Community and collaboration tools like Facebook, Google Drive and Salesforce.com are quickly becoming the status quo in the private sector and consumers’ lives, and citizens and government employees are increasingly expecting the same from the public sector in the form of online tools, customized services, and cloud-based document and information sharing. But government agencies are also dealing with the realities of budget allocations, resource constraints and meeting the needs of challenging initiatives. By leveraging the right tools to efficiently connect government resources and develop innovative solutions, government agencies are able to rise to modern challenges in today’s fast-paced and ultra-connected world.
Approaching the Future with Innovative Technology
As companies in the private sector have placed collaboration at the center of corporate IT strategies and frameworks, government agencies have taken note and followed suit. Collaboration tools and proactive IT strategies have become recognized as a crucial component in connecting government employees and agencies:
- New legislation like the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act directly addresses IT programs in government agencies. This bill would assign Chief Information Officers in government agencies and create “go-to centers” of IT excellence to help agencies maximize return on investment, transition to cloud solutions, and embrace new technology and apps.
- Collaboration websites such as the Department of the Navy’s The Pulse, GovLoop and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Intelink have been embraced in the public sector, connecting stakeholders and government employees with features such as discussion boards, blogging, video, instant messaging, and web-based document sharing
- Government organizations like the IRS are even launching mobile apps to capture citizen engagement through mobile media. During Hurricane Sandy, a mobile app originally developed by the VA to aid veterans was used by mental health personnel helping hurricane victims.
Government organizations are addressing modern challenges through a variety of approaches that increase collaboration between stakeholders. New technologies improve access to communities and connect government agencies internally, to each other, and to the public.
Reaching Outside the Agency
For organizations that place mission value in citizen input and stakeholder engagement, benefits can be gained from connecting with stakeholders internal and external to the agency and communicating within the local, regional, and national communities.
Agency-to-agency collaboration: Organizations can network and collaborate with other similar organizations to leverage successful strategies and drive more value for stakeholders. For example, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use collaboration tools to help keep citizens aware of recommended and required safety measures with a citizen-focused communication approach.
Community-driven collaboration: Community building and engaging in citizen-to-citizen collaboration is more accessible to government agencies thanks to the availability of easy-to-use online tools and the rise of citizen utilization of new technologies.
National collaboration: Building connections across organizations, businesses, communities and government agencies is possible on a national scale with collaboration tools. Cross-functional relationships can help foster innovation, drive healthy competition and impact community-wide issues.
The challenge in engaging across the boundaries of organizations and communities lies in the differences between the basic requirements of platforms serving each of these groups. When compared with business-to-business or business-to-consumer platforms, government collaboration communities have more stringent requirements around:
- Security and restricted access to communities and projects both behind and outside of government firewalls
- Accessibility to meet the needs of those with disabilities
- Ease of use considerations such as Software-as-a-Service offerings
- Certification and accreditation to the Federal Information Security and Management Act (FISMA)
The benefits in increased value for internal and citizen stakeholders are worth navigating the requirements associated with building communities and collaboration tools for government. Collaborative community platforms eliminate barriers and provide flexibility to innovate across organizations, communities, and geographic locations, and solutions tailored for government offer easy installation, scalable applications and unique security features.
An effective government collaborative platform provides a secure community to organize and collaborate with stakeholders and enables organizations to:
- Connect more widely: Collaborative platforms can help strengthen the relationship and connections between a government organization and consultants, other government organizations, and the public. Wide and deep community connections are beneficial for organizations looking to reach and impact the maximum number of stakeholders. Collaboration breaks down silos and connects decision-makers to stakeholders for broad learning opportunities.
- Encourage free-flowing communication: More conversations allow organizations to make better decisions with more input. Collaborative tools and websites provide platforms to ask open-ended questions and pull in answers from unexpected sources and perspectives. Collaboration allows government agencies to better serve the public through improved awareness, engagement and participation in government.
- Reduce costs by streamlining information flow and resource allocation: Online collaboration and document sharing help to distribute best practices, improve response time, and clarify decision-making to increase efficiency. Organizations with effective collaboration are able to respond to critical needs and strengthen the overall community by sharing strategies that work.
- Combine traditional-style tools with interactive tools to gain useful data: Community platforms offer tools like events, surveys, polls, forums, integrated threaded messaging, blogs, and moderating capabilities to encourage higher levels of engagement. Establishing groups can help form digital work spaces and project teams for focused collaboration.
- Improve organizational culture to embrace change and adapt to collaborative work styles: As communication and collaboration shifts to a more mobile and technology-focused workplace, government collaborators will need systems that accommodate different ways of creating and sharing information. Software-as-a-Service platforms often offer easy updates and customizable implementations to allow flexibility.
Collaborative Community Solutions
In order to deliver value to the public, government organizations need to adapt to new technologies that allow connecting with stakeholders in innovative ways to save cost and improve impact. Collaborators need solutions to the barriers they face in:
- Collaborative document writing and videoconferencing
- Sharing photos and other files
- Analytics and reporting
- Email and discussion forum integration
- Integration with social media platforms where the public already congregates
- Administrative overview and control of collaborative participants
- Government-level security for collaborative media
Today’s technology offerings in collaboration and community management software create value by improving the flow of communications to foster teamwork and innovation. One example of successful collaboration on a scalable platform can be seen in FEMA’s national community, which utilizes an easy-to-use platform to engage the community and rally around national preparedness. FEMA uses the collaboration tools integrated with their platform to put out calls-to-action and improve citizen engagement. Users can join in regional and national discussions, find events near their location, sign up for newsletters, and learn from other members’ experiences.
It is clear that government agencies and employees will benefit from widespread implementation of collaboration platforms. Collaborative communities allow organizations to manage communications at the internal, local and national scale, build dialogues across relationships, and encourage teamwork and innovation to meet the challenges of government in the digital age. Has your organization considered implementing a collaborative community management platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and specific examples of real value driven by building collaborative communities from the ground up.