Tuesday, June 23, 2015

5 Services Every Federal Communicator Ought To Know About

This is a photo collage of the FDA TV Studios.
Below is Proxy, their dummy, which they "rescued from a dumpster" and which is used when they need to block out a shot with a human being but don't have one available.
(If you ever get out there, ask them about the time a delivery person actually thought that Proxy was human and got offended when it didn't say "good morning.")
Proxy is one of those characters you only meet when you physically visit an off-the-beaten-track-type-of-place like FDA TV. If you're a federal employee working in any communications capacity, you will definitely want to know about them and the professional television production services they offer.
Don't be put off by the name. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration owns this facility, but any agency can make use of their services. It's #1 on my list of helpful resources for federal communicators that most probably never even heard of.
Here is #2: the Government Publishing Office, which also serves the federal community with services ranging from web design to logo development as well as the e-publishing for which it's already known.
In my current job, I work with both these entities and here are five things I appreciate about them:
  1. High quality work
  2. High level of customer service
  3. Turns the government into a revenue center rather than a cost center, because when you use these services it's the government paying itself
  4. Reduces wasteful spending and increases accountability because because you're only using the services you need, one task order at a time, rather than "spending against budget"
  5. Promotes development of human capital within the government by eliminating reliance on outside vendors 
Service #3, which is also relatively unknown and completely free (don't ask me why, because I think they could and should charge for it) is Sites by the U.S. General Services Administration. Any federal agency can request a website that is secure and reliably hosted. I am also in the process of transitioning two websites to this service.
Of course there is always the issue of how to to get human help. For this there is service #4 on my list, Open Opportunities, a program from the U.S. General Services Administration that allows federal employees to sign up for any number of short-term tasks with supervisory approval.
As someone who learns by doing and not reading, and also as someone who appreciates the importance of constant training, I can't think of a more win-win solution to the problem of highly motivated but underutilized employees with time on their hands whose skills are not up to date.
(Here's a blog post I wrote about my own use of the program as well as a video endorsing it.)
Not to mention that working with other feds has helped me to grow my own skills in communication, remote collaboration, management, leadership, and so on. Or that the program has led to the development of an interagency community of practice around my program in particular.
My own professional network serves to amplify and reinforce the ones that already exist in multiple areas of expertise. These are also free to federal communicators, and their offerings include:
  • Challenges and Prizes
  • Government Contact Center Council
  • Mobile Gov Community of Practice
  • Multilingual Digital Group
  • Social Media Community of Practice
  • User Experience Community
  • Web Content Manager’s Forum
Feds can sign up any of the above here. Or check out another free resource for professional networking: the Federal Communicator's Network. (There is also the National Association of Government Communicators, for which membership rates are reasonable.)
Back to services: #5 on my list, another little-known channel through which federal agencies can obtain free support while engaging the public in their missions, is the U.S. State Department's Virtual Student Foreign Service program. It allows college students to participate in any number of federal government initiatives from remote locations.
I began using VSFS while at USAID, and wound up with seven remote interns, who produced everything from reference websites to new recruit training videos and a heck of a lot more.
It should be noted that these employee development programs are inherently creative and focused on mentoring people. A lot of what you get will stay on the cutting room floor.
But that's still good for the government as far as I am concerned, because morale goes up, engagement goes up and the knowledge and skill level of all participants goes up as well. And when you do get something good, it's explosively and extraordinarily good - something you could never have thought of on your own.
And you get to see your colleagues go on to success and leadership roles in their own right. Which is beautiful.
I could go on and on for days; there is literally is so much more available only for the asking. DigitalGov, for example, has tons of free training available at any given time. The limit is really only your desire to learn.
As a brand person I understand that a lot of people are skeptical. They've been taught that government is inherently inefficient. And they believe that anything free must inherently be of inferior quality.
But as any venture capitalist will tell you, there is equity in buying and then promoting undervalued properties.
This short post is my way of shining a spotlight on what works about the government. So that in five years, shared interagency services and a cadre of highly-trained, nimble and strategic cross-agency communication providers have become the normal way of doing our business. And people routinely remark to one other: "I don't know how we ever got anything done before."

All opinions my own. This post is not written on behalf of any agency or the federal government as a whole. Photos by me.