Honoring “Rising Stars” in Government Information Technology

Posted by Paul A. Swider
November 25, 2011
Young Woman Uses Computer at Cafe in Germany

When Federal Computer Week announced its "Rising Stars" awards earlier this year, and I was on their list, friends asked me how this could be: you don't warrant an award, and anyway, don't you work for the State Department? What do computers have to do with diplomacy? I explained that they're right about me, but computers and information technology have everything to do with diplomacy because this is no longer your grandfather's State Department.

The FCW award recognizes "up-and-coming employees in the public and private sectors who have made an early -- and substantive -- mark in the government IT community." It's embarrassing to imagine myself fitting that description but I bask in the glow of more deserving colleagues, and fellow recipients, Jamie Findlater and Bridget Roddy, who thoroughly represent the changing face at State. This, the oldest cabinet-level federal agency, is not only pushing its own envelope in terms of technology, it has become something of a beacon for others in government and even in the industry.

Roddy runs the Virtual Student Foreign Service program, which uses new connective technologies to engage college students to conduct citizen diplomacy through e-internships. The next iteration of this program integrates a micro-tasking platform that will allow students and State Department personnel to engage on individual projects and tasks.

Findlater works to socialize innovative solutions for diplomatic challenges among State Department employees. In an effort to raise awareness about the use of technologies in diplomacy, she has also worked to increase Department "videracy" -- a new form of literacy in the 21st century -- by publicizing eDiplomacy products through video.

And consider the recent Tech@State event, during which an audience comprised of federal and private sector employees from a half dozen countries gathered at the Kennedy Center to listen to the likes of Edward Tufte discuss cutting edge methods of taking boring raw data, which the government has in abundance, and using technology to visualize that data and use it for insightful decisions. This was one in a year-long series of similar events I had the pleasure of exploring to examine issues like mobile banking, Civil Society 2.0, open-source software and systems, and even serious gaming.

But beyond our Office of eDiplomacy, the Department as a whole is moving in some fascinating directions. In the spring, the Bureau of Human Rights and Labor unveiled humanrights.gov, a website aimed to be a one-stop shop for international human rights information.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' ExchangesConnect is another example, through which a community of students and administrators with a global interest in education can share their stories. This vital connection to tomorrow's leaders and their interest in cultural exchange brings the energy of social networking to what was once the province of elites.

Other State Department colleagues are looking at how technology can help in our efforts to address UN Sustainable Development goals. In February, American innovators and civil society representatives will gather with government officials and policymakers in California to explore how new connection technologies, energy inventions, and other scientific discoveries can help the world move toward its mutually agreed goals on this vital subject. This unique approach is coming out of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Internally, the State Department is also making progress. The Sounding Board is a platform through which State Department employees can offer their own ideas on how to fix or improve management of diplomacy. More than just an electronic suggestion box, the Sounding Board allows employees to provide feedback in a constructive manner and to share information -- and solutions -- broadly across the institution.

I must say I am honored to be recognized by Federal Computer Week, but I think I am just lucky to work where I do: the State Department is the real rising star.

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