Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
People in thousands of government offices perform similar jobs. If only they could find a way to tap the expertise and wisdom of others via the Web. Then they could share ideas and best practices and even talk about books they're reading or gripe about bosses.
Steve Ressler has provided a way for government workers to do just that. Ressler, an information specialist at Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched the networking Web site GovLoop last Memorial Day. It allows chief information officers, county managers and anyone else who wants to join, to discuss ideas and issues ranging from how to use a wiki to what the best tools are for emergency communications. The site now has nearly 10,000 members.
Some of the hundreds of groups on GovLoop touch on issues of government 2.0, homeland security, open source software, acquisitions and human resources. The site also has blogs, job listings and discussion forums. About 30 percent of members come from state and local government. Others are federal workers, contractors, journalists and good government groups.
GovLoop is part of a phenomenon of informal social networks that government employees use without having to deal with the "input or control of their superiors," Ressler wrote in a guest post on Wikinomics. He cites as other examples a social networking for firefighters. and one for young federal employees.
These informal information networks are arising for four reasons, he wrote:
1. They fill gaps in information provided by employers.
2. They provide instantaneous access to resources and expertise.
3. They're viewed as authentic communities of peers and venues for candid dialog.
4. They serve as innovation incubators when employees are not empowered to pursue their ideas in an their own organizations.
Senior officials also get benefits from informal network because they can collaborate and suggest ideas without seeming to "big foot" employees, as can happen on internal networks.
Yes, it's one more social networking site to sign up for and explore and check in on. But the way it's targeted, it may be worth it for government employees.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.