Editorial: GSA’s novel experiment

The General Services Administration ought to get some credit for creativity and perhaps a few pointers on what to try next

The General Services Administration will not win an Oscar for its video presentation on the upcoming Alliant program, but it ought to get some credit for creativity and perhaps a few pointers on what to try next.

GSA’s rationale for producing the video was sound. Officials realized it would be difficult to hold a traditional briefing at their facility because so many vendors are interested in learning about Alliant, which will be an all-purpose, governmentwide technology services program. So they filmed the presentations that would have been given at such a briefing and posted the video on GSA’s Web site. Vendors can watch it at their leisure and submit questions via e-mail.

The problem lies not so much in the concept as in the execution. Posting a briefing online makes sense, because that information is more accessible than a live briefing. People who might have missed the live event can watch it at their convenience, and those who did attend can rewatch the video if necessary. PowerPoint slides reviewed in isolation never convey all the information provided in a presentation.

Unfortunately, the value of this approach ended once the presentation was over. The Webcast did not foster the creative give-and-take between government and industry that traditional briefings often spark, in which one line of questioning leads to another and yet another. E-mail is a fine tool for asking and answering questions of a technical nature, but not for having a more substantive discussion.

That’s not to say that online presentations cannot work. One approach would be to hold a traditional, in-person briefing but provide it as a Webcast, too. Once the presentations are over, the speakers could take questions from the live audience and via e-mail — that’s old hat for radio and TV talk shows.

That approach would address GSA’s logistical concerns without diminishing the government/industry exchange that people value. In fact, the blend of live and online venues could make that exchange even more dynamic and the payoff more substantial.

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