State launches internal social network

Thursday - 7/14/2011, 12:27pm EDT

Richard Boly, director, office of eDiplomacy, Dept. of State

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By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

A new brand of social media has begun to effect change within the State Department, along with a whole new level of internal collaboration.

Corridor, the State Department's new collaborative tool - once dubbed "Statebook" - just entered the beta-stage of implementation two months ago, said Richard Boly, director of the office of eDiplomacy in an interview with Federal News Radio.

"We've just had incredible adoption. We have 5,000 users already, and an incredible number of fantastic, serendipitous collaborations," said Boly. "People who don't know each other, don't what the other knows, they find each other on Corridor, and fantastic new work is being done."

Boly attributes the success of Corridor to a drop-box where users can reach out to Corridor's network for help on a project.

"Somebody put out a thorny, tough question of something they were rustling with, and within two hours, seven people on three continents collaborated to put together a robust, detailed, and nuanced response to that very thorny challenge," said Boly. "This is something that could have taken weeks to work on alone or just within the office, and yet it was crowdsourced into our internal crowd."

Boly said Corridor could help direct the State Department's trove of information to the people who need it.

"Often times you have the answer in the cubicle next door, you just don't know it, and so if we can do a better job of tapping into our own internal cloud, we would be doing a great job," said Boly. And of course, we should also be collaborating beyond our borders [at the State Department] as well."

Development of Corridor, he said, was an agency-wide endeavor.

"We were very aggressive about this," said Boly. "We reached out to absolutely everyone within the State Department who we thought may have a concern about us setting this up, or how this would be established, or what the rules of the road should be. And we worked carefully to bake in solutions to their concerns from the beginning. If you're developing a collaborative tool, you can't do it in stealth mode. You need to reach out to everybody who could be effective, whose policies are relevant, and make sure that they're comfortable, and make sure that they have a seat at the table from the very beginning.

Boly and the rest of the Corridor team have reached out to agencies, and have drawn interest from key players in the private sector, such as Nike and Proctor & Gamble.

"We're doing these 'tech camps,' and work very closely with USAID on this," said Boly. "The idea in a nutshell is to pull together civil society organizations that may not be tech-savvy, and pull in technologists that love their technology but aren't really sure how it can be practically applied. We bring them together for two days and have this tightly-curated conversation that teases out problem definitions that neither would come to on their own."

In light of this social media success, Boly said the State Department hopes to reach out to students outside of Washington to help complete essential tasks.

"Through the Virtual Student Foreign Service, we have set up a crowdsourcing and micro-tasking platform," said Boly. "This is an opportunity for students from around the United States to provide surge-capacities to embassies and to get a smorgasbord approach to what is diplomacy about - and they can do this from their dorm room or the library of their own university."

Micro-tasking, he says, is a process where students volunteer for odd-jobs on a message board. Students, in effect, operate like online interns. "I can put a task up and somebody can jump into it and bid on it. As long as I define something concisely and precisely, so you don't have to come back for more guidance, you can just pick it up, get it done, and send it back to me."

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Jory Heckman is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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