State Department moves ahead with Facebook-style site

Monday - 7/19/2010, 10:08am EDT

Richard Boly, director of the office of e-diplomacy, State

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By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

Many academics warn against relying on new forms of media like Wikipedia or Facebook for reliable information. However, an initiative at the State Department is taking advantage of these very platforms to improve agency performance and transparency.

State is developing its own version of Facebook. The "Corridor" will give employees a way to reach out and find people's skill sets, their backgrounds, and form groups. Though it is still in its early stages, Richard Boly, director of the Office of e-Diplomacy, expects the program to be in Beta by the end of the summer.

"We have developed tools which have allowed members within the State Department to move from a Cold War need-to-know mentality to a post 9/11 need-to-share mentality," says Boly.

Boly spoke with Federal News Radio's Tom Temin this morning at the Excellence in Government Conference at which Boly is a breakout session speaker.

Boly says a clear desire to share information coupled with uncertainty about how to improve knowledge management and collaboration spurred the initiatives.

One feature is Diplo-pedia, a collection of over 11,500 articles on topics ranging from management processes to protocol for a state visit. The compilation also includes State officials' biographies. Boly says the site gets about 45,000 views a week.

"We moved to these lightweight social media tools because we have a very thin budget, so we embraced these tools and they are very easy to modify and very easy to use. What I often say is that the tools that we develop, no one has to use. So if they're not easy, they're not intuitive and don't add value, nobody's going to come back to use them," he says.

Despite the desire to share information, Boly says a culture change is required. His team has developed two approaches to implementing their initiatives. One involves identifying a "pain point," a specific problem faced by a specific office. Boly says that by helping enough agencies address pain points, he believes e-diplomacy can "win one office at a time."

Reverse mentoring will be a crucial part of incorporating new media technologies into the department.

"Senior officials are going to be mentoring dozens of junior officers, and I'm going to suggest that [senior officials] get these digital natives to explain the rules of the road, the nuances, and how social media works and how it can be powerful," Boly says.

Boly also says some of the most important innovation regarding new media takes place in the field at embassies and consulates with less protocol and more flexibility when it comes to resolving problems.

"It is incumbent on us in Washington reach out to consulates and embassies abroad and bring those innovations back," he says.

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Meg Beasley is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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