Archive for the ‘egovernment’ Category

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Meet Adriel Hampton: A Social Media Candidate for Congress

June 2, 2009

Ask anyone what they think the previous occupation of a Congressman was, and they’ll probably say “lawyer.” Or career politician. They might picture someone in a stuffy suit, making lots of promises they don’t keep. And it’s true that many members of Congress have backgrounds in law or business, and often have great personal wealth or super-connected families at their disposal to give them a leg up in the campaign.

But Adriel Hampton is refreshing because he’s not any of those things. Adriel is currently running for Congress in the 10th district of California — and he’s one of our very own social media guys, among other things. He’s a pioneer and thought leader in the realm of government 2.0 and open government. He even made headlines for how he announced his Congressional campaign: via Twitter.

Last week I had the chance to interview Adriel about his bid for Congress — check out what he had to say about politics, government, social media, and transparency. This is a guy who truly believes in changing American politics and OPENING government to the people. He’s running for Congress to bring real change to Congress – I’d say that’s something to get excited about.

NC: Tell us about yourself. Why are you running for Congress?
AH: I’m running for Congress because I deeply feel that our system is broken. People say it takes a half million dollars and name ID to even think of running – and that’s the problem. I’m running to show that what it takes to serve as a representative of your community in Congress is vision, a record of community building and some really hard work.

As far as social media, I’m a longtime journalist in addition to my current job as a municipal investigator. I began blogging in 2003, used blogs for environmental and development campaigns after I left newspapering in 2005, and I got really involved with the “2.0” tools in 2008 around the Barack Obama campaign (though in 2005 I did speak at the Webzine conference on blogging and journalism). I use social media as a two-way channel and I’m really excited to see mass communication moving away from broadcast and becoming more person-to-person. I’m very active with GovLoop, a network for gov employees, and was introduced to lots of collaborative tools for activism by Jon Pincus last fall during the anti-bank bailout fight. As you know, I’m very active on Twitter, which is a natural medium for me based on my communication style and career as a journalist. I founded Gov 2.0 Radio on BlogTalkRadio along with several friends from GovLoop, and, lastly, I help with official social media outreach for my employer, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

NC: You’re being called by some the first-ever social media candidate for Congress. What does this mean to you? What role does social media play in your campaign and in your platform?
AH: I know that I’m not the first politician to use social media, by far. However, I think that meme is out there because I’m one of the first people to embrace social media before running for office. Until this local congressional seat opened up with the planned resignation of the incumbent, I was in school and pursuing a career as a city manager. I believe social media is key to the effective democratic governance of this country because of its relative transparency and the ability to talk to many people and build rapport and exchange ideas faster and more broadly than ever before. I also support net neutrality, which I believe is important to preserving the growth of social media. I’ve also been able to recruit a large number of volunteers from social media channels based on relationships we’ve built through public conversations.

NC: Given that many people running for Congress are not from new media backgrounds, do you feel there are any unique challenges you’ve run into as a social media candidate? Do you feel there are any different expectations or standards?
AH: There is always a challenge when you try to do things in a more transparent manner. I like to talk about issues, and that opens me up for attack. When you have ongoing conversations about difficult issues, especially in a political environment, you’re going to find people who don’t want to have a conversation but rather want to find something to disagree with. I think being so open on social media channels is going to give traditional mudslingers more to work with against me.

NC: Do you ever worry about the fact that everything you say is recorded online, and might come back to you one day?
AH: Sure I do! However, I’m not just fighting to win an election, I’m fighting to change the “gotcha” culture of American politics. If I can build a large base of people who know and trust me, as I have in my personal life, it will protect and encourage others who also want to change the nature of American politics. I believe we can do this, even if I have to take some painful hits as one of the pioneers.

NC: Has the use of social media tools helped your campaign? How?
AH: Most definitely. Being an early adopter of these tools has helped me create a niche in the Gov 2.0 community that gives me some national prominence and has generated a lot of press coverage for my campaign. It’s also helpful to be out and active in social media because I’m more ready for tough questions when I encounter them out on the trail. In addition to the aforementioned volunteers from social media, I’ve also been asked questions on Facebook and Twitter that then come up in other forums. I’d say it’s made me a much more prepared candidate.

NC: Have you tried convincing your peers in the political realm to use social media tools to engage with citizens and voters? What has been the response?
AH: Well, Nisha, there is no problem getting politicians to use social media to try to raise money or get volunteers. I’m much more interested in encouraging Web 2.0 adoption for governance, and that push has to come from the citizens for elected officials to see its value. That’s why I and some friends recently put on a “Citizen 2.0” training, working to get people more involved in pushing for these tools to make government more effective and responsive. Back to the politics for a second, I did start Twitter accounts for some of my opponents, linking to their bios and asking them to contact me if they wanted to use them. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and independent candidate Gino VanGundy took me up on it and are using their accounts a bit.
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Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California’s 10th District. Follow him on Twitter at @adrielhampton or @adriel4congress.

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Micah Sifry on Tech, Politics, and Old & New Media at POLC 09

May 11, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I attended the Politics Online conference, hosted by the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet.

One of the most well-known people in the world of tech politics is Micah Sifry, editor of PersonalDemocracy.com, TechPresident.com. At Politics Online, I had the chance to ask Micah some questions about how he started Personal Democracy Forum and Tech President, and what he thinks about the future of politics, technology, and the media, including the discussion over whether we should get rid of the White House Press Corps altogether. Check out the video interview below. A few snippets:

“Karen Tumulty [of TIME magazine]  had it right when she said… The White House briefing room…is where reporters go to perform for other reporters,” he said. “It’s theater. And it’s high school theater.”

“Marci Wheeler, a blogger, broke the story that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. That’s investigative reporting too. So we need to be careful when folks from the old media claim that there’s special thing called investigative reporting that only they can do.”

Micah Sifry at Politics Online 2009 from Nisha Chittal on Vimeo.

Also, Micah had a great article in Politico last week about the rise of Gov 2.0, and what it all really means, co-written with Andrew Rasiej, the other co-founder of PersonalDemocracy.com. I’d highly recommend checking it out for a great backgrounder on how the government is using new media, and why it matters to all of us.

“There’s a big wave of federal Internet innovation now under way,” they wrote.  “These changes may lead to a bigger reinvention of government — and of the relationship of citizens to their government — than anyone currently imagines.”

And that, I think, is the most exciting thing about gov 2.0.

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Why Congress NEEDS to be tweeting

April 29, 2009

claire-mccaskill-twitterA few months back I started writing a post questioning whether members of Congress really need to be Tweeting. Especially if their Tweets are particularly snarky. That post, like about 75% of the posts I start writing, never saw the light of day because I never completed that idea.

But then last week Matt Bai of the New York Times slammed politicians who use Twitter, most notably Senator Claire McCaskill. “The capital might be a better place if it became a Twitter-free zone,” Bai wrote, “a city where people spent more time talking to the guy serving the coffee and less time informing the world that the coffee had, in fact, been served.”

Then Senator McCaskill responded on her Tumblr blog (really, she has a Tumblr, which is worth noting in and of itself): “I tweet an average of 4 to 5 times a day.  This has become a welcome discipline for me in Washington. As I am walking to a hearing, or riding the tram over for a vote, I think of what I want to tell the folks at home about my work or life. This, I believe, is a fairly decent way to stay connected. After all, I’m in Washington to work for them and this process reminds me of it several times a day.

Senator McCaskill was also on a panel last week at the Politics Online conference in Washington, which I was fortunate enough to attend (thanks to the wonderful Julie Germany). On the panel, she and three other Members of Congress discussed how they use Twitter to stay connected with their constituents. All of them manage their own Twitter accounts and love the direct connection it gives them to the people — without reporters or communications staff in between them. All of them also read all their replies – they may not have time to respond to everything, but they read them, and it gives them an important window into the minds of their constituents, allowing them to know what the people are thinking.

The Members of Congress on the panel also talked about the frustrations they have run into sometimes in dealing with the other hundreds of Members of Congress who are not using Twitter and other new media tools to communicate with their constituents. Most elected officials haven’t gotten on the new media train yet. Most of them still don’t see the value in it. It’s not unlike the general population really — most normal people still don’t get the value of Twitter, either.

Bai also complains about other politicians, like Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, who recently tweeted:

craig-fugate-twitter

To which Bai responded in his article: “Which kind of makes you wonder: if the head of FEMA feels that disoriented buying a latte near the White House, what’s going to happen during a tornado?”

But Bai, and the other old media types like him who won’t stop complaining about how Washington is all a-twitter, don’t really get it. Elected officials may be elected officials, but they’re human beings too – and were chosen by the people to run our government. That doesn’t make them any less human, and the beauty of new media is that you get unfiltered access to these politicians and get to feel more connected to them. They step out from behind the curtain of press secretaries and communications staff and mainstream media and give you direct, unfiltered access to them.

So what if the head of FEMA had a stressful morning? Being the head of FEMA doesn’t mean you don’t experience the same normal moments that average people experience, or that you’re any less human than them. Hiding those moments behind a curtain isn’t productive, nor does it give people any more confidence that you can do your job better when there’s a tornado. And anyone who expects politicians to operate with secrecy rather than transparency is suggesting something ridiculous, as Bai does.

But politicians using Twitter are informing their constituents of what they’re doing in Congress (and why), provoking policy discussions, and most importantly, listening to what their constituents are saying and using that feedback as they continue their work in Congress. I’d say that’s a pretty good case for why every member of Congress should be getting on the new media train.

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Un-conferences are the future

April 19, 2009

I had the opportunity today to attend eDemocracyCamp2 in Washington, DC, an un-conference modelled after the BarCamp conferences going on across the country.

Edemcamp is an un-conference – described as “an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants who are the main actors of the event.”  They started with BarCamp in a couple cities, and have no sprung up all over the country in various cities and covering various topics. The gov 2.0 community recently held TransparencyCamp and Gov2.0Camp, and this weekend was eDemocracyCamp, which focused on participation and citizen engagement.

I’ve been to a whole lot of conferences, but this was my first un-conference, and I loved how totally different it was. It’s laidback and informal, free, and best of all, anyone who has an idea can show up in the morning and even decide to lead a session.

So, I did just that. I led a session on youth participation beyond election day. It was a really cool conversation and lots of people had a lot to say on the topic, and I’m excited to see how youth participation in politics will change in the future. I’ll be posting notes/a transcript sometime soon 🙂

The best thing about the un-conference is the grassroots, informal atmosphere that allows everyone to share their experiences and generate ideas together, creatively, rather than just listen to the experts.  Definitely a great experience -I love the un-conference phenomenon that is growing all over the country and I definitely recommend anyone with an interest and a barcamp near them, go to it!

Tomorrow begins the Politics Online conference, which explores the intersection of technology and politics — look for a few more posts and potentiallt video posts from me from the conference in Washington.

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The 21st century fireside chat: was it effective?

March 26, 2009

people-for-open-government-cartoon

Thursday around lunchtime (which in retrospect sounds like kind of awful timing), President Obama hosted the nation’s first-ever online town hall. For days, the White House was literally open for questions. 92,925 people submitted 104,132 questions and cast 3,606,841 votes on whitehouse.gov. And they saw their most popular questions get answered: on education, universal healthcare, legalizing marijuana, outsourced jobs, and more.

The point, as Obama said at the beginning, was “to open up the White House to the American people.”

The fun thing about any political event in 2009, or 2008 for that matter, is watching all the chatter on Twitter as it happens. You have reporters being smartasses, people being really critical, and smartass reporters telling people to calm down, and other reporters responding to each other. It’s really entertaining.

But it’s interesting to me, because I wonder, how effective are all the new media things that Obama’s administration is trying? Do people like it? Do they think it sucks? or does no one really care cause we’re all cynical and think politicians suck anyways? I like watching the Twitter stream because you can try to get a gauge of what people are thinking about an event as it happens.

I thought I might try to write a “review” of the online town hall today but I realize now that that would be kind of pointless. I would just be one more of the millions of online wannabe political pundits who thinks they know everything about what Obama did right and wrong today. Well, I don’t. But what I want to know is whether people liked it, and whether it really addressed the people’s concerns and needs.

Sure, people are excited. When you do a Twitter search on “Obama” today half the results that come up are along the lines of “Watching Obama’s online town hall, he’s so cool!” I get that. Everyone’s excited about innovation. But I don’t think we should get excited about innovation just for innovation’s sake. He shouldn’t be doing it because it’s “cool.” That would be like CNN trying hologram interviews… Oh wait, they did that. And it made them the laughingstock of news networks.

My point is, what is the White House’s goal of trying all these things? It isn’t just to create a tech-savvy, “cool” personal brand for President Obama and his White House. It should have clear-cut aims. And then I want to know: did the online town hall achieve its aims? Do the people feel like they had a voice? Do they feel like their questions were answered satisfactorily? Do they feel more confident in where the economy and the country are going? Do they feel like the President is listening to them, or do we all still think he’s an out-of-touch politician?

Did you watch it? Did you like it? Do you think it was effective? Did you get bored out of your mind?

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eGov: Naperville gets it

December 9, 2008

I am so proud. Not so much of my state

But my hometown of Naperville, IL, has a Twitter account. And I think it’s a sign that local government is starting to get it.

Naperville isn’t known for being cutting-edge. They’re known more for being a happy, family-friendly, booming suburb with great schools and lots of awards racked up for being the “best place to raise your children” or whatever.

I am excited for two reasons:

One, I think it is long overdue that government — local, state, and federal– start using social media to better their communities. The tools are out there. They’ve just been slow to move, as government usually is. But many towns, cities, and states are starting to embrace social media as a new form of communication, and even the White House, House, and Senate have Twitter accounts.

Two, politicians have clearly embraced social media as a strategy to get elected, but it can’t end on election day. Creating engaged and informed communities lasts well beyond election day, and so using new media can’t just be a political strategy, but should be a part of government strategy. Joe Trippi gets it when he talks about the idea of “MyWhiteHouse.Gov” — an interactive way for government officials, rather than just political candidates, to interact with the constituents they serve, and for the population to get involved in government affairs. There is so much potential to use these tools to increase civic engagement. Obama gets it when he emailed his 3 million supporters on election night promising that “the work has just begun.” This guy definitely gets it too. Instead of using blogs, Twitter, and social media purely for the sake of getting people to pay attention to an election long enough to vote for you and then dropping it, government officials can continue to use it once in office, having already created a connection with their supporters — and now, hopefully, their constituents will choose to be more aware and more involved.

Last week Chris Brogan wrote about what twitter might look like once it’s no longer dominated by tech geeks and others start to use social media in large numbers. I think we’re reaching that point. Twitter has the ability to bend to the will of its users — so it will be interesting to see how local governments can use Twitter and other social media to enhance and engage their communities in the future.

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