Gartner criticizes cities’ use of social media, open data

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Local governments shouldn’t count on open data strategies and reward, rather than punish employees who use their personal social media accounts for work purposes, a Gartner analyst told a group of Canadian municipal IT professionals on Tuesday.

In a keynote speech at the Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA) 2011 conference, Andrea DiMaio, vice-president and distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., said the concept of “government 2.0” often lacks clarity. While more cities are investing in online tools to collaborate with citizens or serve them more directly, he said the pace of collaboration is driven entirely by government, and pays scant attention to the sites where everyday people do most of their online activities.

“This is what gov 2.0 is about: how government folks can be engaged in places where people create, because that’s where they have their conversations,” he said.

DiMaio, who is normally based out of Italy, offered examples from around the world of governments which are using social networks in ways to improve public services. This included public sector employment agencies whose workers use their personal LinkedIn accounts to try and find displaced citizens new jobs, or public safety officers who encourage the use of Twitter to find people during a crisis.

Most municipalities, unfortunately, find themselves at some point on the continuum of either denying the use of social media in their organizations, attempts to replace services by creating their own versions of Facebook, which no one uses, or embracing the services. He suggested that rather than creating “official” Facebook pages for cities or departments, it might be better to encourage personal accounts to work directly with citizens.

“Employees are banned or are tolerated for using services, when they should be protected and rewarded,” he said. “This is about policy, performance appraisal, making every employee more productive. Most of the focus is on social media policies, how to stop or prevent people from doing stupid things, rather than encouraging people to do the right things.”

While many cities have also been aggressively releasing set of information for the public to create their own applications, DiMaio was far more sceptical of the “open data” movement.

“The idea is that we push out this open data, and something beautiful will happen, but the applications that get created are always the same. When will the next bus come? How much is this piece of land worth?” he said, adding that the biggest users of open data sets are the press, lobbyists and other groups that are already in the business of getting information from government.

Instead, DiMaio urged MISA attendees to take a portfolio approach to open data, looking at the benefits, costs and risks. Some costs obscure, he said, such as monitoring costs. The risks include the quality of the applications created, whether data is misused and how it affects the city’s branding. Other costs are around development (retrieval, declassification, transformation). Key benefits are constituent value (better service), and operational efficiency.

No matter whether they focus on social media, open data or both, DiMaio said it was vital that municipalities pay more attention to what’s happening outside their own Web sites.

“Every single employee has to be able to get in touch with those external networks,” he said. “You have to empower every single employee to use Facebook or LinkedIn. They must use them alongside Word, Excel and all the case management systems.”

MISA 2011 wraps up Wednesday.


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