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Two giants in the education reform movement have called it quits in the last month – Michelle Rhee, DC Schools Chancellor (and Kennedy School Alum), and Joel Klein, NYC Schools Chancellor.

Both of these people were/are tireless leaders, and I am proud to say that I worked at the NYC Department of Education from 2005-2008.

However, as they both prepare to leave their respective positions, its appropriate to think about how their replacements can carry on the great work that they’ve done in reforming their schools, and what opportunities new leadership may bring. While many in the reform community laud the work of both of these leaders, they left many feeling disenfranchised from the process.

In DC, Mayor Fenty took major heat for Rhee’s lack of collaboration, and many pundits credit her approach with Fenty’s loss.

In fact, Mayor Gray has indicated that he is interested in increasing participation in the reforms. His Education Plan includes promises to increase “Transparency, Accountability, and Sound Management” as well as support “Collaborative, Innovative, and Involved Leadership” which includes continuing the reforms while giving more power to the community.

This is a good thing for education reforms in DC, as increasing participation has the potential to lead to more sustainable change. However, any public participation process should be rooted in the theory and research around participation in order to ensure that the work is meaningful and impactful.

As Mayor Gray thinks about how to structure an increase in civic engagement, I wanted to offer some advice to help ensure that any participatory processes he selects are responding to actual concerns in the education reform movement and are also grounded in participation theory and best practice.


Critics often talk about how dogmatic and bullish Michelle Rhee was during her tenure as chancellor of DC public schools. Although his reputation wasn’t severe, people definitely criticized him (his approval ratings were often in the 20s) about excluding families and teachers from the reform process.

So what are people upset about? Contemporary Education Reformers of the Rhee-Klein-Duncan brand are typically singularly focused closing the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in our schools as measured by student performance on standards-based assessments in English and math. They tend to prefer market based approaches to reform that focus on teacher quality, including promoting merit based pay usually through a value-add model,, doing away with automatic tenure,  supporting charter schools as a way to give students and parents alternatives to the public school system (and also to create competition w/public schools under the assumption that this will increase their quality), supporting rigorous accountability based on standardized tests scores, and closing or restructuring schools that repeatedly fail. These favored reforms have been ushered through across the country with the support of federal initiatives and legislation such as No Child Left Behind (initiated during President GW Bush’s tenure) and Race to the Top (initiated during President Obama’s first year in office).

There is not doubt that reform needed to happen in both cases. The systems were both in disarray, and were failing kids. The Education Equality Project lists states that “The huge difference in academic performance between students from different economic circumstances and racial/ethnic backgrounds is what we call the achievement gap.”

“by 4th grade, African-American and Latino students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their white peers

Only 10% of students at Tier 1 colleges (146 most selective) come from the bottom half of the income distribution

Barely half of African-American, Latino, and Native American students graduate from high school, with African American students graduating at 54%, Latinos at 56%, Native Americans at 51% and their white counterparts at 77%

The average student eligible for free/reduced lunch is approximately two years of learning behind the average ineligible student”

However, the way that they approached reform was alienating. Michelle Rhee said at the 2008 Aspen Institute’s Education Summit at the Mayflower Hotel that “if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months, it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”

I understand Michelle’s frustration here – the system was failing for years, and she needed to cut through a lot of dysfunction in order to make radical and much needed change in a short time frame. She had an economic and social justice imperative to fix the schools quickly, and collaboration isn’t always the best strategy for creating change. She had a clear vision for what needed to happen, and they pushed it through and sometimes large scale participatory action is not the most effective strategy.

However, for all the improvements she may have made, there were many community members who felt extremely marginalized by her approach. And although you cannot create change without offending some people, its important to hear their concerns from a procedural perspective. When the success of your change requires the cooperation of the very people you are cutting out of the process + your boss’s reelection you will have a serious implementation and sustainability problem if you do not have proper participation mechanisms in place.

If the new DC Public Schools Chancellor (whether Kaya Henderson – the current Interim Chancellor – or someone else) is going to continue the reforms she started, he/she is going to have to do a much better job of engaging teachers, parents, and students in the process, and support them throughout periods of massive change.


Luckily, literature regarding the best practices and values that motivate a participatory approach to public decision-making now spans almost forty years worth of critique of liberal democratic tradition, and can be used to support an increase in participation. Authors ranging from Jurgen Habermas to Carole Pateman and Benjamin Barber have criticized what they see as a technocratic approach to policy-making that legitimates decisions by experts that may not have otherwise enjoyed the consent of the larger population.

These theorists suppose that without avenues for citizens to participate in policy decisions, the benefits of local knowledge may be lost in sacrifice to the interests of a central authority. Indeed, Peter Bachrach and Aryeh Botwinick are among those that argue inclusive decision-making leads to a fairer outcome for those otherwise excluded from these processes.

Others argue in favor of participation as a means to increase the social awareness that can lead individuals to learn how to act in the collective good. Robert Putnam’s work on social capital provides an argument for civic engagement as an educative process whereby the social networks and associations central to quality public life can be formed and developed.

A third main line of support for civic participation comes from those such as Frank Fischer who argue that a deliberative process of engagement can offer a means of breaking through intractable policy problems. By this argument, the involvement of citizens in a dialogue that entails learning, processing and creating new information and analyses increases the likelihood that creative and well-supported solutions to problems can be found.

The education reforms taking place across the country as well as in DCPS could definitely use some of these benefits.

Benefits of Public Participation

  • Allows decisions to benefit from local knowledge
  • May lead to fairer outcomes for those otherwise excluded from the process
  • Increases social awareness that can lead individuals to learn how to act in the collective good
  • Offers a means for breaking through intractable public policy problems

The extensive literature on civic participation and engagement also acknowledges several potential barriers to achieving effective engagement, which include:

  • Prohibitive costs (both in terms of establishing and running a participatory process and regarding the opportunity costs forgone by participants who chose to engage)
  • Assumptions regarding a highly motivated and capable citizenry
  • The potential for participatory process to increase conflict or exacerbate divisive positions


In the case of Education Policy reform, there is a clear and already engaged citizenry, but they are not being involved in the decision making processes. By involving them in the process you can reap some of the benefits of participation while minimizing some of the problems with divisiveness and conflict that exists in the field. Furthermore, the emergence of sophisticated online tools and platforms that support large-scale, multi-party dialogue, collaboration, and data amalgamation and ranking offer a new technical capacity for increased civic engagement via the web, which also lowers the barrier to participation for citizens.

In order for participation to work best, however, it has to be structured in a way that will maximize success. You cannot just have an online portal that asks people to submit ideas. My research shows that meaningful participation includes the following elements:

  • Executive Level Support Creates the Context for Engagement, but is not enough
  • Engagement As a Practice Must be Integrated into the Agency’s Organizational Structure and Culture
  • Online Strategy Should be Driven by Engagement Goals
  • Engagement Efforts Should be Designed with an Eye Towards What Interests, Delights, and Excites your Audience

There are additional indicators that are important to consider within each of these realms, which I discuss in my thesis.

I also turned this research into an assessment tool to help government agencies plan engagement projects that may be helpful in the education reform context in DC:

It is important to think about change on each of these levels in order to be successful. Furthermore, DCPS officials should look outside of their system for leadership as well. Given the breadth of interest in DCPS, the engagement team should not only include high level administrators at DCPS as suggested by Gray’s plan, but also include partners from other stakeholders such as the teachers unions, charter school leaders, students, parents, and social services administrators (to represent children whose legal guardians are state appointed). Accordingly, the technology platform selected should allow a wide range of people to participate at varying levels and styles of engagement. Furthermore, the offline participation should be connected to the online participation – both should support each other, rather than being completely distinct projects. The processes and platforms should also be beautiful and innovative in terms of how they manage and organize participation and information.

There is a lot of good work to continue in education reform, but unless people are included in the process, they will likely fail. I am excited to be a resident and business owner in the DC metro area, and look forward to seeing how Gray and his new Schools Chancellor take on this extremely important challenge. I hope to see more participatory process that are grounded in the theory of engagement, and provide rigorous, beautiful, fun, and meaningful opportunities for community members and stakeholders to become more involved in education reform efforts in Washington DC.

[1] This section is from my master’s thesis which I co-wrote with @annayork


Last month Malcom Gladwell wrote an article in the New Yorker: “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted.”

I’ve been thinking about this article ever since it came out, and people have asked me to respond on several occasions. When I read Next Generation Democracy and BYO started helping the author (and now friend) Jared Duval, I realized it was the perfect opportunity.

Its not that Malcom Gladwell is wrong in his article. Its just one sided.

He starts the article by describing a lunch counter sit in that took place in the Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina in February of 1960, and that spurred a movement in which 70,000 students eventually took part.

These nonviolent actions were a core component of the civil rights movement, and although the protesters advocated peaceful solutions, their lives and limbs were often in danger.

Gladwell is clearly fond of what he describes as this old form of social activism, and uses the article to take issue with the assertion that “the new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.”

He spends the rest of the article deriding all the ways that social media have degraded activism, instead of looking for ways that it enhances it. His primary claims are as follows:

  • The life-threatening and impactful forms of activism we saw during the civil rights movement require strong ties between people, and social media only promotes weak social ties
  • Hierarchy and structure are needed for social action, and social media promotes loose decentralized networks
  • We take the actions that we see online (fans, followers, etc) as social action, and we have forgotten what real activism is.

While his argument is not wrong, it is superficial and misleading. What Gladwell is commenting on is only what he sees, and what he sees is often just the surface of much larger movements and campaigns. Its like someone writing a story in the 1960s about how the civil rights movement cannot rely on the telephone alone, without talking about all about the actions that the telephone can help facilitate.

The telephone was probably used during the civil rights movement to reinforce relationships between people who already had strong ties (i.e. facebook) and connect people who may have common interests through random phone banking (i.e. twitter).

The core problem with Gladwell’s article is that he spends most of it discussing people who are chatting about activism and social justice on the phone (i.e. people in America tweeting about Iran and Moldova), rather than discussing people who are using the telephone to organize lunch counter sit-ins.

Next Generation Democracy
I recently read and am helping get the word out about Jared Duval’s new book: “Next Generation Democracy – What the Open Source Movement Means for Power Politics and Change.”

Jared’s book is all about how civic engagement and collaboration can help solve some of the world’s most wicked problems, and Jared also happens to be a former youth organizer and activist. I recently had a chance to talk to him about what Gladwell’s piece and how social media interplays with today’s activism.

Jared (and any good online or offline organizer) agrees that the main measure of social media’s impact is the action it promotes offline. Its fine to have 2000 facebook fans; the question is what their fanship means.

Jared is “sympathetic to Gladwell’s main point which is that the activism of generations past came from a depth of moral courage that people were really wiling to sacrifice their bodies and their lives for what they believe in. But today’s activism requires similar efforts. ”

Jared described stories of fasting for days at a time in his work on climate change, and has friends who have risked their lives as mountain top removal activists.

The problem, Jared asserts, is in the efficacy of those old school tactics. The media does not cover young activists risking their lives for causes they believe in.

This type of reporting is saved for documentaries that play well in niche circles, but not with traditional news outlets. If no one sees it, nothing changes. Millennials are willing to risk their lives and limbs, but only if it will work.

This makes sense given the ideological differences between Millennial and young activists in the 1960s. The Center for American Progress did a bit of polling which found that Millennial tend to be more progressive, but our ideological range is much more compressed. There are fewer on the extremes which may mean that there is less of an impulse for in your face activism and more of an impulse for things that are seen as pragmatic.

Jared’s book is all about how increased participation in governance can help solve some of the world’s most wicked public problems and this perspective goes a long way in describing Millennials preferred form of activism. If we don’t like something, we will probably first ask someone in power to change it. If they say no? We’ll start to create the change we want to see.

Next American City & SeeClickFix
I was just at the Next American Cities: Open Cities conference about the future of cities, and the participants exemplified this new form of change making. The room was not filled with people talking about how to get mayors to change our cities (although there was a bit of that). The conference was mostly filled with civic entrepreneurs who were creating social enterprises and companies that were the change they wanted to see.

While these companies and people do not solely rely on social media to promote the change they want to see, many of them rely on large-scale public participation, and use the web to create transparency around their movement and facilitate meaningful interactions, both online and off.

That’s just how we roll.

While at the conference I had a chance to catch up with Ben Berkowitz, founder of SeeClickFix – one of the most interesting companies currently shaping the online/offline world that was also profiled in Next Generation Democracy.

SeeClickFix is a civic company where anyone can report a nonemergency problem which then gets shared online for others to see and comment on. The social nature of SeeClickFix makes it more than just a complaint forum, but rather a place where people can spark actual change. Not only does it allow city officials to see what issues people care about and want solved, it allows people to connect with other that share similar concerns to advocate for greater change, and most interestingly, promotes people solving these problems themselves without relying on government to step in.

To date, there have been over 70,000 issues reported, 45% of which are marked as resolved.

I asked Ben what he thought about Malcom’s article, and what he thought of the power of social media and online media to facilitate meaningful change.

Ben – like all good social change makers – sees the power in the combination of the online tools and offline action.

He sees social media tools as a sort of onramp to more offline action. In the case of SeeClickFix, people start by reporting potholes or other non-emergency problems. But this often leads to a larger action.

Ben relayed a story about a group of runners who were in a park and found an abandoned boat and complained to the city about it. Then they realized it would be cheaper and easier to remove it themselves, and did just it. Their online activity lead to offline action. Ben has countless other stories about people banding together to make certain stretches of road safer to walk through, stories of previously unengaged residents becoming activated citizens, and stories of real change ushered through by everyday people.

To me, SeeClickFix is a great organization that really gets how online social tools can facilitate, spark, and enhance offline action, and exemplifies the power of online/offline integration.

To be fair, Gladwell did state in an authors chat a few days after the article that he believed online tools + offline grassroots organizing can be very powerful. However, I wanted to explore that intersection a bit more, and for that I called Evgeny Morozov, a brilliant theorist who is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford and was quoted in Gladwell’s original piece.

Evegeny’s main focus is on the international context, but his main question to me still applies:

In the case of limited resources, “how do you want to spend it to maximize social good? Do you want to blow it on save Darfur facebook groups, give money to groups that are effective offline and want to expand online, give it to people who do nothing on the internet.”

In the cases of serious social change and limited resources, it is important to think about how digital activism fits into the larger goals. Sometimes promoting the use of the tools distracts from the issues on the ground.

We need to make sure that we don’t focus on facebook and twitter and social media in ways that crowd out other types of activism and drain resources. There is a danger that many powerful tools will be disregarded because people have too much faith in the internet alone.

While Evegeny’s perspective is in the international context, I think the advice is important for us to think about. There are very real limitations to online organizing in the United States – we have a significant digital divide that prevents all people from participating equally, and on many issues this can be devastating. I completely agree that the first piece is to look at what you are trying to accomplish, and then work back from there. If online tools can help you enhance your strategy and better meet your goals, then by all means go for it. If you have limited resources, and are not able tp craft a campaign that adequately ties your online work to offline actions? You might want to focus your resources elsewhere.

The thing is, activism has changed since the 1960s. People are no longer engaging in direct actions in the same way that they used to. Today’s activism is no longer focused on the action, but its also not entirely focused on the tool, as Gladwell states in his piece. Rather, today’s “activism” is focused on change. We may not engage in direct action to the extent that past generations did, but we start companies, volunteer, take on government service, run for office, form community groups, write books, and otherwise create the change we want to see.

I think this new form of social change is really critical to think about. Gladwell is a much smarter theorist than I, and he missed a really important opportunity to explore how activism has shifted since the 1960s, and what role (if any) the internet has played in those major shifts.

Right now theorists like Malcom Gladwell see the internet, and they see the Saul Alinsky form of organizing, they don’t see the connection, and they think the system is broken.

The system is not broken, its just changed a bit.

Right now, Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” (1971) is number one in Civics on the Amazon bestseller list. I studied Saul Alinsky during my days as a community organizer, and I still use many of his ideas in my organizing work. But there are some new ways of organizing that are critical for people working in social change these days to think about and study.

Next Generation Democracy was released today, and contains a whole host of ideas about a new way of thinking about community engagement and organizing. It is important that the word gets out about how new ways of working together – both online and off – can help us create the change we want to see.

Next Generation Democracy begins to explore this new paradigm.

Here’s where you can buy the book:

Here’s what other people are saying about the book:

I hope that Gladwell and other theorists, practitioners, and citizens will contribute to a meaningful dialogue about how social change and activism has changed in the last few decades, and what that means for the future of citizen activism and participation in the Next Generation.

One of the reasons I started BYO was so that I could work with clients I believe in, and help push forward values and ways of governance and civic engagement that I think will change this country and the world for the better. So far we’ve been able to realize that goal, especially in our work with the amazingly talented writer, thought leader, and millennial activist Jared Duval.

Jared’s new book – “Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Movement means for Power, Politics, and Change” – is an inspiring work that challenges people to think about how large-scale participation and collaboration can help us solve some of the world’s most complex and dynamic problems.

From the blurb on the back of the book:

“Picture the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. Waters rising and families stranded. There are federal officials somewhere, but they can hardly communicate with each other, much less the people in trouble. How could anyone be expected to manage this sprawling disaster?

Katrina is an extreme example of many of the problems we face today. Carbon Dioxide emissions, financial instability, the need for health care – these are things we could easily manage if they were occurring on a much smaller scale.

But what if we could turn our vast size and complexity into an advantage? According to social-change leader Jared Duval, the Millennial generation is in a unique position to do just that. Next Generation Democracy chronicles some of the watershed events – including Katrina – when directly democratic, forward-thinking organizations become more effective than our centralized government. Telling the stories of a participatory organizations, such as SeeClickFix and AmericaSpeaks, Duval describes a new approach to solving complex problems that draws on all resources, voices, and flexibility or vast networks of citizens – with unprecedented speed. An artful blend of personal writing, journalism, and political argument, Next Generation Democracy not only gives us a vision of a brighter future, it inspires us to help create it.”

Like many of you, I have been steeped in government and gov 2.0 for some time now, have tried to practice the principles of transparency and collaboration of the Open Source Movement in my work, and have been studying the ways that organizations and politicians are trying to open up government to greater levels of participation.

Yet while the theories are familiar, reading the book was amazingly refreshing to for several reasons. First, the theories were articulated in a way that make them accessible to a broader audience in ways that I think all people can connect with. This gives me hope that the message will reach beyond the echo chamber, more leaders will start opening up their practices, and more citizens will demand to be included in deeper forms of participation. Second, in the book Jared is focused on exploring how greater levels of collaboration and participation can help us solve “wicked” public problems. It is this focus that we all have to remember when engaging in this work – its what many of us are here for, and ultimately what will help this movement prevail. Finally, and most compelling to me, was the way that Jared wrote the narrative and how he used story in the book.

Starting with a forward by Tim O’Reilly, Jared relays stories from many of the leaders in today’s movement to open up our systems of governance to more participatory, transparent, and collaborative processes. The quirky and awe-inspiring accounts he relays draw the reader into the book, and illustrate how individual actors can precipitate large-scale action:

  • How a broken copy machine inspired the open source movement and a student in Finland catalyzed massive change in the field
  • How volunteers and technology helped unite families and communities during and after Hurricane Katrina
  • How an old farmhouse in Vermont provides a framework for changing our ever broken political and governance systems
  • How an exotic animal zoo in the mountains of Vermont can inspire the creation of a foundation dedicated to improving rural communities by promoting citizen engagement in Heart and Soul planning
  • How remote controls and tree-like structures can help us untangle solutions to some of our deepest social problems
  • How a transformational event in Frances Moore Lappes life inspired her to change the course of her career and leap into the world of wide-scale social change
  • How someone equally loved by Steel Magnates and Radical feminists went on to transform post-Katrina planning in New Orleans through AmericaSpeaks
  • How an iphone app and website is changing the way that people solve problems in their communities
  • What 13 – 29 year olds have in common with the Open Source Software movement, and how they are shaping the next phase of politics and power

For people like us, working in the field every day, trying to push forward the ideals of the Gov20 movement, it is really cool and inspiring to see how others are making change. Jared reminds us that behind every theory, movement, and or bit of innovation are the people making it happen. People with ordinary lives, doing extraordinary things. People like us, trying to do better with less, and opening up our democracy to greater levels of participation.

If you are reading this blog post, you are probably a leader in the field. We are lucky to have another piece of literature to support this work, and I am hoping its publication will help us get the word out about the massive potential for large-scale participation that will change our systems of governance for the better.

Let me know what you think of the book, and if you get a chance to attend one of the book’s events (I’ll be at the official launch in Washington DC on November 8th) definitely do so and meet Jared:

Bus Boys and Poets
w/ Carolyn Lukensmeyer, AmericaSpeaks
November 8th, 2010
6:30 – 8:00p

Books, Inc
November 16th, 2010
Mountain View, CA

Kilton Public Library
co-sponsored by Upper Valley Land Trust
December 1st, 2010
West Lebanon, NH

WestPort Public Library
December 6th, 2010
Westport, CT

Demos: Ideas & Action
December 7th, 2010
New York, NY
6:00pm – 8:00pm

What else are people reading now? Anything inspiring that has come in front of you lately? Any stories that you find particularly innovative? What other texts are currently helping to move our work forward?

Last month I attended the Belfer Center’s Conference on Technology and Governance 2.0. The conference featured amazing attendees – Ellen Miller (Sunlight), Mike Klein (Sunlight), Karen Gordon Mills (US Small Business Administration), Mitch Kapor (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Paul Sagan (Akamai), Susan Crawford (Cardozo), Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard), Nicco Mele (Harvard/Echo Ditto), Archon Fung (Harvard), Tim Berners-Lee (W3C), Clay Shirky (NYU/Harvard), Zephyr Teachout (Fordham/Harvard), and a bunch of other amazing people in the field of technology and governance.

I was there as an attendee, but also had the privilege of participating on a panel with Aneesh Chopra (CTO of the U.S.A), Ian Freed (V.P Amazon kindle) and HKS students Seth Flaxman (he’s also the founder of TurboVote) and Philip Schroegel, moderated by Mary Jo Bane, Academic Dean and Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management.

Our topic was what “Kennedy School Students Entering the Digital World: A Discussion with Aneesh Chopra & Ian Freed.”

In general, I think the Kennedy School is an excellent institution in most ways. Great professors are teaching in the field; there are several centers (Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation) that support efforts in this areas; students are demanding more courses in gov/tech (as evidenced by the enrollments in Nicco‘s and Clay‘s courses); there are great speakers series, there’s a vibrant gov20 student community; and a committed external community (including alums) interested in engaging with the school to push it forward in this field.

However, the Technology and Governance 2.0 conference convinced me even more that you need academic institutions in this debate.

The conversations were deep, rigorous, and challenging. Gov20 conferences that I’ve attended tend to be about the success stories. The speakers at this conference really challenged the normative assumptions around gov20 and that is super healthy and refreshing. Government officials working in technology are bombarded with people trying to sell products, and are constantly faced with make/buy decisions, and this is just the type of intellectual exploration that is important for them to think about. They need to arm themselves with tools that will help them understand when tech is appropriate, and when there are better ways of meeting the same goal. Academic institutions are the perfect place for this kind of exploration, and I applaud the Kennedy School’s efforts to prepare students in this way.

Since the conference I’ve had some time to think about how the Kennedy School (and other institutions that prepare public policy practitioners) can take this work even further and ensure their place as leaders in training students to take on governance challenges in a digital world.

The recommendations listed below cover two broad constituencies: 1) students who want to go into the specific field of Technology and Governance and 2) students who are generalists, but whose work and careers could be enhanced with a greater understanding of the capabilities and challenges that technology poses for governance.

In no particular order…

1. Highlight the Awesomeness of Careers in Government + Technology
Kennedy School students (no matter their field) typically want to change the world in a rigorous and sustainable way. They also want good jobs. When marketing careers in Government + Technology to these kinds of students its important to speak to both of these motivations. To that end, we need to show generalists how leaders have used technology in their general policy work. Policy/Tech wonks like me love to hear from Government CTOs. Generalists would probably be more engaged by learning about how Mayor Bloomberg relies on technology to hold his Agency leaders accountable on their social goals.

Furthermore, it would be great to have a general listing of the types of careers that are available in government + technology, and the types of skills you need in each. There are science and technology policy folks, people using technology in the creation of policy, public affairs specialists, resource analysts, contractors, KM officials…the list goes on and on. It would be great to have a consolidated place to see the breadth and depth of job opportunities in this space.

2. Make “Innovations in Government” a Core Course
Kennedy School Masters of Public Policy students are required to take economics, statistics, econometrics, ethics, and management to obtain their degree. I think there should also be a course around innovations in government to help students see the new and exciting ways practitioners are solving public problems. This wouldn’t be a strictly techy course, although that would certainly play a role. Technology changes so frequently, and the benefit of thinking about technology in governance is that it keeps things fresh, and constantly makes you revisit your practice. This general approach is something that could really benefit new practitioners. The ideal would be a case-based class where the cases are updated every year. You could generate the cases by holding a competition about what upcoming leaders need to know right now, and solicit ideas from alums in the field via something like…this is also a great way to keep alums engaged in the school…

This would keep the Kennedy School at the forefront of compiling the most interesting ideas in this space, and give students access to these cutting edge concept. It would also make the idea of “innovation” central in the minds of future policy makers, which is certainly a good thing.

3. Produce Technology Related Cases
Many of the general courses (econ, stats, econometrics, management, etc) use case-based teaching methodology. More of these cases should focus on technology. Generalists would then learn about technology through other disciplines, which will deepen their understanding of both. ‘Nuff said.

4. Develop a Civic Innovation Incubator
Cambridge is a hub of entrepreneurship, and it would be great to connect Kennedy School students – who have an expertise in how to solve social problems – with folks who are experts in entrepreneurship and business. We need more civic innovators, and Cambridge is the perfect place to develop them. Harvard Business School just launched an Innovation Incubator, and it would be great if there was a civic stream in that incubator, or if the Kennedy School partnered with this center in some way to promote civic innovations. Students could work on everything from developing an scoping creative apps for government databases to starting social enterprises that leverage technology. One way to institutionalize this is to give students the choice between writing a master’s thesis and writing a plan for and/or launching a civic startup? (thx for that one, Seth Flaxman).

5. Model the Behavior You Want to See in Government
What would be truly representative of the Kennedy school taking this seriously is to develop the plans for enhancing tech at the school to develop it in a collaborative tech-enabled fashion. Its fine to talk about how innovative you are, but at some point you actually have to eat your own dog food. I think the Kennedy School is heading in the right direction (many professors now blog, the school is active on social media sites, etc) but there could be more done to facilitate online collaboration and communication between students and there are definitely opportunities to create an ideascale like platform to engage students in the planning and decision making process in an open and transparent way.

Any one else have thoughts on the types of preparatory experiences that would support emerging public servants in the field of gov20?

Rocket scientists, software developers, systems engineers, and all the other people that work at Goddard helping us better understand the earth and space are smart. That’s a given. But how do they improve their practice, learn from each other, and continue to improve on overwhelmingly complex tasks?

In a huge and complex organization such as Goddard, Knowledge Management is usually a core component of organizational learning. I’ve done some work in Knowledge Management in the past, and obsessively read Harvard Business Review articles on the topic, but I was really excited to dig into it in the context of space exploration. I spent a few weeks reading as much as I could on the topic, and was fortunate enough to attend an internal workshop led by the extraordinary Ed Rodgers, head of Knowledge Management at Goddard.

Here’s what I learned.

Knowledge Management at Goddard is About People

NASA creates things that don’t exist yet. Doing that takes incredible talent. At NASA, the talent lies not in its complex technologies, shuttles, spaceships, or intranets, but rather in its people. The products are certainly breathtaking and wondrous, but the success of the things that come out of NASA are a reflection of the knowledge of and collaboration between thousands of brilliant people. This point was really driven home at the Knowledge Management conference I attended…according to one participant:

“we didn’t hire smart people so we could tell them what to do; we hired them to tell us what to do.”

NASA’s work is organized around Missions. When a Mission is stood up people from across the center are brought together to work on the project. In theory, people with similar backgrounds and skills should be interchangeable. That’s where knowledge management comes in – to make sure that anyone from a particular unit that is assigned to a project has all the skills and knowledge developed in that content area within the unit. Each mission should get the knowledge of the whole department when you work with an individual.

The case study ”Goddard Space Flight Center: Building a Learning Organization (B)”[1] summarizes this point really well:

Knowledge Management is “better application of collective knowledge to the individual problem. So we need to develop some systems and do a little more work to share collective knowledge and make us smarter.”

It makes sense then, that Knowledge Management at NASA Goddard is people-centric:

The chart appeared in “The NASA Learning Organization – How NASA Reapplies Its Knowledge for Mission Success” (2009) and describes how Goddard reapplies its knowledge.

Here’s the same chart, broken up another way:

So as an individual trying to learn, I have my own experiences, which I can reflect on and share with others during pause-and-learns, through job rotations, case studies, and lessons learned documents. In turn, I can learn from case studies and lessons learned from other projects, which I can engage with by simply reading about,  attending workshops, or engaging with my peers.

Main Takeaway: In some places, Knowledge Management is about creating systems that get around people’s knowledge deficiencies. At Goddard, it really seems like it is about empowering people to share and reflect on what they know best. It’s a subtle distinction, but I really like that they put people in the center of this work, and start from a place of abundant knowledge in people rather than a lack of information in systems.

Social Media Can Enhance Learning (but relationships matter)

The Knowledge Management life-cycle at Goddard seems solid to me; the focus is on the individual’s learning processes, structures, and needs, rather than content management systems, which is already leaps and bounds ahead of the curve, and there are many practices and resources to facilitate the process. Because of that, the system is unique in that is dovetails nicely with a socialized knowledge management system. People are already used to residing within a learning organization, and social software will enhance the on-the-ground process that are already so robust.

Kent Greenes made a presentation at the KM workshop I attended, and strengthened my intuition with an interesting discussion about how social media can interact with Knowledge Management and learning:

The is a very simple chart that goes a long way in explaining how Social Networks can enhance knowledge management and learning.

The important thing to note is that whether you collaborate or simply connect, the strength of your ties will have an impact on what you are able to do. If you really want to be able to get rapid, trustworthy answers or enhance or accelerate results on a project, it will be important to develop those strong ties.

Main Takeaway: Social media has a lot of potential, but you need to think about how to facilitate different kinds of (online and offline) relationships between people so that their thinking is improved, innovation occurs, they can get quick answers to complex problems, in order to enhance and accelerate business outcomes.

Learning in Public is Hard, but Worth It.

One of the great benefits of using social media as a KM tool is that you are creating and capturing the knowledge at the same time. However, in order for this to truly work people have to be willing to collaborate in the open throughout the project lifecycle. “Learning in Public” is scary for many reasons – people can find and cling to outdated information and users are exposing their knowledge during a vulnerable time in the project (i.e. when they don’t yet have all the answers). However, during this part of the process is when learning can be most valuable. If you share what you know and what you don’t know in the middle of a project, you give people an opportunity to share specific knowledge that can help you in the moment. If it works, this can help save time and money.

I haven’t looked into how this happens at Goddard, but at our humble little firm, we are all about learning in public – we developed our business out in the open, are growing out in the open, and are projects are experimental and very public. So far, this philosophy has helped us tremendously.

Main Takeaway: Sometimes learning in public is a difficult process, but the feedback, support, and resultant improvements are worth it.

With that, as always, your comments and thoughts on this post are much appreciated and adored.


[1] Gerry Yemen and Professor James G. Clawson Darden Business Publishing University of Virginia Daren School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA 2005 Back to post

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: All opinions and opinion-like ideas in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center or ASRCfederal or ARTS or any other person, agency, or organization. Furthermore, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA, or any other agency or organization listed in this disclaimer. Its just me!

Originally posted at on July 30th, 2010.

Ok, I didn’t really go to space. I did, however, find my way down to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where I will be working on an enterprise 2.0 project for the next few months.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is headquartered in Washington DC, and its mission is to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”[1] It was established under President Eisenhower in 1958, put men on the moon in 1969, launched the space shuttle to provide ongoing access to space in 1981, established with Russia the International Space Station in 2000, landed the Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004, sent Cassini to orbit around the Saturn in 2004, and continues to supports the repaired Hubble Space Telescope for deep space exploration.

NASA headquarters is organized around the following mission directorates:

  • “Aeronautics: pioneers and proves new flight technologies that improve our ability to explore and which have practical applications on earth”
  • “Exploration Systems: creates capabilities for sustainable human and robotic exploration”
  • “Science: explores the Earth, solar system and universe beyond; charts the best route of discovery; and reaps the benefit of Earth and space exploration for society.”
  • “Space operations: provides critical enabling technologies for much of the rest of NASA through the space shuttle, the International Space Station and flight support”[3]

NASA’s work is supported through ten centers, each of which has a unique way of contributing to NASA’s overall mission, ranging from Astronaut Training and Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, to Deep Space Robotics Research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, to Kennedy Space Center, which is the launch site for many space vehicles. You can find more information about these and other NASA centers here.

I am working down at Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, MD, who’s mission is as follows:

“The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)…expands the knowledge of Earth and its environment, the solar system, and the universe through observations from space. The Center also conducts scientific investigations, develops and operates space systems, and advances essential technologies.”[4]

In practical terms, they build and operate spacecraft and collect cool data about the earth and the stars and everything in between:

Goddard is a major laboratory for developing and operating unmanned scientific spacecraft. We are an end-to-end science mission operation. At Goddard and within Engineering, we design missions, build satellites and instruments, operate and control spacecraft, and acquire and distribute data to the world-wide science community. Our data products are used to conduct research in Earth and Space Sciences that benefit both the nation and the world.[5]

Goddard’s work is organized into several different directorates:

  • flight projects
  • science and exploration
  • applied engineering and technology
  • information technology and communications
  • suborbital and special orbital projects (Wallops Flight Facility)

My contract is with the Applied Engineering DirectorateSoftware Engineering Division → Computing Environments and Collaborative Technologies Branch. I’ve been brought on to do evaluation and planning work to explore how the use of open and collaborative (web 2.0) tools can help and support the work of the engineers in this directorate.

I’m currently in the discovery phase of this process, scoping out the boundaries of the project, setting goals, objectives, and outcomes, establishing open and collaborative processes for the evaluation and planning phase, developing an evaluation tool based on leading research in knowledge management, enterprise 2.0, and online community building, and am starting to meet with and interview key stakeholders in this project. I’m also just learning as much as I can about the history and culture of the organization, so I can best connect with their needs, and make recommendations that make sense in this context.

In doing this work, part of my job is to make sure that I live by the principles that we are tying to promote, and I’m going to use this space to communicate key findings, decisions, and lessons learned along the way, and hope to get feedback from people working on or interested in this project.

NASA is an awesome agency. I love this country, and believe that government can make this world a better place to live in. For me, NASA is a wonderful reminder that when we set clear goals, support talented employees and dedicate ourselves to pushing boundaries and working hard, our government and our nation can produce amazing things.

I’m really excited about this first project and look forward to sharing as much as possible in this space. Feel free to comment here, email me at yasmin [at] bonnieandyasmin [.] com, yasmin [at] byoconsulting [.] com or tweet me at @yasminfodil if you have any questions or thoughts.

Thanks! To infinity and beyond! 🙂

– Yasmin

P.S. NASA uses the data they collect in innumerable ways; I would encourage you to interact with Goddard on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and/or Flickr if you are interested in learning more. They have a great Public Affairs Office, and put out tons of cool stuff on a regular basis. Astronomy Picture of the Day is pretty cool too.


1-3. What Does NASA Do? Mission statement obtained from NASA website, accessed on July 29th, 2010. Back to post


4. The NASA Organization w/Change 9 (June 14, 2010). Accessed July 14th, 2010 Back to post

5. About the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate (AETD) Back to post

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: All opinions and opinion-like ideas in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center or ASRCfederal or ARTS or any other person, agency, or organization. Furthermore, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA, or any other agency or organization listed in this disclaimer. Its just me!


Two months ago I graduated with a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. It was an exciting day, albeit filled with sadness. Over the past two years I made amazing friends from all over the world, and it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I would highly recommend the place to anyone. Learning from amazing professors, meeting with the most prominent leaders in politics and government on a daily basis, and connecting to communities of practice all around the world was nothing short of exceptional.

For me, however, the most amazing part of the Kennedy School was its entrepreneurial nature. Students can access the most amazing resources in the world, but then must do something with them. I (along with many of my awesome classmates) choose to focus on Government 2.0, and how to make the Kennedy School (and the world!) a better place through social tech:

I’m happy about all the progress we made; we started with a powerpoint presentation + a twitter account + me + anna york + five audience members and grew to have a super successful New England Gov20 Unconference with over 250 attendees just a year later. How did we make this effort a success?

  • We started with a simple plan – create a group of students interested in exploring this work. Requirements for participating? Be interested in the subject, and be willing to take ownership over a project. Many student groups differentiate roles and responsibilities in a way that paralyzes them, and we wanted to create a bunch of dynamic events that would quickly capture the attention of students, professors, and administrators at the school.
  • We formally created the group in the Spring of 2009, but used the summer to plan and officially recruited committee members once the Fall semester ended. This planning time allowed us to create opportunities for people to engage while being sure to allow them enough time to grow.
  • We recruited the first cohort of leadership committee members during the first few weeks of school, and quickly started organizing events:
  • Throughout this time, we also reached out to the gov20 community, blogging and tweeting regularly and attending as many events and conferences as we could to learn about this work from the practitioners who were engaging with it on the ground Supported the HKS Student Government to create a wiki for student groups
  • Towards the end of the year we worked on creating a sustainable plan for Government 2.0 PIC to make sure the group is sustainable moving forward
  • Finally, we elected a Gov20 Board for 2010-11 (woot! Check out their new website – much cheekier than WetheGoverati ;-)) to make sure the organization continued after we graduated

There are a lot of awesome things happening at the Kennedy School on this front that we did not lead (tons of gov20 exec ed programs, Clay Shirky coming to the Shorenstein Center in the Fall, etc) but we will take credit for kicking things off on the student side of things, and demonstrating to faculty and staff that there is a demand for training in this area. Of that, I am proud.

Furthermore, our most important goal was to expose policy students to the field, and make sure that future public servants were aware of the risks and opportunities in this field. To that end, I am pleased that several students wrote their Master’s Thesis on gov20 related topics, and many are now working in the field (Johnny Falla is at Millennium Promise doing digital strategy, Seth Flaxman is launching his own startup, Turbovote, we’ve got people at State and all around the world making this happen).

Along with Bonnie Shaw, I am launching a startup – BYO consulting. We’re still in the planning phases; you can find out more about our work on our website but up at our new site, We don’t have a fancy name yet because we are still in the planning process.

If there’s anything this journey has taught me is that working and growing and learning in public allows you to move at a much faster and more innovative pace than doing things behind closed doors. So that is what we are going to do.

Although we haven’t officially launched, we are hard at work.

I have started a project with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working on an enterprise 2.0 evaluation and strategy to help them create a plan for more open and collaborative ways of working through the use of web 2.0 tools in order to enhance communications, build relationships among colleagues, facilitate business processes, accelerate innovation & learning, and ultimately improve business goals and mission outcomes. I’ll be blogging about the progress of our evaluation and strategy development during my work with NASA; you can find all of that stuff on the new site ☺ you can find all of that stuff right here where I will continue to blog about my work with NASA and my new venture,

It is on this happy note that I am bringing WetheGoverati to a close. It was a wonderful way to document our work, as well as engage with the community. The comments section turned out to be a wonderful space to talk about ideas and meet new people, many of which I follow and have met in person. That being said, I don’t think blogs should exist longer than they are needed, and its time to put this one to bed.

I hope you’ll join me over at Bonnie and Yasmin, and the Harvard Government 2.0 PIC at their new WeGovHarvard site, and continue to engage in this work. If you have any questions or comments please be in touch, and thanks to all who supported us, and helped us build an awesome gov20 community for students at the Kennedy School!


Edited September 16th, 2010

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010

Last Fall I attended the Government 2.0 Expo and Summit, and had one of the most enriching professional experiences in the last few years. And this is saying a lot, given that I spend most of my time at the Kennedy School attending various lectures, meetings, and high-profile meetings. This year, I am very proud to be on the Government 2.0 Expo Committee, and want to encourage you all to attend.

See the current list of confirmed speakers. Some govies I am especially excited for include Richard Boly (U.S. Department of State – eDiplomacy), Michelle Chronister (General Services Administration and Presidential Management Fellow), Cammie Croft (The White House New Media), and many others.

From the conversations I had in the hallway with motivated and brilliant public servants, to the many presentations and panels about specific ways to improve your work, the time spent there was invaluable. Whether you are a die-hard gov20 enthusiast or interested in learning more, I would encourage you to check out this event.

Make sure to register soon for the best discounts. If you have any questions about the event feel free to be in contact and I’ll do my best to help.

More info…

“Gov 2.0 Expo, happening May 25-27, 2010 in Washington DC is THE technology conference and expo for 21st Century Government. Throughout three days of workshops, sessions, and plenary discussions, Gov 2.0 Expo brings stakeholders from the government and private sectors together and delivers the practical tools, in-depth training, and industry contacts needed to answer the new mandate for transparency, efficiency, and cost containment. Gov 2.0 Topics and Themes include Cloud Computing, Open Data, Cybersecurity, Data Management, Health IT, Collaboration tools, and Interoperability.”

Updated February 23rd:

If you can’t make it to the EXPO, you should check out the free online conference being offered March 11th. This FREE two hour, interactive online conference will showcase international Gov 2.0 innovations being pioneered in Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, and more. Registration is FREE. See the full agenda:

I started working on Government 2.0 at the Kennedy School just about a year ago, and it has been an amazing time. I’ve attended amazing events, met many hard-working and dedicated people, hosted some great events for HKS students, and have found an amazing group of HKS students who are super passionate about making government work better for all people.

I am most excited for one of our upcoming events – the Government 2.0 Camp New England – taking place Saturday March 6th at the Kennedy School – an un-conference being planned with representatives from the HKS Gov20 PIC, the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy, MIT,, and O’Reilly Media. We hope to bring together representatives from academia, government and the public to discuss using social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies to create a more effective, efficient and collaborative government.

You can find more information on our wiki, and register through eventbrite. You can also follow us on Twitter and keep track of our activities using the Twitter hashtag #gov20ne.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, or anyone else on the organizing committee: @laurelatoreilly, @sarahebourne, @jessweiss, or @rgoodspeed.

The Government 2.0 community is exceptionally inclusive and collaborative, and this is reflecting in the diversity of folks who have already signed up. I hope to see you there too!