If you want to know why I volunteer with the Federal Communicators Network, an independent interagency group dedicated to facilitating free training for federal communicators, it's because of emails like this one. I received it in response to an invitation to join our February event:
"I am located in (far from D.C.)...would love the opportunity to participate in more of your events that are available online or via teleconference...however we have a limited training budget so I wanted to make sure there were no costs involved before I sign up."
Our entire mission is to help federal employees (often government employees, or "govies") get the training they need to serve the taxpayer better, in an environment where training budgets are slim to none.
So I say yes it's free, hope you can join us, and receive this response:
"I...have experience in crisis communications following the devastating tornadoes that impacted the state of (far from D.C.). My organization was closed down for a week...employees and their families had been severely impacted...
The person went on:
"Social media was one of the biggest means of communication throughout the impacted area, but my organization did not have Facebook at the time....We do now, and we plan to use it for this very purpose as a result of lessons learned the hard way!"
This is shorthand for "we made mistakes that were unnecessary, and with training we could do better." So I was happy. The topic was relevant, the day was consistent with our other events, it didn't conflict with Toastmasters, the speaker was ready, what could go wrong?
Of course...there was just the minor fact that we had scheduled the event on a Federal holiday. Oh no. Presidents' Day. Yikes.
(See what they mean about crisis management? Own those mistakes, be accountable, turn it into a brand positive...OK, forget it.)
Not only that, but for the first time I had unleashed a tech innovation that involved integrating EventBrite with MailChimp to send a personalized invitation to all of our members. In about five minutes.
Well the speedy aspect of the email worked great but my govie friends very diplomatically held my feet to the fire: "You do realize Feb. 20 is a Federal holiday, right?"
Goodness gracious. It - is - always - something!
I thought of a few quips, like "FCN never sleeps." Obviously that was not an option.
And I didn't want to make a Komen-like PR mistake and delay too long in handling this. Or bother the rest of the Board.
Within the space of an hour the speaker had been reached, event rescheduled, and all was right with the world again.
And at the end of the email was this note from my remote correspondent:
"Glad you changed the date from the Holiday! :)"
From my perspective there is only one obstacle to Gov 2.0 and it isn't money or technology. Rather it is organizational culture.
- Experienced govies: At the one extreme we have a seasoned generation of government employees with strong institutional knowledge but lacking a behavioral model for how to perform in the new system. They lack training, they lack policy, and they lack rewards for thinking outside the box. Not only that, but they are used to the game of "gotcha!" and lack the confidence to make mistakes. Any screwup is a terrifying prospect rather than a part of learning and growth.
- New recruits: On the other extreme we have a new generation impatient to catch up to private-sector best practices and who may have technical knowledge but also lack policy and rewards for innovation. They also lack the entrenched support systems and institutional knowledge that seasoned govies have. They don't know what the rules are, the rules are changing, and it is all very confusing.
- The forgotten middle: A bit lost in the shuffle are folks like me, who have been around for sometime between five years and a decade, who have both the institutional knowledge and the technical skills, and who can see the gap between where we have been and where we need to go. We Gen Xers (broadly speaking) do well autonomously and are skilled at "getting things done," but lack the incredible organizing skills that seasoned govies (Boomers) and new recruits (Gen Y) both have, simply because their default setting is to think in teams.
Right now we have a sort of patchwork situation that I think of as "Gov 1.5." In some parts of government there is much progress, in others there is less so. And a lot of that has to do with the collision between groups each competing to be relevant.
What I learned from yesterday's brief episode was that each one is. What we need to do now is initiate a series of conversations and interpersonal connections between them. Incorporate subject matter expertise, experience, collegiality and diplomacy on the one hand; technology and transparency and crowdsourcing on the other; and the knowledgeable and results-oriented mentality somewhere in between.
If we just work together, the results can be more than we we ever imagined...and well beyond the limited thinking even Gov 2.0 offers us.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
All opinions, as always, are my own. Originally posted to my blog at www.dannielleblumenthal.com.