Young Leaders Get Their Gov On at NexGen Summit

For young federal, state, and municipal government employees, NextGen 2012 is a chance to get out of the office and spend two days networking with innovators, leaders, and activists. Hosted by GovLoop and Young Government Leaders on July 26th and 27th, the summit brought participants from around the country to D.C. for two days of inspiring keynote speeches, educational seminars, delicious food, and relaxing massages. 

Over lunch, a group of professionals from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of State, Social Security Administration, and the Treasury Department introduced themselves to one another and exclaimed over the Mexican buffet while sharing details from their morning seminars. They described the sessions as "inspirational," "motivating," and "really worthwhile," a sentiment that seems to be supported by comments on Twitter's trending #nextgengov feed.

There was some grumbling over civic leader Mario Morino's keynote address, which gave a sobering account of the impact outsourcing and job loss has had on his hometown of Chicago. However, Twitter users were quick to quote his insights on the active NextGen feed. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

After lunch, the group split up for breakout sessions. In a presentation entitled “The Road to Analytical Stardom,” a panel of four professionals with complimentary experiences working with data in a federal capacity discussed how President Obama's open data initiative is connecting agencies and citizens with numbers they can use. Together, they explained how the capture, storage, and analysis of data is expanding in volume, velocity, and variety.

In the past, data has traditionally been used for descriptive purposes. However, the three “v”s mentioned above now allow government agencies to use their data sets to make valuable predictions and create actionable plans, much like we do here at OhMyGov.

Carter Hewgley, FEMA Stat Director, used former Washington, D.C. city administrator Dan Tangherlini's quote to illustrate why government agencies need to make good use of the information they have on hand. He said, “optimism without data is just an emotion.”

From there, participants moved on to a second afternoon seminar. Led by Joseph Porcelli, Lauren Modeen, and Betsy Steele, “Leveraging Social Media Skills” was a lively presentation that made a case for social media in government.

They began with facts about the world as seen through the lens of technology. "If Twitter, with its estimated 140 million users, were a country, it would be the size of the Soviet Union and then some. Facebook, with 1 billion users, would be the 3rd largest country in the world."

Internet marketers began picking up on these facts years ago and made a business out of helping companies promote themselves within popular social networks. Now, citizens are practically demanding that government agencies and federal, state, and local legislators get on board, not to sell a product but to use these important technologies to improve their constituents' lives.

Social media offers politicians and agencies an unlimited number of ways to interact with the populations they serve. Conversation vehicles like those offered by Facebook and Twitter, are already being used on a local scale for crisis management during natural disasters and real-time response for municipal concerns like potholes, downed trees, or traffic issues. As the world becomes increasingly connected, federal agencies, too, must start using these methods of communication to serve and engage their users.

The seminar concluded with an enthusiastic discussion about reputation and social media -- an issue raised by a controversial article in which a recent graduate proclaimed that all social media managers should be under the age of 25 and then completely disengaged from any follow-up discussion.

GovDelivery's Lauren Modeen posed the question, "What would you do to manage this situation if it happened to your agency?" Participants in the seminar brainstormed ways in which they could use social media to respond to an upset or contentious audience while achieving positive results. 

While some agencies and politicians have been slow to delve into social networking themselves, their constituents are already using them in a big way - as platforms for praise, complaints, and questions. While agencies and representatives work on developing a social media presence, they must also continue to monitor what the populations they serve are saying online. Reputation management now has a critical social component. 

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Before the day concluded, Michael Gale of the Fish and Wildlife Service gave a quick talk on how viral videos like the popular honey badger on Youtube, in conjunction with outdoorsy apps, are connecting people with the environment. He remarked that "change isn't easy," when it comes to getting government agencies on board with technology, but it is worthwhile.

Then the 23 year old mayor of Holyoke, MA, Alex Morse, finished the first day of NextGen by sharing the advantages of being a young political leader in struggling town after ousting the area's well-established incumbents. He laughed about wearing suits to the grocery store during his campaign to avoid looking like the college senior he was, but the audience appeared most engaged by his ability to rally support among so many diverse constituents. 

The #NextGenGov Twitter feed illustrated good humor among participants who were welcomed with a kazoo performance by Mayor Morse and GovDelivery's Joseph Porcelli. Perhaps this presents the answer to a popular question posed by summit attendees: "How do you avoid getting sucked into cynicism?"

Perhaps they can follow the advice GovLoop's Steve Ressler shared on Twitter:

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