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Using Social Media to Enhance Civic Engagement in U.S. Federal Agencies

This report was created by Yasmin Fodil and Anna York for their Harvard Kennedy School masters thesis, and looks at the use of social media to enhance civic participation in the United States and the United Kingdom in order to make recommendations to U.S. federal agencies on how to move forward.

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Using Social Media to Increase Civic Engagement in U.S. Federal Agencies<br />A Report for the Federal Communication Commission’s Broadband Taskforce, Civic Engagement Team<br />Prepared By Yasmin Fodil & Anna YorkMaster of Public Policy Candidates, May 2010Harvard Kennedy School of Government <br />Archon Fung, Academic AdvisorFord Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship, Harvard Kennedy School of GovernmentAsh Center for Democratic GovernanceCo-Director, Transparency Policy Project<br />Mayor Bill Purcell, PAC Seminar Leader Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of GovernmentDirector, Institute of Politics<br />MARCH 2010<br />ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS<br />We would like to thank Kevin Bennett of the Federal Communication Commission’s Broadband Taskforce, without whose dedication and helpful direction this project would not have been possible.<br />Our advisors, Professor Archon Fung and Mayor Bill Purcell were always encouraging and patient throughout this process, and provided helpful feedback during the year. Julie Wilson and Jee Baum were also generous in their assistance as we developed our methodological approach.<br />We would especially like to thank those practitioners in the field who took the time to speak with us at length about their experiences in online engagement. Several also generously helped us make contact with others – in particular Justin Kerr-Stevens, Steve Ressler, Dominic Campbell and Jeffrey Levy gave us great assistance in this regard. <br />Finally we are grateful to the Ash Institute at the Harvard Kennedy School for providing the financial support for our research.<br />We hope you enjoy our work! <br />CONTENTS<br />Executive Summaryi<br />Introduction1<br />Methodology4<br />findings7<br />Review of the Literature7<br />The Opportunity15<br />A Citizen-Centered Framework19<br />System-Level Findings20<br />Agency-Level Findings26<br />Project-Level Findings31<br />Citizen-Level Findings35<br />Recommendations38<br />System-Level Recommendations38<br />Agency-Level Recommendations38<br />Project-Level Recommendations39<br />Citizen-Level Recommendations40<br />Conclusion40<br />Bibliography41<br />AppendicesI<br />Appendix A: Open Government DirectiveII<br />Appendix B: National Broadband Plan MandateVIII<br />Appendix C: List of IntervieweesXI<br />Appendix D: U.S. Interview ProtocolX<br />Appendix E: U.K. Interview ProtocolXII<br />Appendix F: Mapping Online Engagement                                                                                                                   XIII <br />Appendix G: GuidanceXVI<br />Digital Engagement Readiness GuideXVII<br />Digital Engagement Strategy PlannerXVIII<br />Using Social Media to Enhance Civic Participation the 2.0 WayXIX<br />Roles in Digital Engagement ProjectsXX<br />Appendix H: Findings and Recommendations Summary TableXXI<br />Appendix I: Recommendations in ActionXXIV<br />EndnotesA<br />EXECUTIVE SUMMARY<br />Civic engagement is a critical element of our democratic process. It has many potential benefits for public policy professionals, including:<br />,[object Object]
increasing the capacity of a society to understand the decision making process in government to help solve complex or “wicked” policy problems,
increasing support for public decision in the form of increased legitimacy of policy solutions and decisions potentially conceived across ideological lines. The emergence of sophisticated online tools and platforms that support large-scale, multi-party dialogue, collaboration, data amalgamation and ranking suggest a new low-cost technical capacity for increased civic engagement via the internet, which also lowers the barriers to participation for citizens. <br />The opportunity provided by the development of these new tools as well as the stated commitment of the Obama Administration to increase civic engagement is clear. However, many of the ‘digital engagement’ projects initiated at the federal level have focused on using social media to communicate with citizens in a broadcast mode. There is still significant untapped potential to use social media to engage citizens in a deeper participatory process. <br />Our findings suggest that there are actions that the U.S. federal government can take at four levels that will help create conditions that foster increased civic engagement: <br />Systemic conditions create the context for successful engagement<br />Systemic conditions refer to the political, policy and legal contexts in which agencies’ digital engagement efforts take place. Systemic conditions are important because they give agencies permission to engage in this work, create a sense of urgency to move forward, and provide a common context for agencies to work together. <br />Key systemic conditions include the issuing of executive level directives, lowering of legal, security, and policy barriers, and the appointment of whole-of-government coordinators and networks. <br />The United States has made a significant amount of progress at this level, specifically through the Open Government Directive and the Open Government Working Group; however, to enhance capacity at the systemic level agencies should: <br />,[object Object]
support the further development of the government-wide support, such as that which is coordinated through the General Services Administration (GSA),
push for a policy/engagement centered network (possibly through the Open Government Working Group).Engagement as a practice must be integrated into the agency’s organizational structure and culture <br />At the agency’s organizational level of analysis, our findings suggest that support at the agency’s executive level is a critical factor in driving uptake and improvement in digital engagement. Similarly, cultivation of and support for committed individuals across the agency has been reported to accelerate growth in agency capacity. <br />Finally, the organizational structure and culture of an agency should reflect the role of engagement in shaping policy formation and implementation, in order for citizen participation efforts to be successful. <br />The United States has made progress in the realm, but where gaps exist agencies should: <br />,[object Object]
provide opportunities for personal access, training, and experimentation with social media to staff throughout the agency,

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Using Social Media to Enhance Civic Engagement in U.S. Federal Agencies

  • 1.
  • 2. increasing the capacity of a society to understand the decision making process in government to help solve complex or “wicked” policy problems,
  • 3.
  • 4. support the further development of the government-wide support, such as that which is coordinated through the General Services Administration (GSA),
  • 5.
  • 6. provide opportunities for personal access, training, and experimentation with social media to staff throughout the agency,
  • 7. create cross-functional teams (public affairs, legal, communications, policy, etc) to manage online engagement efforts,
  • 8.
  • 9. create metrics that align with the organization’s mission and engagement goals,
  • 10. ensure each engagement project includes a feedback mechanism for agencies to absorb lessons from the project evaluation,
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 14.
  • 16. Cooperative Activity (citizens acting together to influence decisions)
  • 17.
  • 18. Consultative – aims to inform decision-makers of citizen’s views
  • 19. Deliberative – aims to bring citizens together to deliberate on policy issues, the outcomes of which may influence decision makers
  • 20. Co-governance – aims to give citizens significant influence during the process of decision making (i.e. participatory budgeting, community policing, etc)
  • 21.
  • 22. Selection Mechanisms – to what extent is the project open to all, or is there a selection mechanism such as election, random selection, self-selection, or appointment? Is the selection mechanism fair? Is it inclusive? To what extent are politically marginalized groups engaged?
  • 23. Deepening participation – “any change which allows a more direct, sustained and informed participation by citizens in decision-making”
  • 24.
  • 25. Further, declining public confidence and trust in government, in addition to the increasing complexity of public policy problems suggest there is significant potential value for public agencies to improve and expand their activities in this area.
  • 26. The idea of a spectrum of participation outlined in the literature review is helpful for understanding that federal agencies can derive value from online participation through broadening (i.e. increasing the number of participants) and/or deepening (i.e. increasing the level of engagement).
  • 27. In order to establish the extent to which federal agencies are currently capturing this value, we have developed a basic framework that maps online engagement efforts against two variables. The horizontal axis measures engagement – specifically, the extent to which technological tools and platforms that support collaboration and interaction are used for two-way dialogue. The vertical axis acts as a basic measure of a project’s impact, defined by the extent to which citizen feedback, comments and input are incorporated into policy decision-making or implementation.
  • 28. Together, these two variables create a basic two-by-two framework in which current federal agency online engagement efforts can be plotted and compared. For example, most federal agencies’ twitter feeds are used in a broadcast manner, to send out links to press releases and other news-related items rather than as a means to engage in conversation with citizens. On this basis, these twitter feeds rank low on the ‘impact’ scale, despite the use of ‘2.0’-type tools.
  • 29. An initial analysis of the ‘engagement’ channels made available by federal agencies uncovered a high number of ‘low impact’ uses of both broadcast and interactive online tools. The majority of US federal agencies use their twitter feeds and Facebook pages in this way. While this can be an effective ‘brand management’ strategy, and a worthwhile investment by agencies’ public relations units, it does not meet the characteristics of engagement featured in our definition. The two-by-two below illustrates the most visible ways in which federal agencies are currently approaching online engagement.
  • 30.
  • 31. the particular ‘publics’ or constituencies targeted for engagement,
  • 32. current barriers to engaging the target audience,
  • 34.
  • 35. Identify and support executive level leaders – both inside and outside the agency
  • 36. Provide opportunities for personal access, training and experimentation with social media to staff throughout the agency
  • 37. Create cross-functional teams to manage online engagement
  • 38.
  • 40. Bev Godwin, General Services Administration
  • 41. Ian Green, UK Cabinet Office (via email)
  • 42. Stephen Hale, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • 43. Justin-Kerr Stevens, UK Department of Health (Consultant)
  • 44. Ingrid Koehler, Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government
  • 45. Jeffrey Levy, Environmental Protection Agency
  • 46. Michelle Lyons, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Consultant)
  • 47. Dan Muntz, General Services Administration
  • 48. Mark O’Neill, Department for Culture, Media, and Sport
  • 49. Tiffany St. James, Cabinet Office of Digital Engagement
  • 50.
  • 51.
  • 53. Position and responsibilities (including staff numbers etc)
  • 54. Background (years of service, how they came into this position/field)
  • 55. As an expert in the field of social media, we would like to ask you a set of questions to help us better understand the context of this work.
  • 56. (Generally) how would you describe the current use of social media by government in the United States?
  • 57. What agencies are using social media?
  • 58. For what kinds of purposes?
  • 59. Specifically relating to civic participation? (What kinds of participation – where on the spectrum?)
  • 60. Why has there been such a push to increase civic engagement?
  • 61. What are some of the accepted principles around why this is important?
  • 62. Why specifically through social technology?
  • 63. What do you see as the future of the open government directive?
  • 64. Where will main growth be?
  • 65. What will be the biggest challenges to full implementation?
  • 66. What kind of support is available to federal agencies seeking to implement a digital engagement strategy? (or similar)
  • 67. What kind of guidance is available to agencies and practitioners in this field to help them match engagement objectives to social networking/digital tools?
  • 68. What do you see as the relationship between online and offline engagement?
  • 69. What kinds of benefits or advantages do social networking platforms offer federal agencies in relation to their engagement goals?
  • 70. What are the different kinds of engagement being used for each of these constituencies?
  • 71. Who are the main constituencies of the federal agencies doing this work? Do you see them as different groupings? (citizens, consumers, collaborators etc)
  • 72. Who were the first practitioners/early adopters?
  • 73. What was the early response from the public and/or media?
  • 74. What types of projects or initiatives do you think haven’t worked well in the US?
  • 75. Why? What would you have done differently?
  • 76. What is the role of the 3rd sector/non-profits etc in this field of government’s work?
  • 78. What kinds of recommendations would be useful for us to provide given our perspective from an academic institution?
  • 79. More about tools, civic engagement, for specific levels of leadership, etc?
  • 81. We have some closing questions and logistics to run by you.
  • 82. Do you have any data or additional materials that we should look at as it relates to this project?
  • 83. Can we get a copy of your bio?
  • 84. Can we send you our notes from this discussion and any further questions we didn’t get to cover?
  • 85. Do you have any questions for us?
  • 86.
  • 87. Context and ecosystem – UK generally
  • 88. The aim of this section is to situate the specific work of the subject’s organization or project within the context of ‘Gov 2.0’ and social media in the UK. We want to understand how this field has developed and where the likely new developments will occur.
  • 89. (Generally) how would you describe the current use of social media by government in the UK?
  • 90. What agencies are using social media?
  • 91. For what kinds of purposes?
  • 92. Is this generally seen as successful/growing area or not?
  • 93. Specifically relating to civic participation? (What kinds of participation – where on the spectrum?)
  • 94. Why did government start using social media?
  • 95. In response to non-govt organizations (eg MySociety etc)?
  • 96. In response to popular demand/increased internet uptake?
  • 97. How was the use of social media platforms rolled out in government?
  • 98. Who were the first practitioners/early adopters?
  • 99. What was the early response from the public and/or media?
  • 100. What types of projects or initiatives do you think haven’t worked well in the UK (if any)?
  • 101. Why? What would you have done differently?
  • 102. What is the role of the 3rd sector/non-profits etc in this field of government’s work?