DOD needs Web 2.0 strategy

Report outlines four broad uses

The Defense Department has a lot to gain from the use of social-networking technology, but only if it first develops a departmentwide Web 2.0 strategy to address operational, policy and technology concerns, according to a report sponsored by the National Defense University.

Social networking: Share and share alike

Researchers from the National Defense University describe four areas in which social software contributes to national security missions, such as defense, diplomacy and development.

  • Inward sharing: the sharing of information within agencies during military operations and for administrative or other purposes.
  • Outward sharing: the sharing of information beyond the agency to coordinate with other federal agencies, law enforcement, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and others.
  • Inbound sharing: a process that gives the government input from people not in the government so officials can gauge public sentiment on an issue.
  • Outbound sharing: a process that empowers people not in government during missions that include: stabilization and reconstruction, disaster situations, or public diplomacy efforts.

The report outlines four primary ways in which DOD and other agencies might use social media to support national security operations, including defense and diplomacy. However, before encouraging widespread adoption of the technology, DOD needs to coordinate an overall strategy.

The strategy must do more than identify specific applications for social media in DOD, according to the report. It must also foster organizational and cultural changes that would enable information to flow more freely. As part of that, DOD must educate its workforce on how to use the technology.

The authors said DOD should still encourage experimentation, but that a strategic approach was needed.

“There needs to be some kind of a top-level policy that essentially is applicable to the entire DOD structure that thinks about the universe of social software and how it fits into all the very diverse DOD missions,” said Mark Drapeau, an associate research fellow at the NDU. Drapeau co-wrote the report with Linton Wells, a distinguished research professor at NDU and former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration.

An official strategy could clear up a lot of confusion about what types of applications are permissible — and safe — on government networks.

“A big issue is the fact that a lot of these policies about what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot download or access are very inconsistent across different DOD components — and that’s also true of the government at-large,” Drapeau said.

In some cases, agencies have banned specific applications because of security concerns, only to find that users are circumventing restrictions by using software with similar functionally and similar security problems.

The report presents the initial findings of research for DOD policy-makers that began in April 2008, with a focus on tools such as blogs, microblogs and social-networking Web sites. The research aimed to conduct an inventory of available social-media technologies, identify impediments to DOD personnel using such software, engage with the private sector and advise senior DOD leaders.

The researchers also examined how the U.S. government, its allies and potential enemies are using social-media tools.

The authors say that if used correctly by government, social media could enhance self-organizing capabilities within the government, enhance networking and collaboration with nongovernment groups, and improve decision-making. The authors say incorporating the technology into daily work practices should also decrease the probability of being shocked, surprised or out-maneuvered.

Drapeau said the immediate next step for the research was to help guide DOD employees to findings that are relevant on an operational and tactical level and further engage with DOD senior leadership.

“Warfighters in combat situations are very adaptable to changing environments,” the paper concludes. “If these attitudes pervade decision-making on issues of policy related to social software and security, perhaps the answers will come from within.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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