Briefing 2.0: Breaking Through 20th Century Walls

Posted by Sean McCormack
November 1, 2008
Your Chance To Ask a Question: Briefing 2.0

About the Author: Sean McCormack serves as the Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

Here is the first "Briefing 2.0" on "statevideo," the U.S. Department of State YouTube channel. I answered ten full questions submitted via YouTube (there was one partially recorded question) and two written questions submitted via the U.S. Department of State blog, DipNote. We plan to hold the next briefing on November 13. I've been asked how frequently we plan to have 2.0 briefings, and the answer to the question really depends on the reaction from people in the DipNote, Facebook, YouTube and other networks with whom we are building relationships. At the moment, I expect to do 2.0 briefings once per week. If you tell me more or fewer briefings are needed, however, I'll adjust accordingly. In the meantime I also want to start a discussion about the Briefing 2.0 -- why we're doing it, what we're doing, and how we are doing it.

I planned to write this DipNote entry even before today's piece in the Washington Post; so much of what you'll read was already planned. The Post piece raised indirectly the question of why we started the Briefing 2.0 effort. I've had a running discussion over the past few years with journalists about the changing information and media landscape and in those conversations we've expressed our various mutual frustrations about daily matters, about fundamental issues concerning the relationship between journalists and public officials, as well about our distinct yet linked roles. These are important issues in a democracy, but one person or group won't answer them. Instead, like many other changes in our society, some equilibrium will be established only to be questioned by one side or another. All that aside, I wanted to say a couple of things about the journalists with whom I work on a daily basis. First, most -- if not all -- of them work hard to get the story right. They are professionals who care about their work. That is not to say we agree always on what they produce. We don't, but agreement is not the standard, which brings me to a second point. I've said it in public, but it bears repeating here: an independent media is essential to the health of any democracy. My time at the podium has only served to reinforce that view.

So given all those positive sentiments, you might ask, why start something like Briefing 2.0? Well, most fundamentally, starting this effort had nothing to do with the mainstream media. It was not conceived or executed as a way to bypass the "filter" of the media. In fact, I believe that if you perceived those were my motivations, nobody would be reading this post and we would not have received any video questions. Instead, I started the briefing as part of an ongoing effort to help the State Department communicate with individuals and publics worldwide using the technology and applications available. As I've told my staff, insisting on a 20th century world behind the walls of the State Department while the watching a 21st century world develop outside the walls is not a sustainable posture for any large organization, never mind an institution like the State Department in the business of communication. DipNote readers know as well as anybody the technology and applications available now both to collect, sort, consume, and share information and to generate original content. As a consequence, individuals can now build powerful networks independent of resources devoted by older institutions like the government or media businesses. DipNote and Briefing 2.0 are two manifestations our effort to participate in the new world you are creating. None of our efforts diminish energy devoted to dealing with professional journalists. I still do a daily briefing with the media, Secretary Rice still does press availabilities and interviews, and professional journalists still access public officials in ways not available to every citizen. Instead, we are asking for you to let us into your community and, in turn, we do our best to let you into ours. If we don't live up to your expectations, we lose out.

Projecting forward, I suspect future administrations will build on our efforts. Of course, it will be up to them whether to eliminate, modify, or leave the same what we are doing. You will also have a say as to how the relationship develops. But I further suspect that the changes we have set in motion, which are as much about what you see as they are about changes in State Department processes, will only accelerate in the years ahead. Policymakers will need to grapple in the years ahead with how social networks, individuals, and other groups interact with and participate in the policymaking process. As technologies and applications evolve, and as they influence how we relate to and perceive one another, the relationship between professionals working in institutions like the State Department and those outside the ever more permeable "walls" of those institutions will evolve.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
November 1, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

That was great Sean! Thanks for taking a few write-in questions as well.

I think the most constructive way for the public/private partnership ( or symbiotc relationship ) between press and state to function is to be "moderated" by public participation....as check and balance on both.

And traditionally, that is the role "we the people" enjoy by constitutional right and having an opinion....(chuckle)...so while we may live in a transitional tecnological reality...stepping into the 21st century realm of interactive government; the partnership is coming I think full circle, where decades ago "we the people" pretty much left the power and direction of foreign policy and ideas in the hands of the elected, and only by protest had a direct voice, other than petitioning one's elected representitives.

It is interesting to be a part of the cutting edge of the ongoing democratic experiment.

Institutionally, it is only logical that the Dept of State seek public feedback and note their concerns. Lets you know if you're doing a good job in the eyes of the public, and the level of understanding the international public has not only on the issues, but on the policies implemented to address them.
Which also lets State know how well their public diplomacy efforts are doing.

But from the user end of the blog...."we the contributors"....at least in this one's opinion....what we have here is a "Forum of the Future" , and an incubator of ideas in the war of ideas.

And it's true that if you can think it, you can invent a process to turn a thought into reality.

This is why Lincoln could (or anyone else) can rise from obscurity to become President.

I have slightly more humble ambitions...(chuckle)...

But just as an example of what is possible with an interactive government, I sort of put it to the test the other day in doing a little community service for a homeless shelter.

All their bunk beds were falling apart and they were in dire need of new bedding and where the heck were they going to get 18 bunk beds w/ mattresses with a budget that relies only on donations?

Seemed to me the only possibility was through surplus from mothballed US military bases.

To see results from a couple phone calls where the New Mexico National Guard is now doing a little logistics to procure the bedding is perhaps unrelated to foreign affairs and public interaction per se....but I would ask:

How does this blog cut like a hot knife through the butter of beaurocracy?

Or more to the point, how does a democracy realize its true self when it listens to its people?

John
|
Greece
November 1, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Great job DipNote guys! I think that "briefing 2.0 / State Video" will become extremely popular. Thank you also for giving us the chance to ask questions without posting a video. because I had some "trouble shootings" with my web cam. (I told you in a previous post: I am a computer illiterate)

Keep up the GREAT service Mr. McCormack

I think that on November the 13th you will "have to" answer hundreds of questions, on the ground that the idea of "briefing/State video" is "challenging" and extremely interesting. I look forward for the next briefing.

P.S.: You mentioned during the briefing that "we are new at this!". Yes! but so... Good!!! Sir. Thank you for the fresh internet ideas.

Donald
|
Virginia, USA
November 3, 2008

Donald in Virginia writes:

3 November 08

A great presentation....

Thank-you!

Anna
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 3, 2008

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

@ Spokesman McCormack -- Thank you for taking our questions via YouTube and DipNote. The changes you have implemented are encouraging and truly in the spirit of our democracy. The U.S. government should err on the side of openness and transparency. And I couldn't agree with you more, that "...insisting on a 20th century world behind the walls of the State Department while the watching a 21st century world develop outside the walls is not a sustainable posture for any large organization." That is true for the U.S. government, the media and society writ large. I'm glad you said it. Thank you, and kudos to the DipNote team!

John
|
Greece
November 5, 2008

John in Greece writes:

How will the New Administration affect today's "human recourses infrastructure", especially concerning SD? Will "key people" with GREAT service like you, Mr. McCormack -- many others too -- remain at "key positions"?

A lot of people like me, who live outside the United States of America, do not have the knowledge of how "next Administrations" deal with Public Service Human Resources management. Please, Sir, tell us a few words on how the "U.S. Public mechanism" works after elections.

Donald
|
Virginia, USA
November 9, 2008

Donald in Virginia writes:

9 November 08

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER!!!

My goal is when a servicemember returns from Combat duties, he/she puts in a DVD Biography of themselves. Watches themself grow up, remembering the good days, the bad days when as a child. Reprogramming the brain back to the child life before the war, the events that took place. I believe that of each member were to remember those memories it would benefit them.

I would like the State Department review my idea that might help our Soldiers and Sailors who return from Combat. I think more has to be done to help our family of Military Veterans who put their lives on the line for the United States of America!

I'm no Doctor by any means, but what I do offer is an idea that might help our men and women. This idea should be encouraged and reviewed by Doctors and Medical people that if it can do some good, "let it be introduced and help our Veterans"!

FIRST STEP - Every family keeps pictures and records of their child at birth. The parents of the Veterans need to gather up all the pictures from birth, records of what was happening from the first days of life. Create a biography of their child before he/she goes into the military. This is a complete listing include dates and times.

SECOND STEP - Those important pictures and events placed on a CD/DVD which includes an entire documentary of a complete biography of their child.

THIRD STEP - Include grade schools, friends, family members, important dances, important events that happened, dates or relationships, very calming music, include waterfalls, seashore sounds, rain in the forrest. Remove the sounds of war and replace with comforting sounds.

FOURTH STEP - The concept is very simple - Programming the brain back to the days of growing up! When a soldier or sailor returns home. They put in the DVD about themselves and watch! How simple can this be? Later in life they add to this documentary. Still staying away from the violence but adding the good family life to the biography.

"How many parents of our Armed Forces really have thought about the dangers that exist with the Mental Sides of War? Our troops need to remember the wonderful memories of life growing up! This simple idea might be a useful way to always have a memory of their child and also to help the servicemember return to the public safely without the constant acts of war that plagues the mind."

The second part of how this system could benefit? When or if that sad day happens and they cannot return home alive. The Military Family and Department of Defense would always have a wonderful memory of Veteran who served the United States Military proudly! All the medals in the world would never replace the son or daughter that serves and perishes in war, but having a Memory might give them hope and closure to always have some part of them ALWAYS.

GOD BLESS AND LETS HOPE OUR MEN AND WOMEN GET WELL WHEN THEY RETURN HOME SAFE!

Sean M.
November 9, 2008

Spokesman Sean McCormack writes:

@ John in Greece -- I'm not an expert in the area, but one basic rule is the incoming president has the right and power to appoint and nominate whom he wants for the senior-most positions in the executive branch. The most visible examples of this are members of the president's cabinet, who are selected by him to run executive branch agencies. Typically, each agency also has a deputy head appointed or nominated by the president.

The next couple of layers down also tend to be filled with "political appointees", another name for those appointed or nominated by the president, though each executive branch agency has its own structure. In the case of the State Department, political appointees comprise the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of State, Under Secretaries of State, Assistant Secretaries of State, and ambassadors. There are also other political appointees throughout the Department, including at the entry levels.

During the transition from one administration to the next, all political appointees from the outgoing administration submit their letters of resignation. (I have not yet done so, but I will at the appropriate moment). In practical terms, it is assumed the resignation is accepted unless the administration states otherwise.

In the meantime, the outgoing administration prepares for the change in administrations by ensuring each senior and mid-level management job is covered by a career professional employee. At State, each Assistant Secretary, including me, submitted names of career employees who would act in the stead of a political appointee when those jobs are vacated.

Putting aside the legal imperatives, I have come to the view that it is healthy for large organizations like State to have such a periodic turn over. There are, of course, costs associated with delays in filling senior management jobs, but I think those costs are outweighed on the whole by the energy, creativity, and synchronicity with the new president's policies that come with new senior people. Of course, this turn over would not be possible without the skill and professionalism of our career government employees. Also, getting the right mix of career professionals and political appointees is key to making our system work. And by mix I mean numbers, skills sets, and personalities. I have found that the most productive and creative offices at State have had the right mix.

John
|
Greece
November 9, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Spokesman Sean McCormack -- Thank you very much for your answer Sir. I hope that your resignation will not be accepted -- "unless the administration states otherwise".

"Otherwise", some years from now, I really -- personally -- hope to see you again serving as a future Secretary of State, because you deserve it.

I wish you the best career Sir.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
November 9, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Sean -- I take it that you have designated a career employee to fill your shoes until the new appointee for your position is confirmed by Congress, correct?

But that a career employee that has been given an appointment (such as Assist Sec.) would be resigning his appointed position, but not neccessarily resigning from the Dept of State itself, and may be reassigned to other duties as a career employee.

That would just seem logical, otherwise your attrition rate of qualified, experienced people would be untennable I think. New blood, and new ideas always will keep institutional stagnation at bay, as you say, in the right mix.

In any case Sean, you've gone where no spokesperson of any agency has gone before in leaving a personal legacy of greater public involvement in foreign affairs that will survive your tenure.

I'm glad to have been one small voice in contribution to the effort.

And I think I probably speak for the majority of the folks on this blog that it would be good if you stuck around after Jan 20th.

Whether that be blogging as private citizen like myself, or as the "Dipmiester" in chief.

Best,

EJ

John
|
Greece
November 10, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- You write: "I'm glad to have been one small voice in contribution to the effort." You are one of the Blog's VI stars * here Eric! (VERY IMPORTANT contributor)

And I think that all "co-blogger folks" will also say that we need you here -- Sean too! anyhow and anyway - no matter the probable new Administration decisions, which of course we respect more that anything else.

I do not know what Mr. McCormack will choose to do; and he has every right to decide for himself without us guiding or prompting his career. Another real American Patriot (Robert Gates) stated recently the same (...in my words). I hope he "stays" too.

Nevertheless, this Blog must go on!

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
November 10, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Thanks John, but don't make me feel so freekin' special Ok? I'm just a consistant contributor like yourself. (chuckle)

As you might note, I have about as hard a time accepting compliments as I do dealing with insults.

Whether anything anyone has to say may be considered important is (or will be) judged by the results it may have had in finding solutions.

That's the only criteria that matters in the long run.

John
|
Greece
November 11, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- who cares about the destination? The "brain trip" is what counts!
And, you offer us an intellectual perspective of thinking! (OK?)

No more flattering if you see it that way though (chuckle!).

However, since you really faced insults, I felt like congratulating you for being here. So, face the "Thank you" too, and not only the insults, which are easier for someone to create than the "thanks".

Best regards Eric, I look forward to read thousands more of you.

PS: I hate your posts (LOL) is this OK now? (LOL)

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
November 14, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece, Better to be judged than to be of no consequence I suppose.

It has been a long strange trip indeed.

(chuckle)...

John
|
Greece
November 14, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Some shepherds care, some others do it another way... But, this is the worst that can happen in communications, according to the ?marketing theory: a campaign that lacks the "unexpected" element!

This is unexpected!

So, it's SUCCESSFUL.

Nice video recomendation Eric, but it lacks the unexpected element... at the END!

.

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