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Gov 2.0 Camp LA, Extended Remix

BY Sarah Granger | Tuesday, February 9 2010

Craig Newmark flew straight to Los Angeles from Dublin in order to share his thoughts on using technology and social media to improve government at the Gov 2.0 Camp LA this past weekend. Newmark, who writes frequently on the topic and has recently been quite active in bringing attention to problems in the Veterens Affairs area, came to speak from a customer service perspective. Although I've seen Craig speak a few times about that, he always adds new anecdotes and provides additional angles on the problem showing how much he thinks about it on a regular basis. But for him, it boils down to the basics. "A lot of customer service is obvious stuff. It's just listening to people." This was the afternoon core conversation on Saturday. (See my earlier post about the conference in general and what transpired the first morning.)

Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. CTO likes to talk about listening to your customers and training government employees to listen to citizens. Clearly he's been paying attention to Newmark. From the perspective Craig shared, that training is a key component of teaching government workers and inspiring them to continue on the mission of providing better response to the customer, i.e. the people.

As this was going on, several other break-out sessions occurred, including views from legal, start-up and video perspectives. A wide range of people came to Los Angeles for this event, and popular speakers included Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix and Lisa Borodkin, a media lawyer. Short video interview clips have been posted by Alex Howard on YouTube and full videos will be published on the Gov 2.0 Camp LA site next week.

Later, I sat in on the OpenNASA session with Megan Eskey. She presented her proposal for a pilot project that will create a next generation open source web portal for NASA employees, partners and eventually the public. It will also include a data output engine, not unlike, and is part of the Open Government Directive (OGD) sent down by the White House. Other speakers from government who participated at Gov 2.0 Camp LA: Lovisa Williams of the State Department (hats off to her for assisting event founder Alan Silberberg at coordinating speakers), Amanda Eamich from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Gretchen Curtis, also from NASA.

I probably should mention that role playing also became a part of the weekend, as I found myself on camera stuffing a pillow under my shirt to make a point. That was part of a small group exercise dedicated to the art of 'storytelling' around reaching out to government and the political process. Our group assignment was to create a flash mob and discuss the social media component of building the mob. The point of the exercise was to think about ways to reach out to government and make through new modes. We staged a demonstration at a school cafeteria opposing vending machine usage in an effort to combat the increasing threat of childhood obesity, an issue to which my teammate Blair Goldberg has dedicated much of his time.

One of the great things about camps, unconferences and other relaxed conference settings is the back channel and sideline discussions that occur. In LA, there was a group formed on Google Wave to chat behind-the-scenes and at any given time during the break-outs and during break times, you could see at least five independent discussions happening around the perimeter of the BlankSpaces site where the event was held. And the conversations weren't about the Superbowl - at least not until the very end of the weekend. They were about how to make government better. They stayed on topic and they were more ways (in addition to Twitter, of course) of getting to know camp participants.

As I found myself in one of these conversations late Saturday, we got into an interesting discussion about how to get from requests by the people for data to output of that data to feedback about the experience from the people and back again. I don't remember who made this point, but given that no major national open government project has matured to this level of return on investment yet, the consensus was that everything - even though this conversation really began several years ago - is still in its infancy.

Each little sideline conversation at Gov 2.0 Camp LA is one fragment of the conversation, each Transparency Camp and other event is a larger fragment of the conversation, as are the day-to-day meetings happening within government, private sector companies, academia, media, etc. and what we're seeing built never ceases to amaze me, from the smallest Twitter feed retweeting gov 2.0 thoughts from others to the giant projects produced by It was interesting to see how people in the largest West Coast city gauged this effort, particularly since most of it has been born on the East Coast to date. Troll the Twitter chatter at #gov20la and you'll see what I mean.

Sure, partying at the new upscale W hotel and drinking Fiji Water reminded us we were in Los Angeles, but this event also provided the movement a chance to pause and take measure in terms of how we're reaching out to others and engaging their thoughts in the process. The reality is we're still a rather insular community, and in order for open government, Gov 2.0, open data, government transparency and the like to make it mainstream, we need to be able to reach out on the most basic level to every person, like the Superbowl ads. While we have some apps for regular people on their cell phones, government offices at all levels are putting up websites asking for participation and questions, and new media is becoming a part of disaster preparedness, we still need more ways to reach out to people, bridging age, race, gender, disability and other divides.

One of the themes brought to Gov 2.0 Camp LA focused on women in the space. The event took seriously the notion of equalizing the speakers by gender, inviting as many women to attend as possible, and openly discussing how to get more women involved in the general national and international conversation. I wrote about those sessions on the WomenCount blog and the topic was hot enough that the panel of all women was forced into discussing the situation of women in Gov 2.0 even though that was actually not the original focus of the session.

Still, the point is to get people thinking about inclusion and it was important that the attendees listened attentively to this and became engaged, offering their thoughts in a welcoming environment. At the same time, some important points did come across, like if you want to get a message out of a government agency, don't just send a press release. Contact leading bloggers in that issue space. Find out where those communities are. And for the bloggers, seek out the staffers who understand the importance of the blogosphere and flash your credentials. "Data helps," as Erin Kotecki Vest of BlogHer explained when discussing how she was able to get meetings at the White House.

By the end of Sunday as everyone dispersed to watch the Superbowl, I felt the conference/unconference/camp hybrid worked well with the space with the group collected for the weekend. With Friday night's cocktail event, Saturday night's Dish Crawl and a wide range of breaks, participants had enough quality time together to forge new friendships, explore future professional partnerships and elevate the mindshare to the next level. So whatever happens next, the Left Coast will not be left out.

Sarah Granger has participated in e-government from the perspective of a government employee, a non-profit project director, a city commissioner, an online campaigner, an innovator and a journalist. She enjoyed working with people from all of these groups at Gov 2.0 Camp LA and learning from each of them.

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