Wednesday, September 18, 2013

FEMA's Think Tank

The least innovative logo design
After highlighting the Social Good Summit (which I'm still soliciting input for), I began to look at what else is being done to solicit input and ideas from a broader audience to address the problems we face as a community of practice. Given the 'whole of community' push, events like the Social Good Summit miss the opportunity to hear from stakeholder's themselves, people who aren't in senior-level positions but still have something to say. So is there a forum for everyday people to have their voice heard? How is the whole of community being included in the process of ideation and innovation outside of response activities?

The answer, or part of the answer is the FEMA Think Tank. Some critics of the Federal Government may say that the title of the entity is an oxymoron, but the fact remains that a forum exists where anyone who believes they can contribute to the National conversation on community preparedness, response, recovery, mitigation, etc...has the opportunity to submit an idea.

The Think Tank has two main components, an online forum and a discussion session conducted by FEMA's Deputy Administrator Rich Serino.

Online Forum
This aspect of the Think Tank allows individuals to submit ideas, the community then reads and votes on each idea, the concept being, the higher the score, the more people agree. An aspect of this forum that I appreciate is the fact that you need to create a profile before submitting and/or voting. While the system can still be influenced, the gating factor seems to provide enough of a deterrent so that things aren't skewed too much in one direction or the other.

Discussion Sessions
This part of the Think Tank is equally as interesting. Based on the ideas generated from the online forum, conference calls are held by Deputy Administrator Rich Serino in an effort to engage a broader audience within emergency management and disaster response to discuss the ideas brought to light via the forum.

Critics have called this more of a dog and pony show than actually seeking out and stress testing new ideas, but the fact remains that it exists and is being used. The motivations for its creation can be questioned, but if people are gaining access to a senior level FEMA official to talk about ideas they have to better what we do, then I would say that its accomplishing something fairly unique.

FEMA is working not only with the public at large, it's also working to leverage the expertise of the private sector to help create solutions to persistent challenges in the disaster space. FEMA recently held a "Data Jam / Think Tank," and while the name sounds like something my Mom might have come up with, it attracted some savvy tech companies: Air BnB, twillo, google, Huffington Post's Social Impact to name a few, to focus on Innovating to improve Disaster Recovery.

Technology is empowering individuals, those who have gone through an event and those who haven't. It's giving everyone a chance to have a voice, and while having a voice is important, it's what you choose to say that ends up making a difference. And with outlets like the Think Tank and access to tools that previously didn't exist, what people choose to say is being magnified and making a difference.

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