By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Carolyn Lawson, deputy director of eServices for the State of California, recently talked to gov20.govfresh.com about the state’s efforts to bring more information to the public in the midst of a budget crisis, part of which is an effort to get its own people to get it.


Social media tools such as Twitter, iPhone apps and YouTube have recently been integrated into state efforts to make access to information easier, Lawson said; for example, questions about job fairs, checks and website navigation can be tweeted to @CA_EDD for a quick response. The DMV has also launched a YouTube channel so high school driver training videos can be provided with no additional cost to the state.

An excerpt of Lawson's take on the expanding role of social media in government transparency:

Lawson observed that California itself is still evolving in how it uses social media. “We still have many departments blocking the governor’s Twitter,” she said, alluding to Governor @Schwarzenegger’s massively popular account. The challenge, as Lawson posed it, is to show how government use of social media combines with open data initiatives.

"What are we afraid of? The consequences of transparency. We were really afraid of crowdsourcing ideas to improve California IT with Ideasalce. We got beat up – but we also got ideas. We’re the government: we’re going to get beat up. You can’t take it personally.”

Lawson broadly described a cultural shift going towards open government brought about by the Obama admin, though she recognized that many efforts had gone on before. “This is being pushed through by Obama’s transparency initiatives,” she said. “It used to be revolutionary for public documents to be available in a municipal building to people walking in. No more.”

So how should an organization tackle objections that put social media age into a technology issue, rather than a management challenge? “That’s where I have my ‘activity or accomplish’ conversation,” said Lawson. “Is this that conversation about the telephone in 1920s? Or is it something that we need to do to protect our data and information? You have to get people engaged in the conversation. That took us more than a year. If you can relate behavior to behavior to technology, that’s where you have a win.”