Here’s One Government Official Leading the Charge on Social Networking

The hitch is, he’s got a way bigger budget than Bud Harris, Kitsap County’s director of information technology, who recently reaffirmed his message of caution on mixing social networking with government.

Bill Schrier, chief technology officer for the City of Seattle, on the other hand, openly embraces new media. Schrier, who writes the Chief Seattle Geek blog, in a recent entry discussed the concept of an “open city,” in which information is shared via the Internet, now accessible 24/7 via laptop and desktop computers, as well as Blackberries, iPhones, cell phones etc.

Schrier writes:

“The theme is consistent: city governments, by opening their information, their data, their engagement processes, can generate a wealth of new ideas and understandings which make them more efficient and effective, and more robust, exciting places, with improved quality of life.

The old model, used for 250 years or more, is for a City is to collect as much data as possible about problems, its responses, services it provides and the general city environment. Then the typical city hires analysts or consultants – experts, if you will – to pore over the data and discern patterns. These experts then make recommendations for policy, action or changes.”

Schrier writes of applications that allow for public discussion of ideas and ranking of concepts through a “public engagement portal.” His department uses a model, Ideas for Seattle, that allows for some limited input online from people, and he hopes to see that concept expanded. Other governments are working on similar programs.

Pursuing this technology will provide a better community process than what Schrier calls “death-by-PowerPoint presentations and long lines of people trooping up to the microphone to give their 2 minute NIMBY mini-speeches,” he said.

Fourteen departments within the city, including police and fire, have blogs, and the city uses Twitter to communicate in “almost real time” about traffic tie ups and such. There’s also, for example, an arts blog to reach a “targeted community.”

The blogs link together on a single page. The city’s policy on social networking assures uniformity in how social media are employed and makes sure its use actually meets constituents’ needs, Schrier said. Public comments on blogs is limited, however. If a department wants to allow comments, they have to be moderated and approved before they’re put up. People who want to make comments can fill out a form on the Web site.

In today’s story on kitsapsun.com, Harris said he’s not against social networking, but, given the county’s budget struggles and his department’s own full plate, he lacks the resources to develop policy and software to cover the county on both free speech and open records issues. In Kitsap County, the public already can comment via e-mail or sign up for listservs from given departments, said Harris.

In fairness to Harris and his department, Schrier is working with a much larger budget, $57 million, about 70 percent of Kitsap’s total 2010 budget, and he has 205 employees.

One thought on “Here’s One Government Official Leading the Charge on Social Networking

  1. With all of the ‘FREE’ social media tools that are available today, you don’t need a huge budget to launch a successful social media strategy. However, if someone is having a hard enough time just keeping up on their e-mail, they’re probably not the best candidate for utilizing additional technologies!….

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