Pamela Wright is the chief digital access strategist for NARA and said she and others at the agency reached out to the public in a variety of ways.
“We did the traditional snail mail and email, but we added two new avenues. We allowed people to write on our blog . . . and we also added a social media voting tool, where people can write a comment, put up an idea, and other people can go and look at the idea and comment on [it] and vote for it.”
The social media tool created with a product called IdeaScale, helped NARA to create its IdeaForum, which helped the agency with crowdsourcing and collaboration, two big goals of the Open Government Directive.
“I didn’t know how people would use it. Frankly, I was really wondering what would happen, but I was amazed. We had people who self-identified as folks from watchdog groups, other agencies, the general public, our own staff — it generated a lot of great ideas.”
Wright said, honestly, NARA didn’t get any suggestions via traditional mail, but she said the agency still thinks more traditional means of communication are important, especially when reaching out and asking for input from a diverse group of people.
“I think there’s kind of a rush to [use] social media in a lot of ways. It’s fun and new, and it’s very useful and can be done quickly, but you can’t let it go that there are many people that don’t have access to social media tools [and] need traditional methods to be in touch with you, as well.”
NARA is using social media, however, in all sorts of ways. During the same week that it released its Open Government Plan, Archivist David S. Ferriero launched his own blog as yet another way to try and get the public involved.
So far, Wright said, NARA has gotten hundreds of responses on both the blog and their Open Government site.
One of the biggest lessons learned about social media so far, she said, has to do with the volume. She said, initially, she and others at the agency weren’t sure their social media outreach was going to work — and soon they were pleasantly surprised.
“We got ideas back quickly. The turnaround is so amazingly quick that we could actually incorporate ideas that were put up [with social media] within days, so that, when we put our plan out, it actually quoted people that had put comments on the IdeaForum.”
Wright said, so far, she and others at NARA plan to continue using social media in the future.
“I think the whole idea of open government — of transparency, participation and collaboration — is really about a culture change in agencies. It’s not that we’re doing different work — the ‘what’ of our work stays the same — it’s the ‘how we do it’ and the idea of opening up our processes, being more transparent about what we’re doing, and working with the public to get to solutions — I think that this is the new [process] that this Directive puts in place.”