The Power of Networks: Abhi Nemani on Joining GovDelivery & GovLoop as Civic Innovator-in-Residence

By Abhi Nemani, Civic Innovator-in-Residence at GovDelivery Abhi

As a student of civic technology for some years now, it’s rare that I come across numbers that stun me. I’ve grown accustomed to typical facts and figures echoed by players in the space: X engaged users, Y partner governments. Typically, you’ll see some breakouts but, like many things, most fall somewhere in the middle.

That’s why I was floored the first time I sat down with Scott Burns and Steve Ressler of GovDelivery and GovLoop two years ago. I knew Steve from Gov 2.0 conferences and the like, and had been a member of GovLoop since I started with Code for America, but I hadn’t heard too much about its parent company, GovDelivery — that is, until that day. What I heard was staggering. GovDelivery, in its 14 years of existence — meaning it had grown far beyond the term “civic startup” — had amassed over 1,000 government partners and a whopping 40 million users, and both figures were growing fast.

As Scott explained, they had done this by keeping resolute focus on a simple, yet critical mission: helping governments connect with citizens better in the digital era. I was hearing stories about how CDC leveraged GovDelivery to better prepare millions for emergency scenarios, how FEMA did the same, and how — most interestingly — because of GovDelivery’s reach across agencies, they were able to make connections between the two. With its cloud platform, citizens don’t only sign up for updates from one agency, but quickly move towards other relevant ones so they can get the information they care about, no matter the source. Plus, the agencies benefit by growing their audience, as others grow theirs. That’s an easy, yet powerful example of how we can organize services to deepen engagement while simplifying citizen experience. That’s the power of networked governments.

Naturally, I was fascinated by their work, as I had always been by GovLoop. Over the years, Steve has managed to create an energetic, no, electric ecosystem of government change-agents, and his team has been masterfully providing them the tools, resources, and opportunities to connect. (I haven’t been to a GovLoop event that’s been under-attended — online or off.) That’s probably why they’ve grown to a network over 100,000 members strong, members who are learning from each other, collaborating, and building a real community of practice around public administration in the 21st century.

When I left CfA to explore my next move, Steve was one of my first calls. As usual, he gave me sage advice, but also pointed out that it was an exciting time at GovDelivery and GovLoop, a time of growth and new project development. (Plus, those user numbers from before hand only gotten bigger: over 1,300 public agencies, 70 million users on GovDelivery; over 130,000 member on GovLoop.) Suffice it to say, I was intrigued. After a brief trip up to St. Paul to meet the team, I realized they were as impressive and passionate as Scott and Steve, which only made me more excited.

Today, I’m pleased to share that I’m joining the GovDelivery team as their first Civic Innovator-in-Residence. I’ll be working with them on various exciting projects, while I continue my role supporting other players in the civic tech space, including the OpenGov Foundation, etc. (More on the role here.)

Although I’ve just begun this short-appointment with the team, a common thread is emerging between both GovLoop and GovDelivery: a recognition of the power of networks. It’s a network that powers the GovDelivery cloud, enabling citizens to connect to one agency after another; and it’s a network that brings together tens of thousands of diverse public servants on GovLoop. We relied on networks to get to scale at Code for America, building the programs designed after the fellowship — the accelerator, brigade, and peer network — as loosely knit networks that dramatically expanded our reach and impact.

Networks of these kinds fascinate me. Not just because of their scale, but because of what they create: unexpected connections, collective insight and resiliency, and the power to do together what an individual couldn’t do alone. How can we bring these networks to bear to enable further innovation in the civic tech space? How can we creatively partner to ensure citizens are getting the information they need? And how can we help governments learn even more from each other to improve governance across the board?

Here’s to answering some of those questions, and to what we can do together with this engaged network of governments, change-agents, and citizens.

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