Managed to see a whole range of different people during my week in Washington – thankyou again to all who gave me their time. I think the snow probably meant I got more than I would have on a normal working day – so a small compensation for missing the conference.

Lots of ideas from speaking to two people from the State Department: the team leading the eDiplomacy initiative. They have an active internal wiki and something I think they called ‘deskipedia” – an attempt to weave together articles around best practice and experience, to try and combat the knowledge lost when diplomats rotate their posts every two years. They use media wiki with a rich text editor on top – the aim is to make it as easy as possible for all to contribute.

They are also doing a lot to support ‘self-forming’ commuities. Using a movable type blog (the free version) they have a good number of networks active – one of the most successful being for locally engaged staff. A neat idea I heard about was the ‘Secretary’s Sounding Board’ another movable type installation, which aims to give staff the opportunity to make their ideas and suggestions for change publi. Again, it has received enthusiastic participation from around the department – thousands of contributions and comments. There is more on their website.

A meeting with colleagues from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) led to some very interesting material. A launch last year of the book Millions Fed, was supported by a range of social media, and they have reviewed which worked best. Interesting, their video – made mostly of still images, reminded me very much of a recent DFID one:  Boiling point – about rooibos tea farmers. I was very intrigued to hear about Agchat and Foodchat – regular facilitated discussions held via twitter.

Colleagues from the Environmental Protection Agency gave me loads of food for thought, and web links to follow up. They are very active in using social media to go out and engage with a broad spectrum of people who are interested in their issues. They have had recent success with video contests, inviting people to create 30 second public service announcements which illustrate ways of solving environmental problems. They have run public consultations and have an active blog – this is along similar lines to the one we have at DFID, which aims to encourage staff to write about what they are doing and show the human face of government work.

I had a very interesting discussion with a colleague at USAID – perhaps the organisation most similar to my own, and with extremely similar challenges and activities. Think I might do a more detailed post on the things I learned there.

Meetings at the World Bank were most disrupted by the weather unfortunately, but I have contacts to follow up, and did still manage to meet one member of the web team. The Bank is a huge institution, so it is unsurprising their change programme is happening very slowly, but from a position of having a huge (dare I say fairly anarchic?- well, at the very least: independent) number of inconsistent web presences, they are now on a good path, having established a web governance board with Bank-wide mandate and an agreed web programme. Just a quick look at their website offers a glimpse of the challenges facing them: multilingual content, vast amounts of data – and just look at the organisation chart – 186 member countries, 24 executive directors – any organisational change must be like steering an oil tanker. Current situation is that they are looking for a new platform to replace the one that has been in use since 2000. They have created a series of prototypes to identify requirements and I look forward to following up with colleagues in that team as they decide on a new product and embark on the next stage of their programme.

Last but by no means least I met with Matt Reynolds, communications director at the Library of Congress. This was preceeded by a tour of the amazing Jefferson library – the oldest of the 3 buildings which makes up the Library in Washington. It is spectacularly decorated, and the public spaces are filled with fascinating exhibitions of their treasures. They have an equally impressive programme of making these treasures available online, which I found out more about from Matt. Again, lots learned from him, so I shall do a separate post on that meeting.

Overall, a visit which by no means went according to the original plan, but one which nevertheless was extremely memorable – both for the professional contacts made and interesting initiatives discovered, and for the chance to see a capital city in a very different light!

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