Posts Tagged ‘egov’

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?


Angry Birds Pummel Pigs, Understand Collaboration

June 9, 2011 2 comments

By now, most people are familiar with Angry Birds, the simple trajectory-based mobile game about birds that can’t fly crashing into green pigs with mustaches and helmets. This game is so incredibly popular that it made the Guinness World Records for being the most downloaded paid app in most countries across the globe. There were over 30 million downloads worldwide, with over 10 million on an Apple device, and over 7 million on Android. According to Rovio Mobile, the creators of Angry Birds , an average of 65 million minutes of Angry Birds are being played every day just on an iOS device.

But that’s not what this post is about. I’d like to focus on another area where Rovio Mobile excels: collaboration.


Angry Birds picture


There are at least four ways where Rovio Mobile teaches us about the art of collaboration. This is a concept we strive for in government, but there are often barriers that keep us from achieving it in an effective manner. The examples below aren’t things that government can replicate, but they do show an inspiring level of creativity and innovation, turning seemingly far-fetched partnerships into relationships that simply make sense.

1. Collaborate with the entertainment industry – Rio the Movie

What does a simple game about birds sling-shotting themselves at green pigs have to do with an animated film about rare macaws getting kidnapped by exotic bird smugglers? Besides feathers, not much. But Rovio Mobile was creative enough to merge the two plotlines into Angry Birds Rio, a re-invention of the game replacing the snorting pigs with caged exotic birds. The creators were able to create a new theme filled with new challenges without compromising the playability of the original concept.

This was a big win for both Angry Birds and Rio the movie, allowing Rovio Mobile to crank out a new reason for fans to throw another $0.99 at the company.

2. Collaborate with the advertising industry – Microsoft Bing

Another shrewd move by Rovio Mobile was to create four short YouTube episodes cleverly integrating Microsoft Bing’s search engine into a retelling of the Angry Birds story. In the first episode, the hungry pigs pull out a smart phone and use Bing to search “how to get eggs.” In episode two, the pigs use Bing to map the location of the eggs. In episode three, the birds counter with a search of their own. And the last episode has a brilliant ending (no spoilers here).

This was definitely a win for both parties because Rovio Mobile was able to introduce a new element into the simple plot, adding enough of a twist to warrant a new video without appearing redundant.

3. Collaborate with the philanthropic industry – BirdLife International

On a blog post in April, Rovio Mobile gave a plug for BirdLife International, a group founded to save the world’s most threatened birds from extinction. Rovio Mobile showed its philanthropic side, promoting awareness of a group dedicated to the conservation of birds, habitats and biodiversity. This was definitely a good PR move, getting hundreds of Likes and positive comments on its blog post.

And for bonus points, Rovio Mobile left a clue on BirdLife’s website for a secret level to be revealed in an Angry Bird update. This definitely got fans excited to browse through BirdLife’s website, digging for the Easter egg.

4. Collaborate with the smartphone industry – Nokia N8 smarthphone

Rovio Mobile partnered with fellow Finnish company Nokia to promote the new N8 smartphone by holding an Angry Birds contest to be played on the new device. The events were a huge success, drawing over 2600 players with 32 finalists. The winner was a 19 year old student who received a new Nokia N8 smartphone and a trip to Hollywood to visit Fox studios, the producers of Rio the Movie.

This was indeed a win for both parties, mobilizing their dedicated Finnish fan base while promoting a new device for a company who desperately needed a boost in the smartphone market.


Through these examples, Rovio Mobile displayed creative ingenuity to form incredibly powerful and profitable partnerships with organizations with not much more than feathers in common (except the Nokia example). Again, I’m not saying this is something we can reproduce in government, but this does inspire me to think outside the box and look for collaborative opportunities that benefit all stakeholders.

Are App Contests Sustainable?

May 23, 2011 2 comments

On May 2, Government Technology published a great article called Apps Contest Winners Need Better Government Data to Sustain Innovative Services. It was a very well-written article about the challenges of sustaining the make-data-available-for- private-sector-innovators model.

By now, many of us are aware of events like Apps for Democracy, an app developing contest in Washington DC that yielded $2.3 million worth of applications at a cost of $50,000. These events have been highly successful because:

Government wins by

  • getting applications developed for free
  • building positive relationship with development community
  • gaining a PR win from the public for being innovative and transparent

Development Community wins by

  • Competing for cash prizes
  • getting their name out and showcasing their talents on a public stage

Public wins by

  • obtaining many applications to help them engage with government
  • gaining transparency into government

There’s no doubt valuable apps emerge from these contests, but what happens after the novelty of the contest wears off? This can’t be just a once and for all event, then everyone goes home and things revert back to the way they were. How do you sustain the viability of this relationship so value is still being created in the long term?

Before answering this question, there are several challenges that must be addressed:

1. Who is going to maintain these apps?

The GovTech article mentions that most of these apps don’t get updated after its release because government lacks the resources and developers lack the motivation. It doesn’t make sense for developers to keep playing if they can’t generate revenue and it’s very difficult to monetize off of apps given to the public.

2. How do we get through the “valley of disinterest”?

Former DC CTO Bryan Sivak believes open data has lost some of its luster from a few years ago, dropping from the “peak of inflated expectation” to the “valley of disinterest.” Now that the hype has subsided, are we still interested in this type of model?

3. Not enough data is being offered by government

Daniel Odio, CEO of a mobile Web consulting firm, envisions “dazzling possibilities for private-sector mash-ups… but doesn’t think enough open data is offered.” Ideally, data should be delivered to the public before they have to ask for it, but we’re still a long ways off from realizing that potential.

4. There’s a lot of “dirty data” out there

The article also cites a common frustration among developers trying to work with sloppy, inaccurate or unreliable data. A lot of times agencies are just pushing data out for data’s sake, and if it’s not carefully inspected for accuracy or if it’s not in a usable format, then developers can’t do much with it.

I’d like to add a few more challenges to this list

5. Cultural shift required

Technologically speaking, making data available is easy. There are plenty of tools available to help government push out data in formats that can be easily consumed by the public. The bigger challenge tends to be cultural. It requires a shift in the way government thinks about their data, and there are still a lot of agencies who aren’t ready for this shift.

6. People want quality, not quantity

It makes great PR to brag about hundreds of apps being developed with open data, but how many of them would actually be used by the public? Do we as consumers really want 52 apps telling us where the nearby bus stops are? Sure, it’s not up to government to decide what’s valuable or not, but if you get 300 apps from a contest and only a handful get used, the value of your efforts might be a bit overstated.

7. Can the networks support it?

One of the most frustrating things for a mobile user is to open up an app and wait and wait and wait. Carriers are promoting 4G, but many people don’t have devices that make it worth their time and battery life. For now, 3G is still predominant and if you have a data intensive app, waiting too long is one of the fastest ways to lose interested users.

8.  Are we creating the next wave of the digital divide?

Smartphones are increasing exponentially, but the overall market share of iOS, Android and Blackberry devices is still a minority. Obviously, certain demographics are adopting smartphones at a much faster rate than others, so if government is offering innovative ways to access data that can only be experienced by certain demographics, are we essentially creating a new digital divide?

In the long term, I think the general idea of open data with private partnerships is sustainable, but maybe not in the form of contests. It would have to be a concerted effort with long term incentives for all stakeholders involved. The challenges will make it more difficult, but if true value is being created, the benefits can overcome these challenges.

#DonationFAIL! Why Bing Got Blasted and What Gov Can Learn

March 24, 2011 2 comments

In the wake of the recent disasters in Japan, many organizations used Twitter to raise donations for the relief effort overseas. However, Microsoft’s Bing pledged $100,000 and received a lot of criticism for their generous pledge.

On March 12, Bing tweeted “How can you #SupportJapan? For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Some may think it’s a clever way to engage users and make pledging more interactive. But Bing also received backlash from people accusing them of exploiting the tragedy to market itself and hijacking the #SupportJapan hashtag.

How so? Every time you retweet their message, you are mentioning Microsoft’s brand, promoting and expanding their reach to your followers, who might retweet to their followers, and on and on. If they  wanted to donate the money, then just donate the money. By turning this into a modern day digital bite-sized email chain letter (remember those?), they came across as opportunistic and self-promoting during a time of tragedy.

Furthermore, users who search the #SupportJapan hashtag hoping to get real-time updates on the disastrous situation will get intermittent tweets of Bing’s donation solicitation; not exactly what information-starved people are looking to consume.

Microsoft quickly apologized, but the damage was done.


What can government learn from this PR debacle?

1)      It’s not all about you

Nobody likes shameless promoters, people who focus too much on pushing their brand across.

This is a simple lesson that might not be easy to grasp. From our insider’s perspective, we’re just trying to figure out ways to make our information relevant and useful in the social media universe. And especially for agencies starting out on Twitter, they’ll have to push their names out just to build up their follower base.

But put yourself in the shoes of a recipient. Would you rather see an Education Agency tweet about all the activities they’re doing to improve school systems, or would you rather see “check out my homepage. Follow us here.”

The lesson is not “don’t talk about yourself,” but “don’t put yourself above the important services you provide.”


2)      Social media can be abused, so learn the proper etiquette

I’m sure Microsoft had good intentions and wasn’t trying to be opportunistic like Kenneth Cole was, but users are smart and can sniff out the perception of a hidden agenda.

Learn the culture and etiquette, which isn’t easy either, since it keeps evolving. I did a generic search for “Twitter etiquette” and the top responses weren’t completely up to date. But the more you participate and follow the influencers on Twitter, the more you naturally learn the rules of engagement.

It’s not likely that most agencies will experience the kind of backlash that Microsoft experienced, but it’s still good to keep in mind the lessons we can learn from other peoples’ failures.


What Can Government Learn from a Cell Phone?

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

More and more government agencies are jumping on the social media bandwagon, but not all are starting with a social media policy. Some simply go forth and facebook, not realizing the ramifications of generating official information on a third party website. Are social media policies really needed?


I’d like to use an analogy to illustrate the importance.

According to Wikipedia, the first handheld mobile phone call was placed in 1973, but cell phones did not gain widespread adoption until 25 years later. What took so long?

One significant reason was the need for other technical and functional requirements to make the phone usable in a practical way.

Requirements like:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Cost
  • Network
  • Battery

If the phone was too big and heavy, it wouldn’t work. If the cost was too high, it wouldn’t work. If the network was unreliable, couldn’t work. If the battery life… you get the point.

The mobile phone industry had to wait for these other technologies to mature; only then could the cell phone gain traction in the mainstream marketplace. It’s not just about developing a wireless phone… it’s also about making all these other elements work together to make the phone truly mobile.

In the same way, when we talk about social media for government, there are functional and technical requirements that need to be developed in order for social media to be successful. As government entities, we have legislative requirements regarding official state information being posted on a website. As government employees, we are held to a higher standard of conduct, even on our personal time. As government agencies, there is a higher expectation of transparency and accessibility of information. And on and on.

Requirements like accessibility, record retention, security, privacy, acceptable use, etc. definitely apply to content being generated on social networking sites, and if you don’t have a policy to take care of these items, I’m not sure how your social media initiative can be successful and sustainable.

The good news is over the years, agencies have figured out how to address the requirements to be compliant, which vary across states and levels of government. There are many examples of successful and innovative social media initiatives in government emerging across the world.

If you need examples, check out

Policies aren’t just for appeasing your legal counsel. They describe how the critical technical and functional requirements will be met as a government entity. If you have a presence on social networking sites and don’t have a policy yet, please consider forming one quickly.

Categories: Social Media Tags: , , ,

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.”


“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.”


“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!


  • 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: , , ,

Presentation from the Tx Gov 2.0 Camp on 1/28/2011

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

On Friday 1/28, I had the opportunity to present with Dustin Haisler at the Texas Gov 2.0 Camp in Austin, TX. Our session was about transparency in government, and I talked about DIR’s Biennial Performance Report from last November.

You can access the presentation by clicking on the image below.

Transparency and the Performance Report PowerPoint title screen shot