As the city of SF jumps into new media, we thought it would be nice to check in with the feds to see how they’re rolling things out. We were fortunate enough to get Macon Philips, Whitehouse Director of New Media, to share some lessons learned in this grand experiment of public participation 2.0. It also helped that he lived in SF for a year and where he met his future wife.
We started off discussing the lack of policies in govt around New Media and specifically moderation and the implications of this. For SF we have two unwritten approaches – all or nothing. Which means that any kind of public input whether it’s on topic or not is left alone. That also applies to abusive, hate, etc. speach. Kind of scary if you ask me.
Macon has used a variety of approaches with the Obama campaign and under the Whitehouse. As a non-govt entity the Obama campaign had much greater flexibility in determining what should be removed. Under the federal govt though, he has consulted with his attorneys to help guide their thinking. While WhiteHouse.gov doesn’t have a policy just yet, he pointed us to the moderation policy (or as they call it Terms of Participation) under the OSTP blog (powered by WordPress – we’re big fans of course). Regardless of policy their position is to let it all hang out (just look back to the online Town Hall experiment by Obama where the call to legalize marijuana was the most popular topic). Their response – democracy can be a bit messy. And so it is and we agree that a diversity of voices should be embraced.
With a national audience, many of the topics raised with the public received a tremendous amount of feedback (in the thousands) . Adriel Hampton asked Macon how they manage the large number of comments. It ends up the people do by collaboratively voting on which comments they like or by flagging off-topic posts. The other piece to this is technology, much of which is open source. For example, they’ve used a commenting system called Intense Debate and Disqus that allows people to sign up once and then comment on any other website that uses this technology. This is an important feature as the promise of social media becomes more commonplace in govt.
With the enthusiastic response from the public to Web 2.0 in govt, Kelly Pretzer wondered if New Media is really just a fancy blackhole. I thought this was a great question and the response from Macon was very honest: we don’t know yet. But he shared some promising examples where public participation has transformed how govt delivers services. The one that struck me was the Peer to Patent Project which leveraged the legal community to review patents. With the huge number of patent submission, limited staff, and ever growing number of existing patents the old process was creating a huge backlog. By crowdsourcing this effort the quality and efficiency of the entire process has dramatically shifted.
We’ve learned quite a bit in our brief discussion with Macon much of which will be incorporated into our forthcoming social media policy that includes moderation that we’ll post here for public comment.