one of the challenges to adoption is a “lack of resources to maintain presence”. Anecdotally, I have also found this to be true at the local level: more often than not there is no staff position called “social media guru”. This may change in the future, but for a lot of offices one “lucky” person gets to do the job in addition to their normal duties.

Social Media and Web 2.0 Standard Operating Procedures: Guidance Material

Since the use of social media and or Web 2.0 (we really need a better lexicon here) is so new, some organizations might not yet have standard operating procedures developed regarding either implementation or overall strategy. Some of those procedures may include: workflow, managing comments, managing content,  statements of purpose, measures of success/metrics, or even which new media to engage in.

However, if you are responsible for implementing new media and not sure where to start, I recommend the blog Social Media Governance which has put together a wonderful database of social or new media policies (currently 154 total). The list includes government/non-profit policies from the American Red Cross to Walker Art Center; but the list also includes policies from businesses, the healthcare industry, as well general guidelines and templates. You can search for a policy related to your industry with the handy pull-down menu.

There are even policies from international agencies, for example there is a handy Social Media 101 guide from Australia. And although some of the information would not apply in the U.S. (e.g. government codes of conduct) there are a number of helpful tips that are universal.

The General Service Administration’s Social Media Handbook can also be found there and is quite useful, however, local governments might find information from “The County of Orange, California” more applicable.

Most policies will deal with pushing information, if you know of any organization that has policies regarding receiving info from the public through social media, please let me know.

I also want to highlight the recent GAO Report: Challenges in Federal Agencies’ Use of Web 2.0 Technologies, July 22, 2010. The report summary:

Federal agencies are using Web 2.0 technologies to enhance services and support their individual missions. Federal Web managers use these applications to connect to people in new ways. As of July 2010, we identified that 22 of 24 major federal agencies had a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

They then list the challenges federal agencies have faced regarding use of Web 2.0 technologies:

Privacy and security:

Agencies are faced with the challenges of determining how the Privacy Act of 1974, which provides certain protections to personally identifiable information, applies to information exchanged in the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networking sites. …

Records management and freedom of information.

Web 2.0 technologies raise issues in the government’s ability to identify and preserve federal records.

The use of Web 2.0 technologies can also present challenges in appropriately responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests because there are significant complexities in determining whether agencies control Web 2.0-generated content, as understood within the context of FOIA.

Federal agencies have begun to identify some of the issues associated with Web 2.0 technologies and have taken steps to start addressing them. For example, the Office of Management and Budget recently issued guidance intended to (1) clarify when and how the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 applies to federal agency use of social media and Web-based interactive technologies; and (2) help federal agencies protect privacy when using third- party Web sites and applications.

Of course this was written for the federal government, however, some of the information is probably applicable to states and localities.

Related Articles

New Media = Good Government (?)

posted by Claire B. Rubin

Your Pass To Good Government, Newsweek, August 16. The byline to this article is:  “Skip the lines, forget about bribes. E-gov gives anyone with  a web connection direct access to public services.”

The assumption that the speed of the message/request arriving via new digital media will be matched by the speed of the response or delivery of services is, in my view, a serious mistake.  The ability of government agencies to collect, analyze and act on requests arriving via new media is no greater than it was via the traditional means. It might even be slower, since agency personnel need to monitor additional new media to collect the requests.