Thursday, August 7, 2008

Federal Government Social Networking and Enterprise Data

I recently participated in a very interesting discussion about mechanisms and issues for leveraging external (i.e. outside the firewall) social networking tools in the Federal Government; for example, browsing and executing searches in Facebook, using Flickr for socializing and recieving comments on photographs, and participating in "open" blog discussions.

While this isn't necessarily a new issue, and many agencies are gradually enabling "Government 2.0" for both their constituents and employees/contractors (more quickly in the Intelligence arena), the rapid growth and pressure to utilize these tools for mission purposes is unmistakable and requires more rapid, cross-government address (or at least really well thought-out and vetted models for experimentation, leverage, best practice development). Commercial businesses are generally ahead of the curve (from government) in addressing this need, and "Information Governance 2.0" is fast becoming an absolute necessity as an overlay on top of existing "Data Governance" programs.

In a past post, I mentioned the recent adoption of a new DHS directive concerning "Information Sharing" - but this addressed "Enterprise Data" from a very secure and compartmentalized perspective (i.e. DHS itself), and not necessarily from the "Enterprise" of the entire Homeland Security Community of Interest (COI - public and private). While government enterprise data management and governance strategies are certainly advancing rapidly, due in large part to the DOD and Federal Enterprise Architecture efforts of the past years, these strategies don't yet consistently include information and information-sharing processes that cross the government-public boundaries. As more and more success in information-sharing is derived from cross-domain and cross-organization socialization, using Web 2.0 information-handling and manipulation tools, a new category of "Enterprise Data" will need to be governed - i.e. "Open Community of Interest Enterprise Data". These are subjects, conversations, expertise identification and information products generated specifically as a result of open collaboration by the Enterprise, co-mingling Enterprise-sourced data with open source data.

By "Enterprise-sourced Data", I also don't mean data that was intended all along to be produced for public consumption; rather, data that wasn't intended initially for public consumption, perhaps because it was organizationally perceived as having little value outside the close community of practitioners and mission owners who use it. "Enterprise-sourced Data" in this sense would basically consist of government records, i.e. the raw evidence of the activities of government, put forth for the community with which to create collaborative, innovative value (most likely unplanned or un-envisioned by the original "stewards").

Basically, citizens are saying "show us some stuff we've not seen before, and we'll mix it up with stuff we have to create some brand new concoctions". Federal employees are, likewise, saying "I'd like to throw some raw ingredients into the big pot, and harness some crowd-sourcing energy to expose new uses for the material I'm producing, for all to benefit from".

Commercial businesses aren't necessarily very far along in explictly defining, for purposes of Information Governance, what constitutes "external" Enterprise Data vs. "internal" (i.e. what raw ingredients can be thrown in the communal pot). There are laws and corporate policies for particular kinds of data and information exchanges, to be sure, but for most information that exists in social discourse without explicit categorization (how do you categorize a blog entry that says "hey, that cat I saw this morning, its coloring might be useful for highlighting this area of our website") there are only general guidelines, such as in "Sun's Guidelines for Public Discourse".

A lot, however, is left in these guidelines to some degree of professional interpretation, experience-based decisions, and simple trust. While this latitude and trust may be good enough for many businesses (it's just money, after all), in many cases the government's mission is too sensitive (we're talking lives at stake) to rely on "guidelines" - vs. explict and automated policy.

Once we get closer to a broad acknowledgement, definition and model for "Open COI Enterprise Data" in the C2G paradigm, this should help address and enable the growing need for the government to engage and utilize "open source" social networking tools, for public benefit. Start by examining your data governance program, and trying to extend it to information that doesn't yet exist, but would be created, should your data be shared outside the firewall and pounced on by Web 2.0-equipped constituents.

1 comment:

Alex said...

If you are interested in this topic you may want to visit the first social/business network for federal contractors at: