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Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark

Posted: September 21, 2009 10:00 AM

Here Comes Gov 2.0 -- and a New Generation of Federal Workers

What's Your Reaction?

Hey, this is Gov 2.0, not what you're expecting from federal workers, and there's hardly any press regarding any of it. There's new excitement among Federal civil servants. They've been seriously empowered to do their job, they've been told their jobs really matter, which is something they haven't heard for years. Top leadership is genuinely supportive of good public service. Result: a lot happening, beginning to deliver way better levels of public service.

(I observe that all this applies to staffers in state and local government, but I've spent most of my time talking to Washington-based folks.)

What's old?

For years government workers were told that "government is the problem," that their work didn't matter, that "I'm from Washington and I'm here to help" is a joke.

Used to be that public servants heard from the public and Administration that their jobs mattered, that they were really there to serve the public, they'd do their jobs well, that they were part of something much bigger than themselves.

This was the spirit of the Kennedy Camelot thing, and the New Deal, and the World War II "civic generation."

What's new?

The value of public service, of working together for the common good, has been affirmed from a lot of places:

  • Internet culture, particularly social media, is much about working together for mutual benefit, and that attitude has strongly affected government workers.
  • top leadership is serious about the value of service, and shows that support in effective ways.
  • Our common spiritual background emphasizes the value of service to others, and we've been reminded that now and then, we really should be "our brother's keeper."

I'm a libertarian pragmatist, preferring decentralized solutions. Those solutions should actually solve problems, getting stuff done, easing the suffering of one's neighbors. If the market fails, let's see if private/public partnership or a governmental solution works.

I've spent a lot of time talking to Federal staffers, mostly Internet workers, talking a lot in person, and a lot virtually in places including

The feedback is consistent, that they're excited about the new message. They feel they're part of something bigger than themselves, and that they have buy-in and support from top leadership, that now it's cool to do their jobs and do it well.

Specifically, they feel the the President has their back. There's still obstacles to overcome, the same obstacles you find in all organizations, like organizational politics and turf issues.

Bottom line? Staffers are starting to fix things from the grassroots up, and getting concrete help from the Federal IT Dashboard, which shows everyone what works and what doesn't work.

More importantly, different agencies are building internal innovation sites. The deal is that that often line workers know what's going on, and how to improve it, in ways that leadership never sees. These internal sites are like suggestion boxes with serious force amplifiers. Everyone gets involved with improving the suggestions.

I've seen what the State Department and Veterans Administration are getting done with these; the challenge will be too many good ideas.

Memo to department/agency heads and managers

Can I ask you to give your folks a break? They're already using social media to improve your organization, and to serve the public better. It's already happening, and will make your life easier. You used to worry about email the same way. (Yes, I know about security and privacy issues, already talking to people about it.)

Here's the deal

Not that hard to figure, it's that Federal workers have already started making our government work better, and saving money in doing so. It's no surprise, we all know what a better fighting spirit can do for an organization.

Staffers see that their work matters.

The challenge will be to get the word out regarding these efforts, so that other workers will see how they can work with management to get more done. These workers are already using social media to spread the new word of public service.

That is, government staffers affirm the value of their work to each other.

It's up to citizens like us to do the same thing.


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