Home / Gov 2.0 Expo: Introduction to Government Social Publishing with Drupal

Gov 2.0 Expo: Introduction to Government Social Publishing with Drupal

On Tuesday, May 25th, 2009 from 9AM to 10:30AM I will presenting a session on Introduction to Government Social Publishing with Drupal. I'll be covering the basics of the rise of social publishing from commenting through micro-blogging. This session is targeted at both new Drupal users and experienced Drupal users who want to learn how Drupal is being used across several US government agencies. I will also address the adoption of Drupal for national government websites as demonstrated in this slide show.

I will be addressing some of the specific challenges the US Government agencies have when trying to add social publishing features to their websites.

Open Government: openness, transparency, and collaboration

One of the first memo's released by the Obama administration was the Transparency and Open Government memorandum. The memo provided the direction needed to government employees to not get stuck at the first roadblock they encountered when trying to make government more participatory and collaborative. The memo did not include additional funding to implement the open government directive which meant that agencies had to get creative about how they could implement these directives. The search for efficiency meant that open source software immediately became a contender in any technical solutions to address open government.

Creating a two way conversation

For 140 years, the Federal Printing office has kept Americans informed with government information. The best known publication is the Federal register. However, when it's come to moving from one way conversations to two way conversations the costs to communicate directly between agencies and individual citizens has been prohibitive in many cases. With the introduction of social publishing the cost of creating an online dialogue is now practical. See the image below that addresses how Americans are interacting online with their government.

graph of how americans interact with the government online

US Government Web Content Guidelines

The US Government faces unique challenges that can act as road blocks to social publishing. These include:

  • Paper Work Reduction Act, which has restrictions about collecting information from more than 10 people. These are being re-interpreted in the context of the open government initiative.
  • Cookies policy makes it challenging to have authenticated users navigate a site and interact with it including publishing content in a social context.
  • Restrictions on comments can prevent comments from having personally identifiable information, or collection of too much information during comment submission. This can make following a comment dialogue challenging for people reading the discussion.
  • Cultural challenges are present and not all public service employees are comfortable in this new social form of engagement with the public. It will take time for social publishing to take roots in the culture of the federal government.
  • Changing the tone of content to be personal can also be a challenge. Many public affairs and new media offices are addressing how to allow their official communications via a blog, or microblog have the social context needed to work in these new mediums.

While these unique challenges exist, many agencies are navigating around these road blocks and I will discuss how different agencies are at the forefront of these changes.

In order to help navigate some of these issues the Federal Web Managers Council manages Webcontent.gov which is a great guide for people who publish government web sites.

Rapid deployment of social publishing

In many cases the driving forces for social publishing for government sites are the agency new media department and the public affairs office. They want to be able to communicate quickly, and respond in the context in which their communications were presented. It's critical to allow for commenting directly on content, so that if there needs to be clarifications or updates they can be quickly acknowledged in the right context.

These changes in web publishing technology and use of social publishing mediums may carry stigma's that effect their adoption within government. People within agencies may be concerned that social applications have security and privacy implications and these concerns need to be heard and addressed deliberately.

Agencies may also want make their website more useful and help people find the information they are looking for on a website. However, privacy concerns can make it hard to track web site usage without cookies and adapt the site to provide a better user experience.

Drupal provides many of these social features and makes it easy to implement site improvements.

Getting to know public service employees

In my experience, and many of the people I talk to, government employees are personally committed to public service. However, due to the political process and unique challenges the government must operate in public service employees can get a bad reputation. Social publishing is opening up an opportunity for pubic service employees to have a visible public dialogue with citizens that can change the perception of both the people who work in government and the government itself.

Quickly deploy a federal website with social features

To ensure that everyone get's properly introduced to Drupal we will conduct a brief demo of Drupal, and help people get Drupal installed locally on their laptop or get a free hosted Drupal Gardens site which they can later export.

Special agency guests

To help with this introduction to Drupal I've invited several Drupal users from government to talk about their experiences using Drupal for their agencies. We are working to get final sign-off on their participation on Monday. The Drupal Government users group has now surpassed over 100 users and so we are expecting a great turn out with an exciting question and answer period.