Andrea DiMaio

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Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

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US EPA Social Media Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Andrea Di Maio  |  January 29, 2010  |  14 Comments

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just issued an interim policy for employees who officially represent the agency online. I assume this apply to whomever is either writing on a blog, or running a group or editing a page on a social media, or responding to a post in his or her official capacity.

The policy is helpful in so that it reminds employees that they need to behave professionally and according to their existing code of ethics when they are acting as government employees. This includes being factual, transparent,  maintaining public records as required, and so forth.

The policy provides also a list of steps that employees should follow in order to “represent EPA online in an official capacity”:

  1. Get management approval by estimating time to research and write a posting, response, or edit, likely viewership and value of participating and Importance of the issue
  2. Identify supporting sources, by providing links to EPA Web pages and other materials including video and audio (links to non-EPA information require a disclaimer against endorsement)
  3. Identify EPA affiliation, creating a profile on social media sites that identifies the person as an EPA employee , and use work email address.
  4. Inform the Web Content Coordinator, who is tasked with tracking these activities on behalf of the relevant program office or region.

The policy also includes a flow chart  suggesting how to decide whether to respond online on EPA’s behalf.

While the policy brings some clarity to the kind of approach that should be taken to adequately communicate on social media, it misses a key aspect, which is the constantly blurring boundaries between personal and professional roles. On certain social media sites, users can have only one identity, so they need to accommodate their professional persona (i.e. their role as EPA employees) with their personal persona. Furthermore, there is a lot of value, especially when it comes to citizen engagement, in leveraging those blurring boundaries.

Whereas it is important to remind employees that they are supposed to behave ethically in whichever situation or time of the day when they can be associated to the agency (i..e. not just Mon to Fri, p am to 5 pm), it is also important to provide them with a degree of flexibility that makes their engagement with social networks truly useful to the agency.

This policy is great for those whose main job is external communication. This is clearly shown by the fact that they need to articulate a fully fledged business case for their managers (see point 1 above) and they are supposed to inform a web content manager rather than the program manager (see point 4 above).

But what about the many others who may occasionally use social media in a professional capacity (or in a personal capacity that may have professional impact)?

This policy seems to suggest that engagement in social media is only a part of communication strategy, and little else. But, as I said a while ago, engagement and communication are on a collision course. So what the EPA and other agencies also need is not a policy (codes of conduct and ethical programs usually suffice) but an engagement strategy based on letting employees engage by leveraging rather than fighting the unavoidable blurring of their personal and professional personas.

14 Comments »

Category: social networks in government Uncategorized     Tags: ,

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 uberVU - social comments   January 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AndreaDiMaio: US EPA Social Media Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – http://bit.ly/bIR36c #gov20 #opengov…

  • 2 Jeffrey Levy   January 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Andrea, I think you might have missed the point – this document explicitly allows all EPA employees to use social media to accomplish their mission. Yes, there are some minimal, sensible requirements, like getting your manager’s approval.

    In fact, we wrote it in response to requests for guidance from random folks who wanted to respond to blog posts, edit wikipedia articles that had incorrect info, etc.

    Are you suggesting that managers aren’t responsible for their employees’ time?

    As for a broad strategy, don’t take this one document in isolation. We’ve been actively using multiple social media channels to engage the public, and more is coming.

    Check out the various things happening here, for instance (like an ongoing public discussion): http://www.epa.gov/oswer

    Or the way that our enforcement office engaged the public in a discussion of how best to enforce the Clean Water Act: http://blog.epa.gov/cwaactionplan/

    You’ll see much more on our open gov’t page shortly.

    Oh, about the flow chart – I goofed when I published it to the Social Media Subcouncil wiki. I fixed that yesterday.

    And, in what I believe to be the first case ever, I even published the original document and flow chart so other agencies can use and edit it as they see fit.

    Please see this as the first step, not the sole statement on the subject. As for “two steps back,” well, just keep watching.

    Thanks.

    Jeffrey Levy
    Direction of Web Communications
    US EPA

  • 3 Jaime Gracia   January 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I commend EPA for taking a leadership role in providing guidance. No doubt it is the engagement strategy that is missing, with the added layer of bureaucracy that me counter-productive. If management does not approve of social media to begin with, it is yet another barrier that prevents empowerment from employees and thus the dialog they seek with the public. I continue to hear the stereotypes of Web 2.0 tools to waste-time and be non-productive, and that federal employees should be prevented from accessing them. Cultural change seems to be advancing, but of course it needs to be balanced with proper strategic planning of outcomes and crossing bridges to get there to create the transparency and accountability that is sought and needed.

  • 4 Jeffrey Levy   January 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    @Jaime: are you hearing that cultural resistance at EPA? If so, please send me some specifics: levy dot jeffrey @ epa dot gov.

    I’ve been speaking to senior management groups around EPA for more than a year now. You can see my presentation here: http://www.slideshare.net/levyj413/social-media-and-the-govt-presentation

    And the reception has generally been very positive.

    Also, please read the memo. I’m not sure we could have made the opening paragraph any more positive: “Social media platforms like Facebook and Wikipedia offer us the chance to engage with the public in new ways. The general public has a strong interest in EPA, and they are using social media tools to share information and opinions about the Agency’s activities. It benefits environmental protection to both create new social media tools and, where appropriate, participate in existing tools by adding the Agency’s official perspective or correcting errors.”

  • 5 Andrea Di Maio   January 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    @Jeffrey – Thanks for your response. I did not want my comment to sound too negative, but just to point out that the policy focuses on communication rather than engagement.

    Let me respond to all your points.

    [Jeffrey] Andrea, I think you might have missed the point – this document explicitly allows all EPA employees to use social media to accomplish their mission. Yes, there are some minimal, sensible requirements, like getting your manager’s approval.

    [Andrea] I have never suggested that there should not be manager’s approval. My criticism is that the policy assumes that an employee can make a business case: this certainly works in communication, but not for employees who want to explore the possibility and value of engaging with citizen-run networks. My contention is that not just managers concerned with communication but any manager should have a framework that allow him or her to decide whether the let employees engage, and monitor how such engagement develops. I doubt the interim policy addresses this at all.

    [Jeffrey] In fact, we wrote it in response to requests for guidance from random folks who wanted to respond to blog posts, edit wikipedia articles that had incorrect info, etc.

    [Andrea] This is indeed valuable, and this why I said it is a step forward. Still it does not address when and whether employees may respond without officially representing the agency. In fact it may be impractical to make a business case for every possible blog response and some responses may be quite effective if given on a personal basis, clarifying this is the employee’s opinion and does not bind the agency.

    [Jeffrey] Are you suggesting that managers aren’t responsible for their employees’ time?

    [Andrea] Not at all. Just that managers need to be equipped with additional tools.

    [Jeffrey] As for a broad strategy, don’t take this one document in isolation. We’ve been actively using multiple social media channels to engage the public, and more is coming.

    Check out the various things happening here, for instance (like an ongoing public discussion): http://www.epa.gov/oswer

    [Andrea] All good stuff, but this witnesses what I call the asymmetry of gov 2.0. The public is incited to be engaged on the EPA’s turf (or virtual real estate). This is fine, but what about discussions that are taking place on external communities? How do employees find out about those and to what extent can they engage with those communities in order to figure out whether it does make sense to make a business case for an official response?

    [Jeffrey] Or the way that our enforcement office engaged the public in a discussion of how best to enforce the Clean Water Act: http://blog.epa.gov/cwaactionplan/
    You’ll see much more on our open gov’t page shortly.

    [Andrea] I hope that the open gov plan will balance the asymmetry above.

    [Jeffrey] Oh, about the flow chart – I goofed when I published it to the Social Media Subcouncil wiki. I fixed that yesterday.

    And, in what I believe to be the first case ever, I even published the original document and flow chart so other agencies can use and edit it as they see fit.

    [Andrea] This is great and I can see the value for other agencies, if they put this in the broader context (i.e. if they make engagement symmetrical)

    [Jeffrey] Please see this as the first step, not the sole statement on the subject. As for “two steps back,” well, just keep watching.

    [Andrea] Absolutely. I have been praising some of the EPA’s achievements in the past (such as the Pick 5 for the Environment). I am looking forward to social media to become tools that go well beyond communication. So far it does not look they are, as it is you – as the director of web communication – who is responding.

    Thanks again for your attention and good luck with the open plan!

  • 6 Most Tweeted Articles by Government 2.0 Experts   January 31, 2010 at 6:49 am

    [...] 8 Likes UK.gov shutters half its websites • The Register 6 Likes US EPA Social Media Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back 5 Likes Gov 2.0 Camp New England [licensed for non-commercial use only] / FrontPage [...]

  • 7 Tweets that mention US EPA Social Media Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back -- Topsy.com   January 31, 2010 at 11:58 am

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeffrey Levy, steve ressler, steve ressler, govwiki, GovFresh and others. GovFresh said: US EPA Social Media Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: http://bit.ly/bIR36c #gov20 [...]

  • 8 Jeffrey Levy   January 31, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Andrea, thanks for your responses above. I think we actually agree – my only contention is that this policy is hardly “two steps back.”

    I think you might be assuming more is required to get a manager’s approval than is intended. “I want to start following discussions on xyz.com about our program and sharing our perspective there” is all the business case needed. No requirement for a $50,000 study. Just jump in. And experimenting and exploring is explicitly part of our expectation for how this policy will be used.

    As for giving managers tools, yep, I agree there, too. That’s why I give my briefings all across EPA encouraging them to try this stuff out, and to move their staff to do so. And don’t assume that this policy is the only (or even primary) way social media leaders at EPA convey our support. I’ve lost track of how many different ways and times just I have had such talks with managers at every level, and I’m just one of many.

    I suspect that, as a friend of mine puts it, we violently agree with where we want to see this going. I’d just suggest patience. We’re talking about turning a supertanker or a long freight train; large gov’t agencies aren’t nimble roadsters.

  • 9 Brand Niemann   February 1, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Correcting the URLs in the first post

    Thank you Jeffrey and Andrea for all of this open discussion! I need to deal in specifics to really understand how this all works. When Jeffrey posted this at http://govsocmed.pbworks.com/Guidance:-Representing-EPA-Online-Using-Social-Media, I ask about Andrea’s post and was referred back to here. I also note that Jeffrey’s post includes a link to his presentation on SlideShare.

    First Observation: I assume that Jeffrey was responding in his official EPA capacity since he gives his title, but on Saturday which is normally outside EPA duty hours so it was on his own time. Did he seek approval from his supervisor to respond and in this forum? Did he seek permission to post to SlideShare?

    Now I have also been speaking to senior management at EPA (and all my EPA colleagues) about Web 2.0, etc. for several years now and have posted my work to http://semanticommunity.net/ and to SlideShare (e.g. a recent tutorial on Put Your Desktop in the Cloud In Support of the Open Government Directive and Data.gov/semantic at http://www.slideshare.net/guest8c518a8/put-your-desktop-in-the-cloud-in-support-of-the-open-government-directive-and-datagovsemantic ) which I used to explain my suggestion at the recent Open Government Directive Workshop (see https://opengovdirective.pbworks.com/Government-Desktop-in-the-Cloud ). EPA employees were asked to submit proposals for the upcoming conference, which I did, but on my own time over the Christmas Holidays. As Jeffrey knows, I was asked by the Office of the Administrator / Office of Environmental Innovation to participate in the OGD Workshop but because it was an unconference, the pm agenda was decided on the spot by the participants and I had no idea beforehand of what my participation would consist of in the pm.

    Last Thursday, I attended EPA’s OGD Work Group Meeting, and was asked by a member of that group to assist in the design of EPA’s One Wiki since I had done something very similar almost two years ago as part of the EPA Web 2.0 Team. I prepared my response in a set of slides on Saturday and posted them to SlideShare (http://www.slideshare.net/guest8c518a8/design-suggestions-for-epas-one-wiki-in-support-of-the-epa-ogd-work-group ), since I will not be in the office on Thursday to meet with the team doing this work.

    Second Observation: I am doing professional work on my own time (including this post right now) for technical people, not communications people, and “the reception has generally been very positive”. What are your comments on this?

    Thanks, Brand

  • 10 Andrea Di Maio   February 1, 2010 at 8:25 am

    @Jeffrey – thanks for your explanation, the business case definitely looks less cumbersome than what the text was suggesting. On the other hand, there are many areas where participation must have an “exploratory” nature before figuring out whether there can be value.

  • 11 Jeffrey Levy   February 1, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    @Andrea Agreed again! There have already been several things we’ve tried and then decided not to bother given the results. Exploring is essential. Fail fast and all that.

  • 12 Andrea Di Maio   February 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    @Brand – your examples show how it is quite difficult to maintain a boundary between personal and professional, which is why engagement needs to be more dynamic than what the policy suggests. I take Jeffrey’s point that it is part of a broader picture though

  • 13 Brand Niemann   February 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

    @Andrea thanks for your reply which makes me think of “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey which does a great job of describing both the price we pay in time and costs by operating in low trust organizations.

  • 14 Brand Niemann   February 3, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    This is what we need to get to – see http://govfresh.com/2010/02/nasa-nebula-sends-government-to-the-cloud/