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Social Media, Government & 21st Century eDemocracy

Social Media, Government & 21st Century eDemocracy


David Ferriero: Here at the Archives we have a primary example of how our mission is evolving with the advancement of social media. We have in fact become a social media temple. Having extended our outreach from the standard platforms such as our own blogs and wikis, as well as Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter, to newer projects on Foursquare, Tumblr, Historypin, and over the last year extensive work with Wikipedia. In fact I’m particularly proud of the work that our very own Wikipedian-in-Residence, Dominic McDevitt-Parks, has done with us, having uploaded over 90,000 digital copies of our records into Wikimedia. There’s no doubt that social media is changing the way our agency works. We recently launched and are continuing to roll out our own Internal Collaboration Network based on the Jive Platform which will support our efforts to improve communication and collaboration across the 3,500 members of our staff across the country. We’re using the tools of social media to change the way we work with the public as well. Earlier this week we provided a demonstration of our new transcription tool. We launched the tool in late January and within the first week the crowd transcribed over 120 of our documents. The transcription tool is part of our larger Citizen Archivist Dashboard, a place that centralizes the many ways that the public can work with us to view, use, and help us describe our records. These are just a few examples of the innovations at our agency, and this afternoon our next panel will discuss how social media is fueling innovation in government and 21st century edemocracy. This will be an open conversation about how social media has influenced the way government is run and how it will affect politics and policy in the future. So I’d like to welcome the panel moderator, Alex Howard, who is the government 2.0 correspondent for O’Reilly Media. Also known as @Digiphile. Alex has made himself known as an avid tweeter and proponent of social media in the government. Alex, it’s all yours. Alex Howard: Thank you all for joining us here today. I think I wanted to start things off by getting out of our Washington mind-space, so to speak. I’m going to play a short video from last year at the Open Government Partnership. It’s a launch of a global way of thinking about how to use technology and citizen participation to reinvigorate the way the government works. Quick housekeeping note: The National Archives has kindly made wireless access available to us for using social media. If you look for “Social Media Week” in the SSID wireless, you’ll see it there. Just accept the terms and conditions and then you can tweet, facebook, plus, tumble, or whatever it is you’d like to do. That is not a common thing for audiences to be able to do here, so thanks to the National Archives for making that available. The hashtag for the event is #SMWOpen if you choose to tweet. So with that I’ll play the video. There we go. So that’s the optimistic view. This is a partnership that was launched last September. Since then dozens of other countries have signed on. And now we’ll see how well the countries themselves follow through on their commitments, including our own. We have seen a lot of attempts to open up the federal government, both in the executive branch and the legislative branch here in the United States. I’m going to talk about some of that. We’ve seen quite a bit of optimism about the role that social media can play. We have a representative government in this country. The question is whether representatives hear their constituents online and are responsive to them and whether those same representatives share what they’re doing in a way that helps their constituents be responsive. With me on the stage I have three people who have in their own ways been quite involved in the process, both in defining the terms and in adopting and exploring the tools themselves for the first time. Starting down at the end we’ve got Clay Johnson. He’s @CJOH on Twitter. He is actually a recently published author. I’m taking the opportunity to let you all know that. A book called The Information Diet, where he explores some of these issues regarding open government transparency. He also is the director of engagement at Expert Labs, which is trying to help the government with these precise issues around how to become a more social, open government. And he has blogged at ExpertLabs.org about that. So Clay, thank you for joining us. Lorelei Kelly, who is a former staffer here on the hill, and who is now working to try to help Congress get smarter using distributed intelligence from citizen networks. And certainly a blogger and writer herself. And then Matt Lira. And Matt is the Director of Digital for the House majority leader representative Eric Cantor. And he has been a staunch proponent of making the House of Representatives, also known as The People’s House, more open to the people through the adoption of legislative standards for the laws themselves and certainly through more increased use of social media to connect with people. So thank you all for joining us. So let’s quickly start off down at the end, Clay. You’ve wrote about a more social, open government. How close are we to doing that and what are the barriers? Clay Johnson: Well I think when Barack Obama was elected president we obviously got a lot of attention around this idea of open government and gov 2.0. We had a lot of conferences and we had a lot of – Barack Obama’s first executive order was around the Open Government Initiative. But to date what’s happened is we’ve taken that momentum and really talked about it in the scope of creating new programs or doing new stuff, without changing a lot of the existing policies that need to be changed in order for us to really accomplish what this video kind of describes. Especially on the participation side. The participation side of open government, I think, is very much broken – dangerously broken. We have two general places where participation is needed from citizens. One is obviously the legislative branch, who – most of its job is to get input from citizens and to represent them, if we’re talking about The People’s House. And that’s broken. And we have the executive branch who has to hear regulatory policy comments and public solicitations for comments. And that’s broken. The first one, the legislative branch of the government’s scale – the legislative branch of government right now is capable of receiving at its peak about 96,000 messages per day. Which represents a small fraction of the United States population, obviously. And two, the problem there is the messages that they get aren’t effectively sorted in any sort of way where the good stuff can come out of it. And so it’s sort of just managed, but barely managed. We have this problem of scale of input. The United States Congress has 307 million customers and has around 1,000 customer support representatives, is what I like to say. Two members of staff for every congressional office and senate office. Comcast, probably one of the least well-known corporations for customer service in the country, has a customer service rep for every 30,000 customers. A much better ratio. And they again are hated for their customer service. So you can see why ire is kind of on the rise by the American people. We don’t have enough customer service reps for our congress. And then on the executive side of things we have the Administrative Procedures Act which says that social media profiles aren’t valid forms of identity for communicating official feedback to the federal government. So the FCC, while it has a Facebook page, cannot say – well it can say – “What does everybody think of the AT&T Mobile merger?” But the comments that it gets from that don’t get in front of regulators and don’t get to be part of the record. And that to me is a huge problem for social media. Right now the default form of authentication of identification for a citizen when it comes to participating with their government is their address – their physical address – that they basically just type into a web form and can lie about it, if they choose to. I suspect that it’s much more difficult to lie about your Facebook page or lie about your Twitter profile than it is typing an address into a form. Finally, the biggest piece of frustration I have is when you start thinking about what could happen if you started allowing for people to meaningfully, legally participate with their government through social media. You end up with a lot of superior ways to manage our government. For instance, instead of eight FCC regulators having to say, “Alright let’s wade through all these comments and see what’s going on.” Basically put pieces of paper on a scale and say, “Well we got this many thousands of letters from these people, this many thousands of letters from those people. What should we do?” No, you can do things like say, “Let’s pull out all the people that have PhDs in telecom policy and see what they have to say. Let’s pull out all the employees of T-Mobile and see what they have to say about this policy.” The government could actually be much more effective at listening if they really changed the law – or at least the regulatory guidance – a little bit and sort of make these comments heard. Unfortunately it seems like this gets swept under the run for, “Let’s launch another Data.gov,” or something. Alex Howard: Okay, so that’s some pushback on the optimistic view. Matt, you’ve talked at the First Congressional Hackathon, so to speak, about the potential for social networking to change how people get information about what’s happening in their government. Clay just described a number of barriers that exist right now within the laws and regulations that are out there. What are some of the ways that you have been able to make the progress that has gone forward? Can you give some examples of that? Matt Lira: Sure, I think I’ll start off by saying that I think both you, Alex, and Clay are exactly right even though you’re saying two seemingly different things. Clay Johnson: Politician. Matt Lira: Not really. But no really, there are a lot of reasons for optimism while simultaneously there’s a lot more to do. One of the things that we’ve tried to do in the house – which if any entity in government needs to be leading the way on this, because it’s our mission and mandate to be the most responsive entity in the entire federal government to public opinion and public sentiment. One of the things that we’ve tried to do at least in the last several years, and particularly in my case since January of last year, was first to depoliticize this issue. It’s not productive for people who are trying to make change to institutions to divide themselves around lines that do not apply to this debate. So while Karina Newton with Pelosi’s office and I might disagree on some other policy issues related to any number of issues, we are in complete agreement on issues of reforming the institution. And we have been able to work together with others around the hill to begin that process. And I think that’s a model that is important in any entity inside government to use – to develop partnerships with any ally you can and not let divisions in other areas divide you. Because you’re going to have enough pushback from the status quo already, so you might as well push together. The second thing that we’ve tried to do is set incremental goals with very tight timelines. And so in January of last year we’ll say, “We want to have the ability to do X with legislative data by May, by April, by March.” And then we hold people accountable for meeting those deadlines, and reward people inside the institution who are able to get that done. And so while each individual step doesn’t seem significant, there is a continual phase of progress. And as it starts to add up it becomes increasingly more meaningful. And so by the end of last year you saw that the clerk’s office – which again I think is important because that separates it from any particular political personality – the clerk’s office is hosting legislative data for floor materials. And we’ve established a legislative data standard for all committee activity. That includes committee votes, committee amendments, committee legislative documents and text, committee witness testimony, committee witness testimony lists, and committee schedules among other things. And so every committee for implementing these data standards. And of course we’re involved in the process of developing them so that there won’t be a kind of culture shock. And over time that data will become more and more central to the efforts of the clerk’s office vis-à-vis the floor. And I guess one of the things that I’ve seen, at least in my personal opinion, with other entities in government, is that I think there’s an attempt to try to do too much. And it collapses under its own weight. Because the government is not venture capital, and you need victories – even small ones – to sustain efforts of structural change. And while I’d be the first to admit we have a lot more to do, I think that in the area of legislative data, the way we’ve been able to implement these reforms has been through steady and incremental progress. For those – this is an audience where people would know why legislative data is important. But the analogy that I use is that it doesn’t just open the door to the House, it installs a doorstop. Similar to the putting of cameras on the House floor in the late 1970’s. No future leader was ever able or would be able to remove that effort of transparency. It permanently opened the House to television and took that debate to the people. And similarly legislative data, I think, establishes that no bill in the future will not be able to be read or digested. And as that data standard becomes more and more universal across the institution, that will apply even down to committee levels, subcommittee levels, and ultimately, hopefully, down to the introduction. But it’s a steady progress. Real quick, to engage on this issue of correspondence, I think the institution can actually take more than that number. Was it 96,000? I mean, we take more messages than that on some occasions in a single day. Not every day, but my boss is not a stranger to the occasional limelight of a particular public debate. So there will be days where we will get more messages, just individually. I think it might be phone calls. Clay Johnson: You can take them, but can you read them? Matt Lira: Well what we’ve done – we read of course the ones from the District 100% of the time. And that’s been a rule that he put in place since he was a freshman, and I think it’s a good rule. For the non-district messages, we’ve worked actually with some Obama campaign veterans – again getting to that point of not politicizing what does not need to be political – to develop a software package that we use as an analytics tool for our messages. Because we had no way of systematically processing where these messages are coming from, what they say. So we essentially installed an analytics package inside our existing bloodstream. But to your point, there’s still much more to do and not many people are using that other than us. And as my closing point, just to wrap up my intro remarks, I couldn’t agree with Clay more on this notion that while separate siloed efforts are valuable, they are nowhere near as important as reforming existing processes. Federal comments rulemaking – an example in the House is, Chairman Issa has worked, some of you probably know, on the Open Act. And he’s done it with web markups that are – he didn’t invent something else, he just said, “We do markups. How can we use social media to make markups better?” And I think that’s the example that I personally find much more compelling. Not to dismiss things that are additional efforts, because there’s value in invention. But there’s a lot that can be done just by saying, “What do we already do and how can we do that better?” Alex Howard: This is a really good point. In the conversations around this space – how does technology and the internet change government – there is a tremendous breadth of views and perspectives and hopes and expectations. Frankly pretty aspirational views. One is the wholesale reinvention of government itself. And the viewpoint I usually make when those comments pop up – and where I share things online I get comments all over the place myself – is that if you want to change that you need to change the Constitution. We’re not going to change how the architecture of our system of government is made. It makes sense to figure out how to create architectures of participation using the new digital tools that replicate them in some way or make them work more efficiently. When you say that about markup – if you go to KeepTheWebOpen.com, which is the website that Chairman Issa set up, you can see their attempt to create a crowd-sourced bill. So they’ve posted this legislation there, and subsequently citizens commented on it, and then recently they followed up and said, “Here are the places where your comments made a difference.” Now there’s clearly a long way to go in terms of making that tool better. Version control of a bill, I think, is something that people in the open government community have been asking for for a very long time. But it’s a good example of a baby step. Now Lorelei, you were in Congress in a somewhat different era than that of the hyperpolarized, 24/7 news cycle we’re in right now. And Social Media Week New York called it a 24 second news cycle at this point. Given the fact that we can now combine live streams with Twitter and Facebook, things happen this quickly now. When we watch the State of the Union, the opposition is literally responding to the President literally as he talks. Which is a very interesting dynamic that changes, I think, how the country sees the conversations. How have you seen things change? And as you wrote about the issue of where social media fits into the process, where do you see the potential for it to inform law-makers in terms of making policy? Lorelei Kelly: Yeah, I want to say first of all thank you, I’m really delighted that Washington, D.C. gets to be part of Social Media Week. Thank you, Alex, I know you’re a big anchor in that in town. If social media ultimately makes a city like Washington, D.C. more obsolete then I guess we’re here in the last days of Rome. And the last days of Rome are a pretty fun place to be. I must say that D.C. is more exciting in the policy and the social media front than I’ve seen in probably 15 years, which is how long I’ve been here. I came to D.C. from Stanford, actually, in the late 90’s to rebuild and renew some knowledge systems for Congress. I think what Matt said – if I could pull out something really important – the major issue we’re dealing with here is one of modernization of old, antique institutions. We have a lot of ideological issues in this country, but really the big common ground case of this is institutional. And when you look at web demographics and you have the right blogosphere and the left blogosphere talking to each other, I think often the most interesting thing that is often missed is the big overlap with technology and children. And if we can run with those two, and especially if we can run with technology and start creating more of an institutional incentive to do things together and get over the partisan divide, I think it would be a great thing for everyone. Smart Congress is the name of my project. It is a decentralized system of expertise for Congress. The idea is that there’s all this distributed knowledge around the United States and we hardly capture any of it in decision-making. I realized the other day that SMART also stands for Social Media and Real Time. So you can direct message me if that is really lame and I shouldn’t be using it, but I actually think that it works really well. Because we do have to move into this era of real-time information and collective intelligence when it’s needed. I just finished doing a huge research project on Capitol Hill where I interviewed dozens of staff on these intuitional problems. And as somebody who came from academia I’m always thinking, “I’ll just polish up my footnotes and make more and better information.” And he just said, “Stop.” This was the chief of staff who has been up there for more than a decade now. “Stop sending me information,” he said. “I know how to use footnotes. I know how to go to the source. I don’t need more information. What I lack is context and expert judgment.” Clay Johnson: Or an information diet, if you will. Lorelei Kelly: Thank you! Clay Johnson: Saw an opening. Lorelei Kelly: In social media that’s filtering and curation. It’s people who are responsible and trusted and credible authorities. And filtering is who you’re getting the information from. Congress is basically a vortex of information with very inadequate search engines right now. And the beauty, I think, of redistributing the specific functions of expertise and informed convening is important, because then it actually creates meaningful engagement and builds social networks based on engaged governance in states and districts. And now, the last thing that I forgot to add to that is he said, “Quit sending me more and more information. I don’t need clickable links from your email. I need context and judgment and I need an institutional incentive to use facts.” So the other piece of this is a political incentive to use facts and to get back into evidence-based decision making in Congress. One of the problems with that I think is that this sort of knowledge community isn’t a visible or very effective political constituency. They never will be, for some reasons. Having come out of academia – that’s another whole session. But I think that there are ways that we can start filtering and curating really solid empirical knowledge for use in decision-making that create this political constituency and this incentive for the institution to use facts. Now I’m going to back up a little bit to tell you why I ended up on Capitol Hill working on national security issues in the late 90’s. I lived in Berlin in 1989, and it really rocked my world. And I don’t have to tell people here why, even though you might have been very little when that happened. Probably both of my panelists here – Clay Johnson: I was quite large, but that was mainly because my mom is a good cook. Lorelei Kelly: Well that makes me feel better. But what was astonishing to me having lived in Berlin and watching the end of an era – I was over there studying nuclear weapons issues. I ended up in East Germany currying books in the underground library system. And at that time the information and communication systems were really people going back and forth in this underground railroad through Checkpoint Charlie. It sounds like a movie now, but I’d go over and get orders from the underground library people, take them back, and go to book fairs, and stuff into my clothing all kinds of places to get them through Checkpoint Charlie and the other one called Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. When the wall came down, I think it surprised me tremendously when I then came to work in Washington, D.C. for my best friend who was a member of Congress in the 90’s – to find after being here about a year that congress had not adapted and modernized its outlook at all on these issues of global security. That it in fact longed for the last century. That in fact, even today – and this is changing, so I’m not going to be too much of a cynic – but congress and its committee system still hears the world like it’s the end of World War II, like it’s 1948. That’s how it refers its own internal information systems. The House Armed Services Committee longs to fight Napoleon on the plains of Prussia. It doesn’t long to fight complex, interdependent threats like contagious ideology, climate change, weather disruption, immiseration, social and political issues. So it was shocking to me how little our own system had adapted. Now I ended up working a lot with the military, interestingly. Because it has become such a progressive organization in the post-Cold War world. It’s in these messy situations trying to figure out how to cope with problem-solving in today’s world. The thing that I think shocked me also was – in 2003 I was on the hill in the run-up to the Iraq war and couldn’t believe the way that war policy was pursued. You had an executive branch that rolled congress on so many levels. And what was shocking to me as an individual is I would go to meetings in the morning with the Quakers and in the afternoon with the army – strategic people from the war college and other places – and they were basically saying the same thing, which is we have no business doing that. This is the lesson of occupation from World War II, and we cannot do this. They were all talking about what happens next. Everybody knows we can knock off a dictator. It’s what happens after that that was the problem. The Quakers were talking about the same thing for completely different reasons, as you can imagine. So that shocked me into realizing that somehow we had to create far better informed communication systems about the ultimate challenges we face as a country – those issues of war and peace. Because at the end of the day people get killed. And if you look at Iraq right now, over 100,000 Iraqis are dead, 5,000 Americans are dead, lots of other people are dead, and not better off. And what I like to do is sit back and not forget that loss, but say, “If this somehow didn’t improve Iraq’s democracy, will it improve ours? How can we learn these lessons so we don’t let these kinds of things happen again?” So the thing to remember in this sort of global, public infosphere is that we’ve gone from a world – and this is how people measure this in this sort of esoteric priesthood of national security – that has flipped on its head. Now it’s the weak states that are the threats, not the strong states. We went from a world that was rational and predictable and where the solutions were technological to one where the problems are caused by chaos and randomness and where the solutions are human. So one of the things that I’d like to think, to make this simpler for broader audiences – because people don’t want to engage in these scary, intimidating, awkward conversations about national security – really it comes down to this: When I was in Berlin in 1989 looking at global policy and U.S. strategy, our main policy was called “mutually assured destruction.” It was a mutual suicide pact between the United States and the Soviet Union. And that became immediately obsolete after 1989. We haven’t adapted well to it. So the last century – tell me if this is a simple enough thesis. I’m just trying to make it clear where social media and mass engagement fits into it – we spent the last century figuring out how we were all going to die together. Can we spend this century figuring out how we’re going to live together? Because our place in the world, our countenance to the world – it’s going to make all the difference how we start moving away from exclusion and towards participation. Away from borders and towards networks. Away from coercion and towards persuasion. And ultimately it’s going to turn into a strategy that is far, far more inclusive. And I’m optimistic because I think that we’re good at this. I think Americans are really good at this kind of problem-solving. We haven’t fundamentally realized it yet. And that’s what I’d like to ask all of you to do when you leave here today. How do we figure out how to get past this threshold of confusion and partisanship and start really doing the hard problem solving? Alex Howard: That was more of an answer than I expected. Thank you, Lorelei. One of the things that I think is an open question in 2012 is whether the kinds of networked participation that we’re seeing – the collective action guided by people finding others who have common cause through these networks – can be channeled in affirmative ways, not just oppositional ones. Clay Johnson: If I could pop in there. Before I worked for Expert Labs I worked for a government watchdog and campaign finance reform group called The Sunlight Foundation which does transparency and stuff like that. Before that, though, I was one of the founders of Blue State Digital, which made Barack Obama’s website. We spent a long time basically in an arms race with congress saying, “We need to effectively deliver messages to congress.” And congress saying, “It is too easy for you to send messages to us, so therefore we’re going to make it more difficult.” So congress would do things like say, “Let’s put a captcha form on our website so we don’t scrape them and so we can verify.” And it’s not that it’s just so easy, it’s that if it’s too easy for everybody then you get basically a bunch of form letters and stuff like that. And so it turns into this sort of weird arms race. And I think that the problem isn’t congress’s problem. It’s really the technology industry’s problem in that it spends so much time – and this is what we’re focused on at Expert Labs – it spends so much time building better megaphones and so little time building better hearing aids. I think the industry wants to help people speak louder. And they think that the solution to getting congress to work on behalf of the people is to turn up the volume for people. And in fact that is the opposite of the solution to the problem. When you have headphones on and you turn the volume up to 11, your instinct is not to see if you can hear the song. It’s to take the headphones off, because it hurts. And I think that’s to an extent what we do. On the federal side – on the executive branch side I think it’s equally as important because – and I stress this from my Sunlight point of view – citizen participation is just as important to fighting regulatory capture, corporate interests taking over federal agencies, as tracking money in politics and lobbyists. Because if the citizen is obfuscated out of participating with agencies because it’s either too hard, it’s in a language that they don’t understand, or worse because they’re tricked into participating with government on Facebook where their voices don’t actually count, then it makes it easier for a regulatory agency to be captured by non-public interest organizations. Matt Lira: Can I jump in there? Alex Howard: Please, jump in. Matt Lira: In my short time on the hill with a couple sabbaticals here and there, this is the third majority that I have at least borne witness to. And I think it was the instinct of the prior to – this isn’t a dig, it’s a matter of fact – to do things like the captchas and to do things to try to obfuscate the process when it came to congressional communication. Especially when it came to things like the Sunlight Foundation and things of that nature. And we essentially determined that that was a fundamental error because for institutions, it might hurt your ears to hear the truth, but if you don’t listen you will find out in November. Clay Johnson: I actually don’t think that’s true, either. That’s actually not true with the 9% approval rate congress has and the 80% incumbent rate. That’s just not true. Matt Lira: Well but congress doesn’t have an 80% incumbent rate in 2010, and it doesn’t have an 80% incumbent rate in 2006. So I see your point about how it maybe takes a critical mass and it’s not going to happen on the edges. But whatever people may think of specific policies that this congress has pursued, when it comes to the listening we’ve removed the captchas. This is for the institutions that we control. Every member can do it on their own site, but we’ve removed the captchas. Clay Johnson: But you haven’t appropriated significant funding to make it so that congress can effectively listen to citizens electronically. There’s been no appropriation for that. Matt Lira: Well there has actually been appropriation for – we are currently creating a system so that mass communicators – whether it’s companies or non-profits like the Sunlight Foundation – don’t have to kind of hack their way into the system. They can instead interact with an API to just directly download that information into the member’s systems. Clay Johnson: That’s great. Make it open source so the executive branch can use it too. Matt Lira: Well, the executive … Alex Howard: You two are modeling peer-to-peer communication here very well, which is great. I wanted to also let you know I am following the Social Media Week Open hashtag. And thank you for continuing to share this. As you know it’s being recorded but not live streamed, so you are helping to share this conversation with a much larger audience. If you ask questions on the hashtag I will try to take them, and we will be opening this up to questions shortly. And we do want you to come down to the microphones if you have them. We do want to make this more social. I know these people up here can make this social on their own, but I want to involve you all in the conversation. There was a question that already came up from John Dice, a citizen archivist. And he, after hearing us speak in the beginning part here, thought this was pretty high level and theoretical. And he’s right. It’s a good place to start. You don’t want to dive right into the weeds. But let’s drill down a little bit here. There’s an interesting experiment called YouCut that was run in the House. If you’re not familiar with it, the Republicans stood up I think using the Microsoft Azure platform in their town hall software with the ability to say what part of the budget they think should be cut and make a case for it. And the one that was voted for the most would actually make it to the floor. So remember from that video there that there’s a system in Latvia that allows people to essentially petition the legislature to take things under advisement that I actually thought was quite well done. Because it used the same sort of authentication used for banking to make sure the citizens were who they said they were. The challenge with the platform in the House, that I saw, was not that it wasn’t getting participation. Because it did. And it wasn’t that there wasn’t some sort of outcome in terms of something that got very popular to happen. Because again, that did. It’s that it was all about cutting. Right? There is clearly some role for government unless you’re a complete anarchist. Even libertarians believe that there’s a minimal role. So the question is, I think, what examples can we find where citizens who are involving themselves in the process can advocate for what they think government should do? Clay Johnson: I don’t think I’m being theoretical at all. We need to change the Administrative Procedures Act to allow for Facebook and Twitter to be valid forms of public feedback. Alex Howard: Can you concretely give me an example of where people have given feedback using those platforms that has affected a policy outcome in a positive way? Clay Johnson: No one has ever affected a policy outcome in any way – Matt Lira: A regulatory outcome. Clay Johnson: – a regulatory outcome in any way using those mediums. Because it’s not allowed. Matt Lira: I would say that we’ve been fairly concrete in terms of legislative data. Even though it is in the weeds, that is literally a concrete action that is now public. But in terms of your comment on the YouCut – first of all we’ve had several of these efforts. YouCut was the most popular because, I think, it generated the most attention particularly in the 111th Congress. But we have done other efforts that were more widespread. We did another one that was actually on the Azure platform called America Speaking Out, and that one in my opinion became too complicated. And because it was a complete blank canvas the overall dialog was relatively shallow in typical terms. And by focusing on specific issues you’re able to attract niche audiences that can get much more substantive. Because there’s a theme. So you still have the surface commentary, but you are attracting relative experts that are engaging with each other about highly-specified things. The model for YouCut – the reason I liked the example isn’t just because people did use it in significant numbers. It’s because the technology side of it was actually relatively simple. That’s why I kind of hesitated on the Azure thing. Because for YouCut it was literally just a web form and a database and a URL. Clay Johnson: But what if you could just go on your Facebook page and say, “What should we cut?” That’s even simpler. Lorelei Kelly: Can I make a point about what was cut and why that’s really important to think of too? Matt Lira: But here’s what I would say to that. One is, it’s important for to remember that people have different perspectives in this country about the expenditure of government funds and that if someone disagrees with a specific expenditure it doesn’t mean that the core concept of the platform is wrong. And that’s why, when I talk about depoliticizing, it’s important to look at something like that for what it does in terms of the interaction between people and their elected officials. At least in this forum. And the debate over the approrpriation could be in a different form where they’re talking about it. And I apply this to myself with the White House’s We the People platform. There are things about it that I like a great deal, even if sometimes I disagree with the statement that’s been issued. And there are things about it that … Lorelei Kelly: Is that the one about marijuana legalization? Alex Howard: That’s any form. Matt Lira: Well that happens in any form. Clay Johnson: No one has signed my petition for the Kindle to be read during takeoff and landing on airplanes. Alex Howard: You tried. Clay Johnson: I got 2,500. Alex Howard: You wanted to make a point? Lorelei Kelly: Just to respond to that, I love that whole idea of putting YouCut out there. But in my world as a policy wonk, one of the top vote-getters was the United States Institute of Peace, which got its budget wiped out and got put back at the last minute. I think by the senate. But it’s sort of the institutional memory of both the military and the civilians on how you cope with post-Cold War chaos and peace building. It was such a devastating blow for this bunch of academics sitting down on the mall. While I agree their new building is kind of an eyesore and ridiculous. But at the same time, their policy is so important. They don’t defend themselves in the process. They don’t have a big beltway bandit world that are their surrogate advocates in decision making like the military has. So what I’m just saying is that I think it reflects this notion of stop energy – Is it stop energy? Start energy? It’s in Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody”. Clay Johnson: You guys should refer to him as the other Clay. Lorelei Kelly: The other Clay, okay. TOC. But stop energy is where there’s an end goal, like a campaign of a candidate. And start energy is content provision. And the example he uses is intellectual property. That’s where the building starts. And that’s the part we’re not very good at yet. We’re not very good at going from campaigning into governing. Matt Lira: The reason I disagree with that – and I see your point, and I agree with the metadata, and the specifics of the policies are important – but the point I’m trying to make here is there is one example of people voting and participating on the internet affecting the actual legislative process … Clay Johnson: The interesting problem that has to be solved is that popular opinion is not always the right opinion. Right? In fact sometimes it very rarely is. Matt Lira: But to that point, the regulators don’t advocate their responsibilities as regulators. Clay Johnson: All I’m saying is this. The technology exists today to get closer to what the best answer is than it’s ever been. Matt Lira: That’s true. Clay Johnson: And that we are building tools that are basically like: “+1 what you want to cut.” Versus, “Can we actually tap into a vast expertise of the people who know what they’re talking about?” Matt Lira: But that’s Issa’s deal. That’s evolutionary. Alex Howard: Let’s also recognize that the White House proposed this. That’s the whole idea of Expert Net. And where is that? I mean, the idea of – Clay Johnson: And it’s what she’s working on for the legislative … Alex Howard: Right. The idea of doing expert solicitations of people who really know the policy through the internet is not a new one. That’s what Becky Novak talked about when she was in the White House. Clay Johnson: This gets to the – I think the fundamental problem that government has with social media is that what government always wants to do is build its own platform. And say, “We’ve built the platform for input. People, come to us and give us your feedback.” And that’s not how social media works, right? What we have to do is go to where people are. And where people are is on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr. Alex Howard: Your boss wrote an interesting post – Anil Dash, who I call The Blogfather because he’s been blogging for over a decade – and he said, “How do we build a White House Quora?” Well they didn’t build a White House Quora. But Aneesh Chopra, the recently departed first Chief Technology Officer of the United States, went onto Quora and asked questions, and he actually got good answers. Because that’s what that tool is built for. To ask and then have structured participation around a given question. So to your point, go to that place. Clay Johnson: Except for the fact that when we’re talking about things that actually affect regulatory policy that can’t happen. That has to change. Lorelei Kelly: There’s something I could do that kind of demolishes at least part of this conversation. In the area I work in – just think earlier this week. The drone lobby basically wrote a big piece of language in one of the bills. Alex Howard: The drone lobby … Lorelei Kelly: The drone lobby. And they’ve also said that civil liberties are an obstacle in their business plan. This is sick. This is where we have to have an informed American citizen constituency that’s a visible, politically-meaningful group of people stand up and start creating alternatives for that. I don’t think there’s any conspiracy of lobbyists. Lobbyists are part of the problem. Part of the problem with things in the defense industry in particular, which is the world I know, is that they own the playing field and they rent it back to people like me every once in awhile. They own the terrain on this, and they get to write the legislation. The drone lobby gets to write their legislation because they’re present, they have millions and millions of dollars in the district. They’re not talking about these big picture situational awareness problems with the United States becoming a hypocrite in our rule of law. Evangelism around the world. And if credibility is now the fourth pillar of power like hardware was during the Cold War, things like hypocrisy and policies that reflect humiliation – it’s sort of a mash-up between realpolitik and social intelligence. We cannot be a powerful leader in the world anymore, and social media is going to call us on this everywhere. And I feel like the best thing we could do for the uprisings is to be the best example. To lead by example. To make the practice of democracy something that we do really well on our own by keeping our own house in order. And getting to the point of having some of the most important knowledge repositories in our own government being able to talk to congress – the military is the institutional memory of the last thirty years. This is for reasons that are not healthy. It’s because the military has the resources and a lot of personnel. And it’s a wonderful public service, and it’s been doing all kinds of civilian tasks. Look at Afghanistan. It’s well-armed social work that we need. And they’re straight up saying it in committee meetings now. The military is not allowed to participate for its own professional ethical reasons. This is why we’re a successful democracy. They’re not in the policy-making arena, they’re not political. But at the same time the State Department and our civilian agencies of government have wartime propaganda statutory laws prohibiting them from talking to congress or the American people. To me this goes back to Matt’s earlier point. So much of this is just institutional obsolescence. And at the end of the day it’s going to be the human beings that leverage the technology, it’s not going to be the technology that leverages the human beings. And that’s a part that I think we often overlook in our desire for the Field of Dreams App. Matt Lira: And that’s what I think, if I may, is that mixture that you touched on. This is the point I was trying to make with you. It wasn’t about the outcomes. It wasn’t advanced technology, it was technology connected with people connected with real processes. And if you have those three pillars then you are able to engage people. And expanding – it seems to make sense what Clay is saying. Clay Johnson: It usually does. Matt Lira: And that’s why people should by Information Diet. Alex Howard: Okay, that’s two. Clay Johnson: Hey I didn’t bring it up. But we only have 10 minutes left, so we should open this up. Alex Howard: We actually do have a question from Carl Pierre who asked it on the hashtag. “What are the panel’s thoughts on PopVox using startup technology to make government legislation more accessible? Should government be more involved with it?” Clay Johnson: Yes. I think PopVox is a great organization. I think that they’re trying to solve a very large solvable problem. However, part of this is that it really is within the role of government to solve this problem for itself. Let’s say that PopVox is successful. Super successful. More successful than any other company that’s ever tried to solve the problem that they’re trying to solve. Which is to make it so that the people’s voice gets into congress more efficiently. Lorelei Kelly: Can you say what it is for people who don’t know? Clay Johnson: So PopVox says go to PopVox.com and voice your support for a piece of legislation. And they are building the right channels so that your voice of support for a particular piece of legislation gets heard. If they’re super successful in this and they become the default way for people to send messages to congress, and then they get bought by Comcast … And then we have a net neutrality debate. I do not trust that Comcast will use their power as the owner of the medium that people use to tell their congress what to do responsibly. They basically become the most powerful company ever known to man in that regard. And so – the point of having a legislative branch of government that is accountable and does listen to citizens is so that they do that job. What I would like to see happen is for congress to lay the foundation for lots of PopVoxes to exist and to compete against each other. Not for PopVox to be the organization doing all the work. There needs to be an open, neutral ecosystem. Alex Howard: This conversation – and given its participants it’s not a shock, and the place – has been focused a lot on the legislative side. And that’s okay, we’re here in Washington. Matt Lira: And the regulatory. Alex Howard: Yep. And some of the executive. But it is worth broadening it out. You mentioned the military. One of the early adopters in this space has been these Social Media Emergency Management Communities – that SMEM on Twitter. And Craig Fugate at FEMA has been quite a proponent of looking at ways not to try to keep social media far away, but actually to use the voices of the people to make better decisions. To use the public as a resource, not a liability, as he famously says. And there was a hearing here I think yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security about using social media and monitoring it. Now, in some senses this is something that all intelligence agencies have been doing as long as there’s been open source intelligence. As long as there’s been radio and newspapers for them to read, as long as there’s cable TV for them to watch, they’ll do that. Now we’re all talking in a public way. Should they be using that to make better decisions or not? Should our military be using that or not? I moderated a discussion with State Department foreign service officers yesterday morning. The American Foundation. They’re absolutely listening as much as they can, as much as they’re capable of doing given their language translation challenges into what’s happening in Northern Africa or in Asia. And participating in those networks in a way to try to give policy makers better intelligence based upon what everyone’s saying at the same time. They have the same problems with getting better ears. To what extent can we draw any sorts of conclusions about what’s happening in that leading edge of gathering that kind of intelligence? And should we be concerned about people’s safety or civil liberties? And I say that because we know that in the Middle East, when those citizens use Facebook and Twitter not only do they put their own lives at risk because it can be traced back to them, but potentially their networks. One of the first things that interrogators in certain countries will ask is for your Facebook password. Because then they can roll up your network of contacts, right? So that’s the dark side that author Evgeny Morozov has famously written about in “The Net Delusion”. You’ve written a lot about national security. How do you think about this space in terms of those tradeoffs? Lorelei Kelly: Well I think the most important thing, just to go back and reiterate what I said, is that in politics and government it’s going to be the human beings and the relationships that leverage the technology, it’s not going to be the technology that leverages the relationships. In that all social media is, as someone said the other day, a content accelerator. It’s about contagious ideas. But if a solid foundation isn’t there to take that places to influence power, it’s not going to matter as much at the end of the day. I think we’re finding this in Egypt right now. I was at an army conference all of last week, and I was in the room with one of the foreign area officers who had been keeping in touch with all the Egyptian officers that had gone to school in the United States over the last 15 years. I said the army, strangely enough, is the most socially-intelligent bureaucracy we have in government because it has invested so much in relationships around the world. All these military-to-military programs. One of the reasons for this is that congress won’t fund the civilian agencies. That’s an enduring problem. But in the meantime the military has filled in the gap. It has all these relationships. And I said, you know, it seems strange to a lot of people that we have this 1.3 billion dollars going there to Egypt every year propping up this military. And they’re throwing Americans in jail, throwing our NDI and IRI people in jail. And killing people that are convening now. And he stopped me and said, “Wow. We have done so much. Did you know last January I was sitting on the other end of the phone talking to those officers and stopping them from doing much worse stuff a year ago.” But again I think this points to this problem of civic governing participatory curriculum – I don’t know what else to call it. I’m writing a handbook right now for women in post-war environments. And they don’t have anything to spend but their own relationships. They maybe have a phone, and it might get so expensive or it might get traced, and they have to protect themselves. And so what I’ve really resorted back to is basic human socially-intelligent ways of organizing. And we cannot trade that off for the technology piece. That will be a huge mistake. Matt Lira: I think people have rights. That’s my opinion. The systems that can be set up are highly – need to be very thoughtful. And the wisdom – just thinking of the place we’re in, if you go upstairs – James Madison and the rest of those guys were not entrusting anyone. Because sooner or later somebody will have the job who’s not good, who’s ill-willed. And so if you create a system, with Homeland or anywhere else, that relies on them being good people – in 30 years what happens if someone gets in that job who’s not a good person? Alex Howard: So I’d say just take this back to your boss. The rights that I have given my email being on Gmail servers versus my email being on my server at home are different. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act that was passed over a decade ago has not been updated for the current standard. And there are privacy advocates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Technology and Democracy here in town to many different people in that policy community who have been trying to get congress to pay attention to this. Instead what we’re seeing is there’s a cyber security act that’s been advanced in the senate And the great concern of people in the civil liberties space is that the rights and freedoms that we have in this space are not the same as are going to be protected in the virtual space. And given the importance of these platforms that it should be noted are all owned by private companies, it would be worth looking in a serious way in the House about the differences that exist between the way our rights are protected here and the way our rights are protected virtually. With that I want to get to a question here because someone’s been waiting very kindly. Please identify yourself? Yanna Lambrinidou: Hi, my name is Yanna Lambrinidou. Thank you so much for this really wonderful panel. I have a question about the role of social media in situations involving scientific integrity in government research where citizen-government communication might need to be more sustained than in scenarios that I think you were describing – citizens just logging in and expressing their favor or disfavor for a specific policy. And also I’m very interested in the issue of government accountability and how social media can also play a role in that. And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that. Really just a more sustained engagement and debate about whether scientific integrity – which are issues I’m working in – or other issues where it’s really just more than just somebody voicing their opinion about a specific issue. Alex Howard: Who wants to take that one? Matt Lira: I can. I would say, for me, I think that’s the endgame. My vision of the endgame as I think of it today is a world where niche audiences – and it’s open to anyone – but niche audiences of experts kind of gather around and inform policy-makers and regulators. Not in a fantasy land process, but in a real process of mechanisms. To your point and the other Clay’s, there is this cognitive surplus. That’s a very real thing. If you’re talking about education policy and there’s a line in a bill that impacts second grade classrooms, why shouldn’t every second grade teacher in the country be able to weigh in in some way and have that mean something? Because they’re the ones that will live most prominently with that sentence in the law book. Alex Howard: I want to take part of your question, too. I think some of the most innovation in this space is not going to come from here. It’s not going to come from a think tank, it’s not going to come from a young fellow working out of his dorm room in Silicon Valley. Or Stanford, I suppose. It’s going to come probably from someone in Africa or Asia or India. And I say that because I’ve had some opportunities to travel to different places to talk to people who have come together to share what they’re learning. I heard from an official in a small Indian city – a couple million people – and they have a refuse problem. Basic city service – clean up the streets. They have a contractor for it, and the contractor doesn’t do his job. So what they did is give citizens the means to use their phones, take a picture of the street that wasn’t cleaned up – of refuse that wasn’t cleaned up, and send it in to a system. And then they funded that system through fines levied upon the contractor for services not rendered. And that’s a self-sustaining system. That is, I think, probably the leading edge of what’s going to be happening in a lot of parts of the world. Simple systems that allow people to hold their governments accountable through mobile devices will create collective accountability. We’ll use citizens as sensors, as they say. And the technology now has become so commoditized and so inexpensive that we’ll see smartphones in the hands of citizens all around the world who will be using them to do that function. They’ll be using them to watch entertainment or talk to each other too. But if they can switch that cognitive surplus to civic surplus, then there’s a shot at maybe making some of these things work better. Lorelei Kelly: There’s a team called the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. It’s a distributed network of 140 scientists doing real time fact-checking in the Commerce Committee. It’s all experimental. Right now it’s out of St. Thomas University in Minneapolis. A guy named John Abraham, if you want to look that up. I think the most interesting thing if you look at the information cartel, I guess you could call it, is the whole climate science debate over the last twelve years where science has really taken a back seat to a lot of chaotic and often untrue purchased information. I don’t know what else to call it. Purchased influence. Including what happened in Copenhagen two years ago. It seems to me – this would be a dream scenario for an alternative legislative body – isn’t there a way to somehow benchmark with NASA or NOAA disruptive weather indicators and then have all these citizen scientists who are already testing the water in the pond down the street in Texas somehow – how can we collectively create meaningful, socially-networked genuinely benchmarked, serious data into meaningful constituencies for oversight in congress? Clay Johnson: I mean this is very similar – one recommendation Expert Labs had for government was to link the FOIA processes to Data.gov. It should never be the case that someone FOIAs for something five times without government going … And right now what happens is someone FOIAs for something, it goes into the FOIA reading room, and we hope that the citizen knows what FOIA is, knows what a FOIA reading room is, and hope that it gets discovered. Lorelei Kelly: Say what FOIA is. Clay Johnson: The Freedom of Information Act is what FOIA is. That should just go on Data.gov and government should be proactively … I mean the thing is that the citizen looks at government as though government is government. It’s a thing – this monolithic thing. And it’s not. It’s not monolithic. And often times the right hand and the left hand inside of an organization, inside of a federal agency, inside of a sub-agency, don’t know what each other are doing. And we have to – that should change. Alex Howard: Alright, we’ve run through our time and then some. So thanks to all three of you for coming. I will in fact now give it up. Check out InformationDiet.com. Clay has written an excellent book. Please do follow @LoreleiKelly on Twitter and they’ll read in the Huffington Post what you’re trying to do with distributed smarter systems to help government be smarter. And then Matt Lira. Keep an eye on what they’re up to over there. Check out Docs.House.gov where they’re actually posting things live. And keep an eye too, I think, on Thomas.gov, where you have now set up the ability to stream more hearings. Slowly but surely there actually is progress happening here. And I think as citizens, the more we can recognize that and then give credit where credit is due, the more support innovators in government will have to do it. And I think I will also put in a plug for being a little bit more tolerant of failure. It’s really hard to innovate if you can’t fail. And one of the things that this space needs the most is for people to be truly innovative. Not in a buzzwordy sense, but to use technology to actually get to better outcomes using less money. And those experiments are happening all over the world. To the extent that we can share them with each other, share best practices, and take that learning and scale it, we have a much better shot at 7 billion people living on this planet to get towards that vision of figuring out a way to live rather than a way to knock each other off. So thanks to everyone for joining and participating with your questions online. And I hope to see you enjoy the rest of Social Media Week.

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