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5 Reasons Why the White House Response to the Death Star Petition Was Genius

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Back in November 2012, someone posted on the White House’s “We The People” site petitioning the federal government to secure funding and resources to build a Death Star by 2016. We The People is an online petition website that allows any citizen to make a suggestion, and if it receives 25,000 votes, the White House will issue an official response. The Death Star petition reached 25,000 votes in December and one month later, the White House issued their response.

Picture of the Death Star from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The Death Star would cost how much? Yikes

Here are 5 reasons why I thought the response was brilliant:

1. They Played Along

Kudos to the White House for embracing and adding more Star Wars references. There were mentions of

  • Blowing up planets
  • Having a flaw that can be exposed by a one-man starship
  • Luke’s robotic arm
  • The power of the Force

How many government agencies would have responded with “we are not familiar with the term ‘Death Star’ and therefore are unable to properly respond to this petition.” Probably a lot.

2. It was Informal

One lesson from social media is that it’s okay to be informal sometimes. People like interacting with other human beings more than a dry, soulless organization. It’s refreshing to see government be clever, witty, and funny.

The second paragraph begins with “…look carefully and you’ll notice something floating in the sky – that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station!” Reading this sentence makes you feel like the author is actually talking to you.

Not only was it written with a playful voice, they even linked to a photo of President Obama wielding a toy light saber.

3. It was Informative

Not only was the response witty and playful, it was also very informative. The author saw this as an opportunity to educate the reader with relevant articles and programs. There were several links to government and non-government projects to get the reader excited about what is currently happening in space. I bet most readers learned something new.

4. They Promoted Others

Another important lesson from social media is that it’s not always about you. The White House was happy to promote other programs that they thought the reader would find useful, giving readers a more complete picture of what is happening in the industry. In addition to the many NASA programs, they also link to a private sector project with a mission to put more humans on the moon and DARPA projects to build floating droids.

There’s even a reference to a study that estimated the cost of a Death Star to be more than $850,000,000,000,000,000.

5. They Ended On a Positive Note

It’s difficult to draw something positive out of such an outrageous petition that was obviously a joke, but the White House pulled it off. Instead of just listing evidence to why this is a terrible idea, they ended with an encouraging message.

The second to last paragraph says “We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field.”

____

Despite the brilliance of the response, there is something that doesn’t sit well with me: I couldn’t find the article on We The People. Of course, if you use a search engine, the article shows up at the top and there are plenty of technology and government blogs that link to it, but if you start from the We The People homepage, it’s very difficult to navigate to the response (I couldn’t do it but someone else probably could). It’s as if the White House is purposely trying to hide it from accidental visits.

Even the title of the response is extremely vague. It’s called “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.”

Despite the fact that it’s hidden, I still have to applaud the author for a brilliant and refreshing response. This is a great example of what government can be: clever, in-touch, educational, and inspiring all at the same time.

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City of Houston Produces Video About Surviving Workplace Shooter

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Last week, the City of Houston’s Office of Public Safety, with grants from the Department of Homeland Security, posted a video called RUN. HIDE. FIGHT: Surviving an Active Shooter Event as part of their Ready Houston initiative. It’s a professionally done, six minute instructional video about what to do if someone were to open fire at the office.

The video was actually produced two weeks before the movie theater incident in Aurora, CO that took the lives of 12 civilians and wounded many more.  Soon after the shooting, Mayor Annise Parker and Dennis Storemski, the Director of the Office of Public Safety, had the video posted within a week, stating that “knowledge is power in a situation such as Aurora.”

I have to admit when I first saw the video title I recoiled, wondering “have we come to this as a society?” But within a second, I had to stop what I was doing and watch the video, because I needed to know. Then I had the feeling to share it with all my coworkers. Then I had the feeling to blog it on the internets.

 

What was your reaction when you learned that a city is promoting tips to survive a workplace shooting? Have you ever considered what you would do if you were ever caught in this kind of situation? Should the government sponsor initiatives of this kind, or is it going too far?

In this digital age with social media, we rely on people at the scene to provide us with up-to-date information during extreme situations. Then we rely on creative and technically-skilled people to create tools to present data in a meaningful way. Then we rely on social media influencers to distribute the knowledge to rest of us. But all of this happens AFTER the emergency. Perhaps it’s the government’s role to empower us BEFORE anything ever takes place?

Pinterest for Government

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Lately, there has been a site called Pinterest that has skyrocketed in popularity. The basic concept behind Pinterest is an online pinboard; a virtual space for sharing images from all over the web based on specific themes. It’s a way to discover new ideas and get inspired. People use it for home remodeling, wedding planning, arts and crafts, cooking recipes, and any other theme that allows creativity, innovation, and fun.

 

This is an example of sharing images about different types of architecture on Pinterest

 

Is this something that government can use to engage their citizens? I think there are some agencies that could benefit from sharing ideas for very specific themes. Too many times I come across government photosharing sites and see things like buildings, agency heads accepting awards, historical landmarks, or office parties. Unfortunately, most citizens don’t find that particularly interesting. But what if we had a site that allowed us to share content worth a thousand words to reach a specific target, such as…

Designing new buildings: wouldn’t it be great if citizens had a chance to suggest ideas for the design of new buildings? There are so many innovative architectural designs all over the web. Why not let the citizens share some of their favorites with you.

Being more green: There are so many ways to be more green at the office without having to spend a lot of money. Ways to create heat, enhance natural lighting, simple redesigns to increase space, creative ways to reuse waste, etc.

Redesigning websites: Many agencies are looking to refresh their official website. Get fresh ideas from the community on what they like to see. After all, they’re the ones that have to use it.

Decorating public spaces: Share ideas for decorating parks, making improvements, or finding new ways for celebrations like holidays and parades

Integrating art from schools: Kids make the most inspiration and endearing art. Why not find ways to creatively showcase them in our public buildings?

Designing new marketing materials: How often does government spend on pamphlets, posters, and flyers that look unattractive and boring? Get design ideas that would make a stronger impression on your audience

 

Granted, Pinterest has its limitations, since it wasn’t designed for organizations to solicit ideas from others as much as it is to show off what you find on your own. But there is a collaboration feature that government could turn on to invite others to create content. Or just instruct citizens to mention you when they come across something related to your pinboard.

Either way, it’s a great way to be inspired, discover new ideas, and build relationships.

Keep in mind that as government, we have to be extra careful with areas such as accessibility, record retention, terms of service, and others. Make sure your agency is covered in these areas before you get started.

 

Overall, I think there are many public agencies that can use Pinterest as a powerful business tool. Yes, there will be some that sigh at the notion of jumping on yet another social networking site (“last year you told us to get on this site; what a big waste of time that turned out to be”). Chances are, many agencies will try and get little to no response. But if you have a business reason to try it out, why not give it a shot?

Is Web 2.0 Always the Way to Go?

February 9, 2011 4 comments

Just because government is further behind the private sector when it comes to jumping on the Web 2.0 train doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of chatter about getting on board. I’ve heard things like

“We need an app where citizens can take pictures of potholes or graffiti with their camera phone, geotag the location, and have it entered into a maintenance request in real time which then generates a tweet with the work order.”

or

“We need an iPhone app that can play a song of their choice and as it gets closer to their registration renewal date, the song will play faster and faster until they renew their license.”

or

“We want a platform-agnostic, web-based application that can pull public datasets from every agency overlayed on top of a Google maps mashup with an augmented reality iPhone and Android app integrated into a custom Gowalla trip with flickr integration and vote up/vote down capabilities.”

Ok… I’m exaggerating. But my point is, sometimes we get so enamored by the shiny new jewel that we forget about less attractive options that might be just as useful, if not better than the shiny jewels.

More specifically, I’m talking about text messaging, the premier choice of communication for an overwhelming demographic in this day and age. The statistics are so astounding, there’s no need to list them. Just ask a teenager. People like love being able to communicate in quick, asynchronous digital bits, and this is definitely a channel that works well with government communication needs.

an old flip phone

SMS is so simple, even this old flip phone can do it!

Yesterday, I came across an article in the New York Times blog about a service for pregnant women and young mothers that sends text messages with health tips, information, and resources based on their location. What a great idea!

It’s

  • simple,
  • effective,
  • inexpensive,
  • don’t require smartphones,
  • unobstrusive, and
  • completely integrated with normal communication channels.

With all the convenience and benefits of text messaging, why aren’t more government programs getting on board? I’m not saying that nobody uses SMS, but I hear so much more about Twitter, Facebook and other more 2.0 types of tools.

What do you think? Even though it’s not as “shiny” as some other applications, should government use text messaging more often? What are some other examples of highly effective programs taking advantage of this tool?

Categories: eGov Tags: , , ,

Cory Booker is a Hero, but Could He Have Done More?

December 30, 2010 2 comments

Cory Booker (@corybooker), the mayor of Newark, NJ made headlines recently with his heroic efforts to rescue residents from Snowpocalypse one tweet at a time. Whether its delivery diapers, shoveling entryways, or sending snowplows, he stepped out of bureaucracy to come across as a real, caring human being anxious to aid during a time of crisis. With over 1 million followers, his personal and humble approach touched not only those he helped, but everyone who read his updates.

As I read articles praising his use of social media, there is a side of me that can’t help but think why didn’t he do more with Twitter? Not more in the sense of a kid getting upset for only getting 99 train tracks for Christmas instead of 100 … but more as in why he didn’t take advantage of the golden resource at his fingertips?

Cory Booker, like you and me, is just one man that can only be in one place at one time.

But Cory Booker, unlike you and me, has over one million followers on Twitter.

Delivering food to one house makes for a great PR story, but there are thousands in the same situation. With so many followers, he could have mobilized an army of volunteers. Get a message out and have people organize a coordinated effort; don’t just try to take it on by yourself.

To be fair, he did mention dozens of trucks and hundreds of workers, and he did reference volunteers, and he did encourage people to help…but what if he used his 1 million followers, plus the power of the retweet, to organize a network where people can practically and systematically help those around them?

Imagine what could have happened with city employees working alongside local (and very likely non-local) residents, all made possible because of Twitter?

Again, what Cory Booker accomplished was without a doubt, amazing. His use of Twitter was groundbreaking and a big win for Government 2.0. But imagine how powerful Twitter could be in these situations if it’s used to rally an entire community.

That’s one of the core principles of Web 2.0, isn’t it? One person can do a lot, but a community can do so much more?

The Craigslist Effect on Government Transactions

July 13, 2010 2 comments

Over the past decade, government has become very good at putting applications and services online. Visit any state web site and you’ll find hundreds available at your fingertips. However, if you look at the statistics of many applications, such as vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals, adoption rates are still incredibly low.

There really is no point comparing the advantages of going online versus going into a brick and mortar building.  We’ve heard them for so long they’re now clichés:

  • Open 24/7/365!
  • No more waiting in lines!
  • Do business in your pajamas!

Government has every incentive to drive usage to their online applications because it’s stupendously cheaper and more efficient than staffing physical offices. Citizens have every incentive to go online because, well, you can do it in your pajamas. To keep the clichés rolling, sounds like a match made in heaven.

So, the million dollar question that every program manager asks is:

Why aren’t more people going online to conduct government transactions?

Traditional explanations include:

  • Can’t trust the internet: security is always a risk, especially when personally identifiable information is involved
  • Don’t like extra fees: people don’t like paying extra for convenience
  • Digital divide: many people still don’t have access

Yes, these are factors, but they haven’t stopped people from going online to do other kinds of business in the private sector. I’d like to offer another important factor I call the Craigslist effect.

Craigslist continues to be the dominant online community marketplace, despite keeping the same boring 1.0 interface they’ve had since the mid-nineties…. despite adding few functionalities relative to the rest of the online community… despite competition from two of the internet’s biggest players in Facebook and Amazon… Despite it all, Craigslist is still the default service for buying and selling goods and services in your community.

I believe a big reason is because it takes a lot of effort for people to change the way they do things once they’ve been doing it comfortably for a period of time, no matter how attractive a replacement may be. Many people know about going online to renew a driver’s license, but they don’t know exactly how it works or what happens to their information, whereas they know EXACTLY what to expect when they go into an office. In addition, there’s always a learning curve when trying something new, regardless of how intuitive and usable the new system is.

So, once you couple the comfortability of the old with an inexperience of the new, you get another cliché: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’m not a professional researcher and I don’t have tons of empirical evidence to support this idea. And I understand drawing parallels between government and Craigslist is stretching it a bit. But I have talked to a good number of folks and it seems that a common denominator is that they’re fine doing it the way they’ve been doing it, thank you very much.

Even though adoption rates are relatively low now, the numbers will climb steadily as generational habits change. But in the mean time, there will still be plenty of folks lining up at the local government office, just like how there are plenty of folks that continue to use a plain and undecorated marketplace like Craigslist.

What do you think? Are there other significant factors that keep people from doing government business in their pajamas?