Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

Why blog? And welcome to another government CIO blogger: GSA’s Casey Coleman

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GSA CIO Casey Coleman

GSA CIO Casey Coleman

A big DorobekInsider high-five to another government CIO blogger — GSA CIO Casey Coleman, who last month (somewhat quietly) launched her new public blog, Around the Corner, which can be found at She joins Navy CIO Rob Carey, the first CIO to have a public blog, and NASA Goddard CIO Linda Cureton. Both Cureton and Coleman are also on the microblogging site Twitter, and they are both on Facebook — Cureton and Coleman. (Former Transportation Department CIO Dan Mintz is also on Twitter and Facebook. and former EPA CIO Molly O’Neill was a contributer to EPA’s Greenversations blog. And Cureton was one of NetworkWorld’s 12 CIOs who Twitter.)

Why does this matter? I actually think that blogs — and mostly likely Twitter as well — are transitive technologies. I would doubt that in 10 years, we’re talking about blogs. But they will lead and evolve into something else. But for now, they are tools that can improve communication, improve transparency, and improve real accountability — not the accountability-in-name-only that gets tossed around Washington. And, in government, this isn’t as easy as one would think. Former EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock was actually the first government official to post to a public blog. When I spoke to him on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris recently — and EPA insiders have confirmed — that there was a lot of push-back. There were questions about why one would do this… about the questions that might come from it… what if — shock — people sent comments. And you can hear similar stories from TSA officials regarding its Evolution of Security blog. But I think if you talk to any of the government bloggers — and I have — they have learned a whole bunch. Earlier this month at the AFCEA Bethesda breakfast about government 2.0, Carey said his blog allows him to open a conversation. While he said he doesn’t get nearly as many comments as he hoped — they have a clunky comment process because of government rules — he said that the blog lets him share thoughts and ideas. (I think Carey’s first step was important enough that I nominated him for a Fed 100 award.)

Cureton as an example

One of the best examples of how to effectively use a blog is the Cureton NASA Goddard CIO blog. In fact, wrote a very thoughtful blog post about blogging that spured me to invite her on to Federal News Radio 1500 AM. And Cureton clearly uses her blog as a way of thinking about issues in a very public — and very transparent — way. Again — my definition of Web 2.0: These are merely tools that tap into the theory that all of us are smarter then each of us individually. They tap into the theory that information is power — and that shared information becomes exponentially more valuable when it is shared. So Cureton thinks about issues and problems — and decisions that might otherwise seem out of the blue are suddenly clear… there can be buy-in… and it makes our decisions very human. Transparency and accountability — and, I would argue, leadership — require courage. It takes intestinal fortitude to step out and make your ideas very public. People can disagree — and there is still the ‘got ya’ culture out there. So I give these leaders a lot of credit. Carey and Cureton are demonstrating that this tool can be an important part of leadership.

Back in May 2008 at FCW when I was the FCW Insider, I offered my tips to bloggers. I’m in the process of updating it — more lessons learned in the past year — but… you can read the post here.

I’ll point to one other post about the blogging process itself — and this is a post from Coleman on the FedScoop blog. In the post, she talks about the internal-to-GSA blog that she has been using for more than a year:

So almost a year and a half later, how well have we met those objectives? The GSA CIO Blog has proven to be a real success story. It is a source used across my organization for reliable information on what is happening at senior management levels and foster continuing education on emerging technologies and management and leadership issues. It has a robust readership, and interest continues to grow. I will also measure its effectiveness when we receive our employee engagement survey results soon, to see if OCIO employee satisfaction has risen due to the blog.

Read the full item here on the FedScoop blog.

I have been urging Coleman to make the internal GSA blog public for some time, but that would change the nature of that environment. Instead, she now has a public blog, Around the Corner: Innovation in the Business of Government: A One GSA, One Voice Blog.

In the meantime… Congratulations to Casey Coleman… and we’re going to have her on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris next week to talk about this big step.

After the break, read Coleman’s first post from her new public blog.

Coleman’s first blog post explaining the blog and the name… from Dec. 11, 2008.

Around The Corner: Innovation in the Business of Government [12.11.2008]

Around the Corner. This simple, familiar phrase embodies a healthy curiosity about what we assume to know, or not know, as we go about our business each day. Of course the image of someone peering around a corner, a place where one can’t see without some effort, connotes a willingness to challenge one’s assumptions, explore something new, or discover something unknown. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, tells the story that because of limitations in travel, early European society assumed all swans were white only to find a black swan when travel to Australia became available. Taleb says “One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and I am told, quite ugly) black bird.” Following Taleb’s example, here at Around the Corner we’ll assume there’s a black swan around every corner that we haven’t yet seen.

I’ll start by writing about innovation here regularly. My purpose is not to position myself as an expert, but to establish a dialogue. Why a dialogue? At GSA, we specialize in the business of government, and I am very interested in exploring how innovations in the world of technology can help us perform our mission better. So, to start the dialogue, I’ll cite a well accepted definition of innovation from Leucke and Katz’s Managing Creativity and Innovation, a Harvard Business School publication, which reads “Innovation . . . is generally understood as the successful introduction of a new thing or method . . . Innovation is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.”

What may surprise some is that innovation is not invention. Invention is about creating something new; innovation is about making use of something in a new way. My friend and colleague Linda Cureton, in her post called Learning from the Luddites, raises three useful points about innovation in Federal agencies: 1) leaders should embrace innovation, 2) risk should be managed and 3) a framework should be established to ensure ROI. Of course NASA’s mission has a strong dependence on engineering and basic research, while GSA plays an important role in developing new policies and incubating new programs that have the potential for governmentwide application..

Excellence in the business of government means leveraging the buying power of the Federal government to acquire best value for taxpayers and our Federal customers. Innovation is one of the key enablers to performing this mission better. I’m optimistic that today’s wave of innovation represents an opportunity to increase both transparency and efficiency among stakeholders and across Federal agencies. And I’m confident the opportunity to innovate is no stronger anywhere than it is here at GSA.

Read Coleman’s Around the Corner blog here.

Written by cdorobek

January 23, 2009 at 8:57 AM

Posted in Government 2.0, GSA, Web 2.0

One Response

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  1. I don’t know that blogs will be obsolete that quickly as much as I expect them to evolve and be used for different tasks. That’s what makes this transition period so exciting. Things are changing relatively quickly and unpredictably. That scares some people but it shouldn’t. Most of my contemporaries who join Facebook to keep tabs on their kids eventually find that it isn’t a bad way to communicate with people they know and next thing you know they start complaining about it’s limitations. That’s what will keep pushing improvement.


    January 23, 2009 at 6:20 PM

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