Posted tagged ‘Doug Elniski’

Social Media 101 Gov 2.0 – a virtual reality

January 29, 2010

I had an interesting conversation with Doug Elniski, MLA, Edmonton Calder. We spoke about his experiences using social media and reactions he’s witnessed from some of his colleagues within government on the subject. Elniski, in his own straightforward way, suggests that the there’s definitely still resistance within the Government of Alberta. Resistance he describes as mostly coming from what he calls the “bubble in the middle”—those people in government currently not utilizing social media—“essentially waiting to see what happens. The bureaucracy watches and measures the reaction, because people don’t want to subject themselves to criticism or some form of abuse.”
As a place to start and looking to find ways to shift this reality, we expanded on how folks within the “bubble” might not want to be put in a position of testing their values daily and publicly within social media. Elniski added that in government (values) “is probably the thing you get attacked on.” He’s quite at peace with where he stands on the issues and none of this bothers him. I was interviewing him for my upcoming book, due out this spring, on Government 2.0 (Gov 2.0)—a term designed to describe the “open government movement” happening around the world. Our discussion covered opinions regarding the cultural impact of Gov 2.0 inside the Government of Alberta. What has been evident to me for some time is that it will not happen without evangelists on the inside. Even then, our premier will have to see value in doing something in this regard.
What does Gov 2.0 look like and how does it change things? In a personal e-mail exchange for my book, Tim O’Reilly—who coined the term “Web 2.0”—stated that it’s “government as an open and transparent platform, a mechanism for collaborative action.” Not exactly the way many citizens would currently describe their government (at any level) I suspect, and therein lies the opportunity.
Locally, we’re witnessing a move toward “open government” at the City of Edmonton. I spoke with Chris Moore, CIO for the City and head of the I.T. Branch. Moore and his team have gone through a positive transformation and are leading the charge with respect to another core aspect of Gov 2.0: Open Data. On January 13th, the City released a “data catalogue” which provides various types of data in machine-readable format (rather than PDF), so that developers can build interesting solutions for citizens. Also, as part of this initiative, its geographic information systems data (GIS) will soon be released for free to those who need it or would like to develop software applications with it.
I’m aware of new websites and applications already in production with local developers that will impact our quality of life for the better. For example, (shameless plug) fusedlogic’s Route 411 transit application for the iPhone, was launched on January 8th. This application allows for public transit users to identify routes, bus stops and times much more easily than traditional methods. It works with data released from Edmonton, Toronto and, just in time for the Olympics, Vancouver.
Now, here’s why taxpayers will care: The City of Edmonton didn’t spend a dime of taxpayer money to improve the ETS experience by developing Route 411—fusedlogic made the investment. Tax savings is a key benefit to the Open Data concept and why, in part, Councillor Don Iveson has been a strong advocate for Gov 2.0.
Iveson submitted initial questions regarding Open Data to Council last October. I asked him why he put these questions forward to Council. He said, “Fundamentally, it’s about transparency, empowerment and collaboration, and those are superb democratic values. Much of this data we have but we don’t do a good job of sharing it or providing access. There is an imbalance of power between government and citizens, the ‘we-know-better-because-we-have-all-the-facts’ attitude. It can be difficult for citizens to get the facts (data). Also, I think there’s been fear in government about the loss of power when data gets in the hands of people and they won’t know what to do with it.” Iveson concluded, “Let people have the info and make an argument… and, if the argument is wrong, let the process take over…”
There is simply no doubt that Government 2.0 and, by extension Open Data, is the right way to go for all levels of government in terms of direct and indirect benefits to citizens. This being the case, I believe Albertans need to call upon Premier Ed Stelmach and the Government of Alberta to hire a CIO for the province. We need to move government from a “need-to-know” mentality to one of a “need-to-share.” That CIO would coordinate with municipal level officials like Moore, as well as the feds, to bring the Gov 2.0 aspect into policy discussions enterprise-wide.
The result for Albertans would be tax savings, efficiencies for government and citizens alike. Frankly, this isn’t a question of “if” Gov 2.0 is coming. It’s already here. √


Social Media 101

October 30, 2009

101The age of participation proves too scary for some.
Life is unscripted, uncontrolled and unpredictable—yet government in general proceeds under the premise it can control all things. This unfortunate reality resulted in a lost opportunity for many elected officials and civil servants who didn’t attend ChangeCamp Edmonton, an unconference in mid-October at the UofA’s Lister Hall. More than 150 people participated.
Ironically, I was unable to attend due to health, so I relied on real-time information on Twitter for some of the unscripted play-by-play. Chris LaBossiere, a colleague on the organizing committee, was able to provide me with his on-site perspective. “There would have been no better way in Alberta to engage in discussions with citizens yesterday than at ChangeCamp. People contributed easily, and volunteered to lead discussions. The success of the day was based on the individual participants. I was surprised and happy to see such age diversity in the room.” That statement by Chris is supported by pictures posted online. “Many stepped up and pitched new session ideas, we planned 25 and ran 27.”
I asked Chris why he thought more politicians or government employees didn’t attend ChangeCamp. He speculated that “Politicians didn’t see this as an opportunity. They didn’t realize that this wasn’t about talking about the past but talking about change.”
In response to the same question, Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA for Edmonton Centre, said plainly, “You didn’t ask.” This, despite the fact that she and other politicians, including City Councillors Don Iveson and Ben Henderson and Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, were in the room or on the list to attend.
Doug Elniski, PC MLA for Edmonton-Calder, said he was there because “the more I know about social media the better I feel about using it. People in government have created a reluctance to use social media and I think it’s a symptom of a lack of understanding of what it’s all about. There’s still a belief that social media is this interesting novelty, the government infrastructure has not caught up. The speed of it is remarkable. You can’t manage this like an ad in the newspaper, it’s not static.” I couldn’t agree more.
“There’s an old saying in politics,” Doug chuckled. “The loudest thing you hear in politics is the grinding of the axes.” This was his light-hearted response to my query about whether the tone of the discussion changed when he entered the room at ChangeCamp. “Sure the tone changed to some degree, but I focused on listening to what other people had to say. The overall flow of the conversations was really good and, for the most part, people followed the rules of engagement. People were building off of the ideas of others.”
Laura also felt the tone changed with her in the room. “Well, in the first session I attended, I got outed. I made no attempt to engage in the discussion, but was asked direct questions. By the second session, everything was fine.” When asked why she attended ChangeCamp, she replied, “I’m interested in new ways in engaging my constituents. I was there to learn.”
Laurie’s opinion of the unconference structure seemed positive. “It was the self- generated structure, people seemed to be less stressed and approached things with an open mind.”
Arguably, the most interesting perspective was provided by Andrew Knack (who, as I write this, is at City Hall announcing his intent to run for councillor in Ward 1). Andrew came on my radar after he announced on Twitter that ChangeCamp Edmonton had helped to solidify in his mind that he should run for election in 2010.
“When politicians walk in, there’s an aura and perception that they are a little different than the rest. The best thing that I heard were the opinions and ideas that were not my own. I think it’s important to see how ideas can fit within your values. If you’re willing to listen to other people, then the value of an event like ChangeCamp is large. I took a lot away from the event,” explained Andrew. “A lot of the group discussion went back to citizen involvement and getting community leagues involved in the process.”
Personally, I understand why people in government may be afraid of getting into a dialogue about meaningful topics with everyday citizens in an unscripted format. That still doesn’t remove the point that it’s a shame to miss such a terrific opportunity. ChangeCamp Edmonton is just one positive manifestation of citizen engagement… an interesting format that many believe we need to build on.
Folks at all levels of government should realize that despite their fears, citizen influence through the use of social media is growing. Online influence is the new currency and wallets within government will remain empty until politicians and policy-makers engage with the rest of us. √