Apr 16 2009

Virtually There

MuniGov 2.0 Second Life conference draws leaders interested in harnessing the power of Web 2.0.

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Last week, MuniGov 2.0 hosted what’s thought to be the first conference of its kind about Web 2.0 for government folks. The auditorium seating, podium and projector screen were all there, but the difference is that this event took place inside the Second Life virtual-world interface.

Bill Greeves, IT director of Roanoke County, Va., and Pam Broviak, city engineer and director of public works for LaSalle, Ill., co-founded the group. MuniGov 2.0 focuses on how Web 2.0 is transforming the technology and culture of government through social networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, podcasting, RSS feeds and wikis.

Montgomery County (Pa.) CIO Jack Pond kicked off the conference proceedings by proclaiming “this is probably more of a cultural revolution than a true technology revolution.” Pond’s session, “Web X.0 — Leveraging Community Development,” focused on the county’s experience with social networking.

Using Web 2.0, Pond’s group was able to bring in IT projects three months ahead of schedule and 15 percent below budget. He attributes part of the success to customer collaboration via wikis, electronic list servers, instant messaging and chat, and describes the county’s collaborative development model as “Murphy’s Law meets Whac-a-Mole.” But it’s not all about the technology, which simply provides a means of collaborating with the user community. “We start by finding a community with a need and combining that community in a collaborative environment based on that need,” Pond says. “It’s amazing to see the people you bring together in this orchestrated environment.”

In Ottawa, the focus is on how Web 2.0 and social media can help government collaborate with the public. Business Analyst Mark Faul’s team uses WordPress and TikiWiki for the team, and the city has a Facebook account. “We’re not on Facebook simply to be cool or have fun; we are there to connect with constituents,” he says.

Faul shared some humor through a cartoon drawing in which workers said it’s not that they don’t want Web 2.0, but are just trying to get used to the fax machine. Indeed, cultural resistance is one of the biggest impediments to organizational transformation.

However, last December’s transit strike helped demonstrate the business value of Web 2.0 tools like Twitter. The city set up a media monitoring website based on Netvibes, which pulls in Twitter feeds, traffic mashups, discussion forums and the like to provide a snapshot from a single location to keep citizens informed. “We can take everything we learned from the OC Transpo strike and everything that was fed into the communications department, and help us as an organization prepare for another crisis.”