Change I Believe In
By Rich Robbins
In the new age of digital communications – what I call the “Age of Empowerment” – consumers and citizens expect to be able to use connective technologies to directly connect with, and have meaningful interaction with, corporations, non-profits and government.
Nonetheless, far too many large organizations cling to the Old World. While many have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, they use them mainly for one-way broadcasting of marketing messages or to try to silence upset customers or constituents. Very few are willing to cede power by inviting the public to play an active role in suggesting new approaches, setting direction or innovating on their behalf. And virtually no large organization is comfortable releasing data sets, even when stripped of personal information.
So, when I heard White House New Media Director, Macon Phillips, and Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer (and now U.S. CTO) Todd Park talk at SXSW about their work to use technology to transform the federal government, it was refreshing.
With the “We the People” petition platform, the White House New Media Team has provided a forum for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard and to get responses from the White House on issues that might otherwise not be on the agenda. The White House has committed to respond to any citizen movement that is able to generate 25,000 signatures, a relatively small number given that the US population is over 311 million.
The incoming U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park gave an enthusiastic talk of how he used “lean startup” methods he learned in building athenahealth into a billion dollar business to transform the Department of Health and Human Services. He compelled all HHS agencies to develop a “data liberation plan,” with the expectation that private-sector businesses would emerge and leverage these data. He also organized “datathons” (dubbed the “Health Datapalooza”) to attract developers to build apps using these publicly available data.
In Park’s mind, there’s no shortage of talent within the federal government. What we need are leaders who give permission to execute ideas. At HHS, Park encouraged employees to experiment and innovate. Most telling was Phillips’ and Park’s eagerness to collaborate with the SXSW community. I’m impressed that they posted their personal email addresses and invited the community to share ideas and help.
Given the enormous challenges that the Obama Administration faces in bringing change to a system with entrenched interests that fight to maintain the status quo, it is particularly refreshing to see the excitement, energy and results being brought by Phillips and Park.
Of course there are legitimate complaints, and there’s more that could be done. For one, I think President Obama has missed an opportunity to make better personal use of social media. No doubt the demands on his time are infinite and it’s easy to say “he should be worried about a nuclear Iran and not spending time on Facebook.” But with over 25 million “likes” on Facebook and over 13 million followers on Twitter (and many others who would also be reached), he could use social media in the same way that FDR used radio to build a new and exciting personal connection with the American public.
Yet overall, while government can often be bureaucratic and the last to adapt to new technologies, the work that Phillips and Park are doing is a great example of a “below the radar” way the Obama administration is working to fundamentally change the way government functions.
What We Believe
Hotspot believes that new technologies make the communications environment for campaigns more competitive than ever before and that to effectively engage in this environment requires a knowledge and understanding of the powerful tools that these new technologies make available.
More importantly, Hotspot believes in the importance of strategy to effectively deploy those tools in the pursuit of campaign goals, such as clarity of message and effective targeting.