Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Social Media and FACA, the Art of the Possible

So, what are we talking about when we mentioned bringing FACA into the Social Media realm? Let me see if I can break it down for you:

The Problem:
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) ensures public influence on policy decisions. Current regulations facilitate this by requiring all meetings be open to the public (accept when the meetings are deemed by the sponsoring Agency that they should be closed to the public), notification of the meeting be posted in the Federal Register at least 15 days prior, and reporting and record keeping requirements on those meetings (meeting minutes, etc…)

With the explosion of social networking, and the advent of the Web 2.0 paradigm of information collaboration, it's clear that the minimum FACA requirements have become outdated and overly bureaucratic to adequately facilitate public participation.

Web 2.0 is a term describing social software used to facilitate information sharing and collaboration. Basically, the term encapsulates the idea of the proliferation of interconnectivity and social interactions on the Web that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. These concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and the like.

By leveraging Web 2.0 tools and processes, a broader net can conceivably be cast to incorporate a wider range of public engagement. This would result in the sponsoring agencies being more fully informed of issues and concerns during policy or regulatory development.

The Solution:
The concept of using the Web 2.0 paradigm to facilitate public participation in the spirit of FACA, involves exploiting the social software tools in an environment that fosters collaboration:

BLOG: A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

For use with a FACA committee, a blog can be used to announce meetings, discuss future agenda items and task statements.

FORUM: An Internet forum is a web application for holding discussions and posting user-generated content. Internet forums are also commonly referred to as Web forums, newsgroups, message boards, discussion boards, or (electronic) discussion groups. Messages within these sub-forums are then displayed either in chronological order or as threaded discussions. The forum can be used to solicit comments/feedback on Blog entries, field questions, and facilitate dialogue about specific issues. As with the blog, the forum would be fully moderated by the NMSAC staff.

WIKI: A wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis. A wiki can be used to collaborate on task statements, policy directives, proposed rulemakings, etc...

SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES: A social network site focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services.

Social networking has created powerful new ways to communicate and share information. Social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people, and it now seems that social networking will be an enduring part of everyday life. The main types of social networking services are those which contain directories of some categories (such as former classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages), and recommender systems linked to trust. Sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, and MySpace can be leveraged to provide further visibility of FACA developments and foster participation in the committee’s work.

WEBINARS: Also known as Web conferencing, webinars are used to conduct live meetings or presentations over the Internet. In a webinar, each participant sits at his or her own computer and is connected to other participants via the internet. This can be either a downloaded application on each of the attendee’s computers or a web-based application where the attendees will simply enter a URL (website address) to enter the conference. Webinars can be used to facilitate single issue FACA meetings, allowing for thorough discussion vs. all day (or even multiple day) agenda driven meetings. (incidentally, we've used this feature in our past 2 meetings with great success).

Current advisory committee collaboration would be greatly enhanced by using these tools. Rather than deliberation and discussion of issues within the fixed timeframe of a public meeting, Web 2.0 tools can be used to facilitate a discussion that takes place before during and after on official meeting. Extrapolation lends itself to eliminating a formal meeting all together, however this may be an extreme. In addition, Web 2.0 could allow for deliberations to be conducted with a minimum of logistics and costs.

So, as you see, we have big plans for this Committee and Social Media. And if you're one of the minority that think this kind of thing is a fad, I encourage you to check out ADM Allen's new blog , his first post pretty much sums up the Coast Guard's marching orders.

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