Technical ReportPDF Available

The Social Intranet : Insights on Managing and Sharing Knowledge Internally

Ines Mergel
Syracuse University
Using Technology Series
The Social Intranet
Insights on Managing and Sharing Knowledge Internally
Dr. Ines Mergel
Associate Professor of Public Administration
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Syracuse University
Using Technology Series 2016
The Social Intranet: Insights
on Managing and Sharing
Knowledge Internally
Table of Contents
Foreword ...........................................................4
Executive Summary ...................................................6
Introduction to Social Intranets in Government ................................7
Components of a Social Intranet Site ....................................9
Benefits of Using Social Intranets .......................................9
Case Studies: Social Intranet Platforms in Four Government Organizations ...........13
Introduction ....................................................13
Case Study One: Corridor at the Department of State ........................13
Background ...................................................13
Organizational Location of Corridor ..................................14
Components of the Lightweight Collaboration Tool Suite ....................16
Implementing Corridor ...........................................17
Current Status of Corridor .........................................18
Case Study Two: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Spacebook ..............18
Background ...................................................18
Collaboration Features of Spacebook .................................19
Implementing Spacebook .........................................19
Current Status of Spacebook .......................................20
Case Study Three: Intelligence Community’s i-Space (intelligence space) ..........21
Background ...................................................21
Implementing i-Space ............................................21
Current Status of i-Space .........................................24
Case Study Four: Government of Canada’s GCconnex ........................24
Background ...................................................24
Components of GCconnex .........................................24
Implementing GCconnex ..........................................26
Current Status of GCconnex ........................................27
Insights: Successfully Implementing Social Intranets in Government ...............28
Insight One: Active Leadership Participation Is Essential .....................28
Insight Two: Three Technological Considerations Are Key .....................28
Insight Three: Successful Implementation Requires Key Management Involvement ...29
References .........................................................31
About the Author ....................................................33
Key Contact Information ...............................................34
IBM Center for The Business of Government
On behalf of the IBM Center for The Business of Government,
we are pleased to present this report, The Social Intranet:
Insights on Managing and Sharing Knowledge Internally, by
Ines Mergel, Syracuse University.
Corporate America increasingly relies on social intranets to
leverage employees’ knowledge and foster collaboration in ways
that speed up work and reduce costs. While much of the federal
government lags behind, some agencies are pioneers in the
internal use of social media tools. What lessons and effective
practices do they have to offer other agencies?
“Social intranets,” Dr. Mergel writes, “are in-house social net-
works that use technologies—such as automated newsfeeds,
wikis, chats, or blogs—to create engagement opportunities
among employees.” They also include the use of internal profile
pages that help people identify expertise and interest (similar to
Facebook or LinkedIn profiles), and those that are used in com-
bination with other social intranet tools such as online commu-
nities or newsfeeds.
The report documents four case studies of government use of
social intranets—two federal government agencies (the
Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration) and two cross-agency networks (the U.S.
Intelligence Community and the Government of Canada).
Mergel touts the value of social intranets in creating broader
communities within agencies. One manager she interviewed
said: “The real key was to increase the ability for people to find
each other … And to have expertise emerge that wasn’t explicit
in the job description of that person.”
The author observes: “Most enterprise social networking platforms
fail,” but identifies what causes these failures and how success-
ful social intranets can avoid that fate and thrive. She offers a
series of insights for successfully implementing social intranets
in the public sector, based on her observations and case stud-
ies. Mergel notes that while management support is crucial, it is
equally important to invest in training and outreach with man-
agers and employees to change their day-to-day personal work
Gina Loften
Daniel J. Chenok
habits and communication channels—incorporating this new
way of doing work.
This report builds on a number of prior reports that Professor
Mergel has written for the IBM Center, including:
A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Social Media
Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter
in Government
Using Wikis in Government: A Guide for Public Managers
In addition, the author cites a report that the Center supported
that was recently released by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, New Tools for Collaboration: The Experience
of the U.S. Intelligence Community, by Gregory F. Treverton.
We hope this report serves as a useful overview of social intranets,
as well as an inspiration to leverage their use in the service of
better government.
Daniel J. Chenok
Executive Director
IBM Center for The Business of Government
chenokd @
Gina Loften
Vice President and Chief Innovation
Officer for U.S. Federal Services
IBM Research
ginal @
IBM Center for The Business of Government
This research report introduces the concept of the social intranet—the use of in-house social
networking technologies for employees of a government organization only—and how these
technologies are designed and used in the public sector. As opposed to social media tools
used to engage external audiences for educational and informational purposes, social intranets
are slowly spreading in government to support internal knowledge creation, sourcing, and
sharing activities.
The report includes four cases of social intranets in North American government organizations.
These include the Department of State’s Corridor, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s
Spacebook, the Intelligence Community’s i-Space (intelligence space), and the Government of
Canada’s GCconnex. The first two social intranets (Corridor and Spacebook) were designed
to serve one department or agency. The second two intranets (i-Space and GCconnex) serve
many different departments and agencies, and in the case of the Canadian government, a
single intranet platform provides tools for collaboration across the entire federal government.
Traditional knowledge transfer is limited to memos, the sharing of documents with a limited con-
tact list, or administrative cables. Rarely is knowledge created in the open and observable to the
whole organization. Social intranets are aiming to open opportunities for knowledge sharing with
wider audiences who might all be working on similar issues, or who might be able to contribute
to problems and tasks that are replicated in different parts of the organization.
The report outlines how a range of technologies is used to support core knowledge management
activities, including:
Organizational knowledge creation
Socialization of knowledge
Technological support of knowledge management activities
For each case study, the report highlights the goals, rollout and implementation phases, orga-
nizational locations, components, and specific collaboration features of each social intranet.
The report is based on interviews with project managers and selected users, publicly available
documents, and news coverage about social intranets. The goal of this report is to highlight
current projects, implementation challenges, and broader insights that might be transferrable
to other government agencies interested in implementing similar approaches. Insights for the
successful implementation of a social intranet include the role of leadership support, techno-
logical considerations, and successful implementation steps.
Executive Summary
Social intranets are in-house social networks that use technologies—such as automated
newsfeeds, wikis, chats, or blogs—to create engagement opportunities among employees.
Different terms have been used to label these technologies, including (Leonardi, Huysman,
& Steinfield, 2013):
Enterprise social media
Enterprise 2.0
Social intranet
What all of these terms have in common is that they describe a set of tools that helps
employees to:
Create an online profile
Follow the updates of other employees
Automatically receive push information from newsfeeds or curated newsletters on specific
Collaboratively create knowledge
Even though social networking technologies have not been around for a long time, most social
media tools currently applied in government are mainly used for external interactions with the
public, professional representatives of the public, or news organizations. Third-party platforms
such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are widely used in the government and
institutionalized as part of the externally facing public affairs tool kit (Mergel, In Press).
Government organizations use multiple outlets to inform and educate the public about their
own website, additional social media channels to repost and reshare content already available
on the organization’s website, and to directly interact with the public.
In addition to external social media tools, other communication mechanisms are used inside
organizations to communicate news, task-oriented information, or informal information among
employees. Standard internal communication tools include:
E-mails to disseminate information among a limited number of recipients
Newsletters with aggregated information that a department deems important to share with
all employees
Relatively static intranet pages
Listservs—electronic mailing lists used to distribute specific content to its subscribers
Physical face-to-face interactions in meetings, hallways, office spaces, or conference rooms
Introduction to Social Intranets
in Government
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Social intranets are designed to add to these communication channels and replicate some of
the knowledge creation and sharing features that have made external social media tools popu-
lar. Social intranets support the creation of topical discussion threads that are potentially
observable across the whole organization. Discussions evolve among employees who other-
wise wouldn’t have an opportunity to know about each other’s expertise on a topic, and other
employees who can passively listen to these discussions to absorb useful information for their
own task environment. The connections employees create on the social intranet can be inter-
preted as articulated knowledge networks: Employees with similar interests connect to each
other and thereby create networks through which they share knowledge.
It is important to emphasize that much community knowledge would not be accessible if it
were still shared only through pre-defined hierarchical and bureaucratic organizational com-
munication structures, such as internal memos or e-mail lists with limited access or member-
ship determined by individuals who might not know which other employees should have
access to the information. In contrast, as a result of the “publicly” available conversation
threads, interactions on social networking platforms result in online exchanges and knowledge
generation across communities and interest groups. They potentially contribute to the de-
siloization of knowledge that is otherwise hidden in text documents, shared network drives, or
e-mail threads.
Social intranets combine a variety of different social media functionalities that are already
used on the Internet (McAfee, 2009). The components of these integrated enterprise-level
social networking platforms include, among others: social tagging, document sharing, editing
and adding text in wikis, blogging, connections, and messaging.
Social intranets create the opportunity to support interactions among employees who are not
part of the same functional unit but have crosscutting interests in similar topics and can col-
lectively contribute to the organizational knowledge base. Social intranet sites are less com-
mon in government than other well-established communication mechanisms. In the U.S.
federal government, only a handful of agencies have experimented with an integrated social
intranet platform approach. Instead, many agencies are using single stand-alone solutions that
are not necessarily integrated into an organization-wide social intranet platform. These tools
include, for example, in-house microblogging tools, blogs, or chat services on the intranet.
This report reviews social intranets in four different government entities. The report concludes
with a series of insights. The project’s methodology is presented in the box below.
The author interviewed public managers in charge of designing, implementing, and maintaining the
four social intranet sites featured in this report. In addition to the qualitative interviews, academic
literature and press coverage were traced and analyzed to understand the evolution, design elements,
and perceptions of the platforms’ effectiveness and efficiency.
The semi-structured interviews with project managers and social intranet users were used to under-
stand how the design elements support social sharing, crowdsourcing activities, reputation man-
agement, and making sense of information shared on the intranet. The goal of the interviews was
to understand how traditional practices of knowledge creation and sharing have changed and can
potentially enhance decisionmaking in government organizations.
Components of a Social Intranet Site
Social intranet sites either use open source tools or proprietary systems developed specifically
for use in one organization. They are hosted on the organization’s own servers and are not
accessible to outsiders. They allow employees to import external information from the Internet
and share it on the intranet. Some of the most common components include:
Wikis. Collaboratively-created knowledge repositories, such as the Department of De-
fense’s Techipedia and the Department of State’s Diplopedia (Mergel, 2011). Wikis allow a
group of employees to add knowledge to a text that is then accessible to the whole organi-
zation. This is usually information that should be available to the whole organization or
information that everyone can edit and add to until people agree on the final status.
Blogs. Individual employees or groups of employees frequently update a blog with (infor-
mal) information in the form of longer text to provide project updates, comment on industry
developments, introduce new issues, etc. This helps to replace frequent e-mail updates
and increases transparency. Other employees can subscribe to the updates so they are
automatically informed by an RSS feed when a new blog post is available.
Microblogging. These social messaging tools follow the example of Twitter, which launched
as a public microblogging tool with limited text lengths of 140 characters. Proprietary
solutions, such as Yammer with unlimited text length, have been developed for in-house
use to allow employees to provide short updates to their followers. These updates can
include work-related status updates, questions to followers, direct messages, or links to
external information on the Internet.
Tagging and bookmarking tools. Social tagging tools allow users to add keywords to
content, such as files or pictures that describe and categorize the content. The keywords
—or tags—make the content discoverable to other intranet users who might be interested
in similar topics.
Social networking. With similar functions as Facebook, social networking sites allow the
creation of an online profile with employee information and “friending” functionalities to
connect to other employees.
Other components include:
Social analytics technologies for reports on how content was accessed
File sharing
Collaborative workspaces for geographically-dispersed employees to interact with each
other on a joint project
The following diagram in Figure 1 shows the connection between social intranet tools, external
e-government presence, and social media tools used to represent the organization. The social
networking tools contribute to the organizational knowledge base on the intranet and are only
accessible by employees. Information and knowledge created and shared on the intranet may
also contribute to the newsfeeds displayed on the organization’s external website; it can be
used to populate updates on social media sites to inform and educate the public.
Benefits of Using Social Intranets
Social intranets lead to information benefits that go beyond face-to-face interactions, informa-
tion e-mailed to a limited number of recipients, or actively searching in shared hard drives. As
opposed to an organization’s traditional knowledge-sharing systems, social intranets go beyond
file-sharing activities in shared hard drives or network drives. Benefits of social intranets include:
Visibility. Social intranets make communication patterns, networks, and the location of an
organization’s knowledge sources highly visible, even across organizational boundaries
IBM Center for The Business of Government
(Cross, Borgatti, & Parker, 2002). By employees following each other on internal social
networking sites, knowledge network structures become visible to the rest of the organiza-
tion. In contrast to working groups or e-mail lists, the relative publicness of employees with
the same interests contributing to discussions helps the rest of the organization understand
who works on what and who holds knowledge that might be useful for future projects.
Especially in organizations with frequent and routine changes in roles (e.g., Foreign Service
employees at State or military personnel at DOD), plenty of expertise exists that is not
explicit in the current role of an employee. The visibility of discussions and knowledge-
sharing activities leads to increased awareness and attention among employees, and it can
be exploited for future projects or information needs.
Persistence. Social intranets help to trace communication streams and knowledge-creation
activities (recorded and archived for future access). These communication streams other-
wise would not be recorded during meetings; they would be hidden in e-mails or would
disappear from instant messenger platforms and videoconferences as soon as both parties
logged off (Leonardi et al., 2013). The information is available in an asymmetric format,
meaning that not all parties interested in the information have to be online while the
knowledge is created through online exchanges. Instead, the discussion threads are
available on the front page of a user’s newsfeed in real-time, but they can be accessed at
times convenient for each employee. Discussion threads and newsfeeds are searchable and
discoverable—unlike e-mail discussions that are only accessible to the limited group of
Discoverability of knowledge. Even though employees might not be part of their col-
leagues’ ongoing discussions about issues in other parts of the organization, knowledge is
now discoverable across artificial organizational boundaries; it can be tagged with the
names of employees considered the original knowledge experts, whom others can then
contact. For example, employees who use blogs and microblogging tools on the intranet
Figure 1: Social Intranet, Agency Website, and Social Media Presence
Internal Audience External Audience
Knowledge Base
External Presence
Agency Social Media Presence
can create new connections, use comments from other employees as feedback for their
projects, or ask for assistance in problem-solving activities.
Speed of search and read activities. Knowledge created in communications streams,
newsfeeds, documents, or other types of content files such as videos or pictures is avail-
able in real-time to the whole organization and not limited to pre-defined audiences.
Especially in government, most intranet collaboration platforms do not require an approval
chain to publish, which lowers barriers to quick sharing.
Lowering geographic distance and communication barriers. As Sproull & Kiesler have
shown, computer-mediated communication often leads to the loss of social cues (Sproull &
Kiesler, 1986). Similarly, Tom Allen showed how communication and awareness drops off
Creating, Sourcing, and Sharing Organizational Knowledge
Social intranets provide the opportunity for government agencies to design social sites; the intranets
can be combined with existing in-house content and knowledge management systems within and
across agencies, using various software tools to increase knowledge sharing. Government organiza-
tions have made progress implementing social software tools for in-house use on intranet platforms
(Treverton, 2016).
The platforms included in this report are designed to support various knowledge management
Creating organizational knowledge. Bureaucratic entities such as government agencies tend to
codify their organizational knowledge in handbooks, and knowledge reuse has to follow hierar-
chical standard operating procedures. Free-floating and informal knowledge-sharing activities
outside of formal forms of knowledge-sharing, such as cables and memos, are rarely supported
through technological means, especially in agencies that have to facilitate the transfer of highly
confidential information. This leads to restrictive norms and procedures for information trans-
port. As a result, the transfer of knowledge is highly restricted.
The technologies described in the four case studies in this report contribute to innovative forms
of knowledge creation that help employees articulate their (informal) knowledge and experi-
ences that have not been codified in the existing handbooks and integrated into standard
operating procedures. The social intranets provide elements to internalize, but also externalize,
knowledge by combining information sources from inside the organization, across organiza-
tional boundaries, and between organizational units.
Socializing organizational knowledge. Organizational knowledge needs to be available for two
major purposes:
Ad-hoc decision making during crisis situations
Supporting long-term policy-making activities
The multitudes of knowledge hubs through which informal and formal information exchanges
happen across many layers of the social intranet create fluid discussions. Government organi-
zations therefore need mechanisms to make knowledge “sticky,” that is, to identify important
knowledge pieces that decision makers and knowledge experts pay attention to.
Using technology to share knowledge. Social intranets support the connections among employ-
ees, as well as their knowledge, skills and expertise, and internal reputation. Identifying these
attributes online is seen as a core functionality to locate and connect expertise and experience.
Traditional HR departments cannot deal with the complexity of this task; instead, in-house
social networking sites now support these activities.
Other knowledge management activities include searching for information resources, location of
expertise, idea generation and vetting, information aggregation, and data visualization.
IBM Center for The Business of Government
with geographic distance in organizations (Allen, 1984; Allen & Hauptman, 1987). While
some organizational design elements, such as functional organizational units, are used to
pool together all employees who work on similar tasks or topics, communication drops off
as soon as they are geographically separated; therefore, they won’t be aware of other
employees with similar knowledge interests. Social intranets help to create a steady stream
of knowledge and increase the awareness of publicly discussed topics. Instead of search
and discovery, relevant information is pushed to employees.
Strengthening social ties, creating social capital, and social capitalization. Previous stud-
ies of internal social networking and collaboration sites in the private sector have shown
that employees are creating new connections with employees located in other parts of the
organization, especially when they are not co-located or part of the same work teams
(DiMicco et al., 2008; Steinfield, DiMicco, Ellison, & Lampe, 2009; Wu, DiMicco, &
Millen, 2010). This leads to connections that can be reactivated in the future if additional
knowledge needs occur (Fulk & Yuan, 2013). In addition, the problem of “connecting the
dots” and pooling similar knowledge to create a more complete picture can evolve (RAND,
2005). Publishing information on social intranet platforms can potentially strengthen (or
tarnish) employees’ “personal brand.” The curator of a popular and informative blog can
increase his/her reputation and that can positively affect future career opportunities.
Alternatively, a person who frequents these sites too often can become “that guy.”
Open communication. Employees who use external social networking sites, such as
Facebook or Twitter, are more likely to be willing to update and share on internal social
sites as well. Their experience with “openness” outside their professional lives has the
potential to break up knowledge silos that exist in government.
Overall, social intranets will only work if there is a need for collaboration within a department
or across departmental boundaries. That means employees need to fulfill tasks requiring inno-
vative solutions that are locally not available, or they need expertise that is already available
in other parts of the organization. In addition, in cases where government employees need to
collaborate effectively, top-management needs sufficient buy-in to allow for collaborative
capacity to be built, instead of outsourcing the tasks or contracting external knowledge.
Allowing users to conduct these activities in one central space instead of forcing them to open
different independent tools creates informational benefits that can make government opera-
tions more effective and efficient.
The following four cases include social intranet platforms in four North American government
entities. They include the Corridor initiative at the U.S. Department of State, Spacebook at the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), i-Space of the U.S. Intelligence
Community, and the government-wide GCconnex site of the Government of Canada. The sites
have comparable components, but each differs in the main purpose of the platform and the
ways employees use it. Table 1 summarizes the commonalities and differences of the four
social intranet case studies.
Table 1: Summary of Social Intranet Case Studies
Case Study
U.S. Department
of State
U.S. National
and Space
U.S. Intelligence
Government of
Tacit knowledge
sharing across
disconnected units
Knowledge sharing
online across
knowledge silos
Discovery and
sharing across
knowledge silos
across all federal
departments and
agencies in both
official languages
Enterprise search,
wiki, blogs, social
networking, ideation
sounding board),
forming groups,
creating polls
Social networking,
social bookmarking,
equipment sharing
Wikis, blogs, social
Social networking,
shared workspaces,
groups, instant
messaging, chats,
file sharing, wiki
Main use
Social connections
based on shared
interest leading
to professional
Search for
sharing/reuse of
(Short-term) fast
and knowledge
aggregation, quickly
moving knowledge
to decisions
Connecting over
250,000 employees
with people and
information across
138 federal
department and
agencies inside and
outside of Canada
Case Study One: Corridor at the Department of State
Traditionally, the communication paradigm in the Department of State focuses on cables as
the main means to share formal and authoritative knowledge. The memos are drafted, passed
up the chain for comments, edited, and then approved after several rounds of editing. This
Case Studies: Social Intranet
Platforms in Four Government
IBM Center for The Business of Government
“collaborative” writing culture increases the chance that with every round of editing the infor-
mation becomes more neutral and less candid. Informational benefits might be reduced during
the process. The traditional practice works well in hierarchical environments to transmit official
information moving between highly autonomous local units, such as embassies and bureaus.
In the 21st century however, the need for information sharing has changed. Embassy personnel
move between rotations, and knowledge based on their personal experiences and individual
insights moves with them to the next deployment. Knowledge is often lost to the next foreign
affairs officer who arrives at the embassy. The type of tacit knowledge that does not make it
into formal cables includes, for example, information about life at a specific embassy or infor-
mal information about emergency preparedness in a country. In addition, the Department of
State, starting with Secretary Colin Powell (in office 2001–2005) recognized a need to create
increased openness in ways to explain State’s foreign policy—externally and internally.
Specifically, Powell noted at an internal conference the importance of new technologies:
“[…] The use of the tools that 21st century technology has given us [the
opportunity] to communicate our foreign policy. […] The values of openness,
the values of freedom, the values of democracy, the values of an economic sys-
tem that is open and free. […] And increasingly in the modern world, these val-
ues are looked up to for inspiration. […] So your job is not just [to show how]
well we do web design and [how well] we do Internet pages, no; see it in its
broadest context, of helping to take the message of the American people to the
world. […] You are helping us design the most powerful tools to do this.”
Secretary Powell saw the use of new technologies not only as a mechanism to explain foreign
policy, but also to break down political boundaries and, as he said, “cultural walls” that need
to be overcome to break down communication barriers. He encouraged the organization to
break with its old habits and start to use new technologies to communicate instantaneously.
This concept was similar to Internet companies—such as AOL at the time—knowing every
minute of the day what people are talking about and what events are developing around the
world. Compared to the formal intelligence reports that have to be pulled together by human
beings through a thorough vetting process, unfiltered information through new technologies is
available before formal reports arrive and made available to selected officials.
Organizational Location of Corridor
As a result of Powell’s charge to his IT staff at the time, the Bureau of Information Resource
Management (IRM) was charged with building information technology and services for the
Department of State’s internal and external information needs. New collaborative information
development tools were introduced to provide internal and external audiences accurate and
timely information sharing. IRM’s mission is: “IRM constantly strives to improve its commit-
ment for transparent, interconnected diplomacy, information systems and to incorporate new
technologies for the advancement of U.S. foreign policy.”
IRM’s office of eDiplomacy (founded in 2003), in which the collaborative technologies were
developed, focuses on three divisions:
Diplomatic Innovation Division
Knowledge Leadership Division
Customer Liaison Division
Each division has different audiences; they can be internal audiences, such as foreign officers
in the U.S. and abroad, or external audiences and partners, such as NGOs, civil society, the
private sector, and higher education organizations. Secretary Clinton (in office 2009–2013)
used the term “twenty-first century statecraft” and charged the Knowledge Leadership Division
of the Office of eDiplomacy with the task of using technology to improve diplomatic outcomes.
The result is the Lightweight Collaboration Tool Suite, a group of collaborative tools to create
both increased levels of knowledge exchange as well as interconnectedness among employees
across the knowledge silos within the organization. The tools include:
Corridor (in-house professional networking platform)
Communities @ State blogs (online communities to publish information, connect with
others, and for discussions)
Diplopedia (internal collaborative online wiki encyclopedia)
SearchState (enterprise search)
The Current (information aggregation, content curation, and sharing tool)
Internally, foreign affairs personnel had long had what one interviewee described as “the kind
of head slaps that happen all the time, when people say ‘Ah, I wish I would have known that
a week ago, or I wish I would have known about that before it happened, or I wish I could
have been there for that, or I wish I could have put my input into that, or I wish I would have
known that that person had that skillset when I was working on this.’ This happened as daily
Corridor, created in 2010, is one of the social networking tools offered by the Bureau of
Information Resource Management’s Office of eDiplomacy. As one of the public managers
interviewed for this report states: “The real key was to increase the ability for people to find
each other, regardless of whether they happened to work in the same place or work on the
same issue. And to have expertise emerge that wasn’t explicit in the job description of the per-
son.” The need to discover existing personnel with expertise and knowledge of issues that
either go beyond their job description or that they developed potentially as a by-product of
their work was a central design decision for Corridor. This discovery mechanism goes beyond
every phone book search, aggregation mechanisms of HR files, and individual collections of
business cards that require face-to-face interactions. As one interviewee states: “The core
function was to build a robust kind of a LinkedIn-type profile, so that people would have a
sense of what you could do. Not just what was explicit in your job description, but other
skills, knowledge that could be useful to your job or to other people’s jobs.”
A core function of Corridor is to quickly and “socially” share information about upcoming
events or information that might not be communicable through formal cables. As an example,
one of the interviewees discussed a case in which a congressional delegation visited the coun-
try where a foreign affairs officer was stationed, traveling from Country A to Country B. The
two embassies involved in the visits can share information via e-mail, but they can also now
share their experiences and informal observations, such as “really glad that I had a Diet Dr.
Pepper [available], because the congressman loves Diet Dr. Pepper.” This example demon-
strates how information can be shared socially to anybody on Corridor who is working on
preparing a delegation visit, in contrast to trying to randomly e-mail people who might be
interested in delegation visit information.
Corridor is often used as a “workaround” for tasks that are too bureaucratic or obsolete to add
value. Employees share their workarounds on Corridor, stating that “on a day-to-day basis,
people were able to do their job better with less friction and devote more time to the task at
hand, not doing the kind of things that were frustrating.”
IBM Center for The Business of Government
The screenshot shows the Corridor entry page, with a newsfeed of friends’ updates in the center;
an opportunity to publish one’s own updates at the top of the newsfeed; a search button of the
whole Corridor site in the right column; and access to groups such as Communities @ State,
Diplopedia, and SearchState. The activity stream in the newsfeed can be customized to show
site-wide updates, only one’s own updates, or updates from connections; all groups on Corridor,
or only one’s own groups; bookmarks; and posts in which the account owner was mentioned.
Components of the Lightweight Collaboration Tool Suite
The Lightweight Collaboration Tool Suite includes the following components:
Wiki: Diplopedia. The tool allows for collaborative editing of text, similar to Wikipedia
(Mergel, 2011). This collaborative online wiki encyclopedia supports shared article
creation and editing. It is used to create an organizational knowledge base that is also
open for intergovernmental communication. U.S. diplomats can, for example, invite their
foreign counterparts and use the platform in preparation for their upcoming foreign assign-
ments. Information aggregated in threaded discussions on Corridor can feed into an article
published in Diplopedia to create persistent knowledge that is not hidden in discussion
Social Network: Communities @ State. This site supports the creation of online communi-
ties to publish information and connect with employees across the department. The
communities are blog-based using BuddyPress, a WordPress extension, and serve as
places for narrower conversation, both episodic updates or longer conversations and
updates on a certain topic. Employees are encouraged to link between Communities and
Aggregator: The Current. This is an information aggregation tool to provide topical internal
and external information in one place. It is seen as a filter for both internal and external
newsfeeds for specific information. Information found on The Current can also be posted to
Figure 2: Screenshot of Social Networking Platform Corridor—Department of State
Corridor with a one-button feature “Share on Corridor” to create a knowledge continuum
across platforms.
Search: Search State. This is an enterprise search service that allows employees to
discover and access information across many databases and websites.
Implementing Corridor
Design and Rollout
The design of Corridor was initially planned by the Office of eDiplomacy under the leadership
of former Director Richard Boly and followed a highly inclusive approach: “We approached this
with kind of radical collaboration, radical openness.” The project team reached out to every-
body they thought could possibly become hurdles to the project. They presented the site mock-
ups with wire frames and best guesses at what elements these people wanted to include. They
reached out to stakeholders who might have concerns about personal and identifiable informa-
tion and external threats to security. Examples of stakeholders include unions and IT personnel
who dealt with the system side and systems requirements of the project. More than 55 stake-
holders were involved from the beginning and provided questions. They were asked to come
back over the course of several weeks to see how the Office of eDiplomacy was progressing in
addressing their concerns. Every stakeholder was asked the main question: “Is there any reason
you believe we shouldn’t move forward?” The uniform answer was: “No.”
The Office of eDiplomacy implemented a phased rollout approach starting in 2010:
Phase One: Selection of beta testers. Users were invited to sign up. Their profiles repre-
sented geographic diversity, different levels within the organization, and different skillsets. In
the early phase about 300 employees participated and helped with feedback to make sure
the intended functionality worked before the system was opened to the whole organization.
Phase Two: Beta tester invites. In the second phase, each of the beta testers had 10
invites, similar to early users of LinkedIn or Twitter when those sites first launched.
Phase Three: Targeted outreach campaign. In a third phase, the Office of eDiplomacy
started a targeted outreach campaign to engage those who hadn’t signed up. The main
motivator for employees was a top-management endorsement: Secretary Clinton endorsed
the use of Corridor in a video message that was posted on the front page of the intranet
and invited everybody to join. After that the team recognized a dramatic jump in sign-ups.
Implementation Strategies
Top-level support. The main implementation challenge was not the technological functional-
ities, but rather that the site was considered a secondary communication mechanism. As one
of the public managers interviewed for this report states: “Frankly, one of the challenges that
we always had was getting very senior people, say a deputy assistant secretary and above,
you know, the top 500 people, including ambassadors [to sign up].” Among the group of top-
level employees, the Office of eDiplomacy had very small relative penetration in comparison to
other representatives. An interviewee states: “I think that ultimately determines the success of
any internal professional social networking platform.” Without continuous top-management
support and buy-in from managers who visibly participate and care about the use of the plat-
form, use drops off; then, the platform is seen as a secondary communication channel, not as
an official primary channel for sanctioned and authoritative knowledge exchanges.
Incentives. Simple incentives were sent to those who participated, such as reminders to finish
profile descriptions or upload a profile picture. In addition, interns—digital natives—were used
for “reverse mentorship” to help employees understand how to complete their digital profiles
on Corridor.
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Training. The Office of eDiplomacy provided training at the Foreign Service Institute, the State
Department’s training center, as part of the introductory class for new employees who join the
State Department. In addition, targeted training was provided for the deputy ambassadors and
deputy chiefs of mission before they went on their new deployments. These training sessions
captured both newcomers and senior employees.
Publicity/Dissemination. The Office of eDiplomacy put together summaries of certain employ-
ees’ highly visible or useful Corridor use. The summary of why his or her specific Corridor use
mattered to the organization and how s/he conducted tasks was then sent to the employee’s
supervisor for inclusion in the employee’s annual performance evaluation. Another way to
highlight and make positive contributions visible to the larger community is by recommending
employees for awards when contributions are innovative or relevant.
Current Status of Corridor
Currently, Corridor is one of the State Department’s five collaborative intranet tools, including
Communities @ State blogs, Diplopedia, The Current, and Search State. Participation is vol-
untary and follows an organic approach: Employees are encouraged to connect based on per-
sonal interests to encourage bottom-up connections and conversations that might later lead to
professional exchanges and task-related knowledge sourcing and sharing. In addition, an intro-
duction to the collaborative intranet tools has become part of the onboarding process for new
employees, so that early exposure might lead to use as part of the standard operating proce-
dures instead of relearning later on.
Case Study Two: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Spacebook
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created a similar social networking platform to the
Department of State’s Corridor. Spacebook started with an idea in 2006 and was suggested to
senior management in 2008. The original goal was to unify all of the agency’s communication
vehicles and to be able to integrate the information so employees could understand what was
available to them, how they could participate, and how they could get their questions answered.
Other goals included improving the business processes, building effective relationships with inter-
nal stakeholders and partners, and also driving innovation and knowledge discovery across work-
groups and teams.
Similar to Yahoo groups, the initial idea included creating group functions to capture threaded
discussions that are archived or stored so the knowledge can be accessed months later. In
addition, file sharing and file tagging with metadata added to the discoverability of already-
existing knowledge.
How Employees Use Social Intranets
Employees initially create connections based on a shared interest or membership, such as the class
of incoming foreign service officers. Not only do they come to Corridor to develop their profiles, but
also to create a group for their members to share information more easily. Oftentimes, networking
evolves around non-professional topics first, such as travel, food, and alumni affiliations. However,
these interests do have value for the organization, because they bring together employees who oth-
erwise would not have connected with each other. One of the public managers explained the infor-
mal knowledge sharing through social sharing mechanism: “The social feeds into the professional.”
Another goal was to avoid profile blank spaces and additional burden on employees by auto-
populating employees’ skills and experience sections based on their own updates, teams, and
project affiliations.
Finally, NASA’s culture of knowledge sharing relies heavily on existing (oftentimes long-term)
relationships, which facilitate direct access to people’s knowledge but remain hidden and
inaccessible to newcomers. A social networking site with individual profile pages was envi-
sioned to contribute to the hierarchy flattening and gaining access to people’s knowledge.
Collaboration Features of Spacebook
The site evolved in two steps:
Redesigning the existing intranet
Adding social features to the already existing intranet
Inspired by the popularity of external social media use, NASA’s Spacebook includes the follow-
ing group collaboration features:
User profiles updated by employees writing their own searchable information about their
expertise, skills, and experiences. Profiles include contact information, interests, certifica-
tions, and status updates. The system automatically adds metadata based on the individu-
al information shared on the profile in the form of a word cloud. Each employee sees
automatically populated activity feeds from their group workspaces and other discussion
forums to quickly discover new information. In addition, employees can connect with each
other online through the user profiles and receive each other’s updates, similar to the
function on Facebook.
Group workspaces in the form of forums that employees can join, contribute to discussions
in, and share files to. Members can advertise short-term collaboration opportunities (less
than eight hours) to add skills to their project. Depending on the nature of the content,
groups are either private or public.
Equipment exchange is a free Craigslist-style sharing forum for equipment to be internally
shared, traded, or sold. Property no longer needed in one part of the organization can be
advertised and shared or sold to other business units.
Social bookmarks is a tagging system, similar to, to identify subject matter
experts and find expertise.
Implementing Spacebook
Spacebook included several important building blocks that were designed to reduce entry bar-
riers. Spacebook took advantage of NASA’s existing Identity, Credential, and Access
Management service. The end result for users was the same single username and password
access—making use of NASA’s existing capabilities. In addition, many of the employees’ pro-
file fields and other types of information were prepopulated to reduce the burden on employ-
ees. The design phase started in 2008, an initial review and beta testing took place in early
2009, and Spacebook was released in May 2009.
NASA scientists also requested an improved expert locator system—similar to a
application—that matches scientists with the right expertise; the system has been imple-
mented. These matches are mostly useful for short-term collaboration opportunities that go
beyond the existing competency management system. Experts automatically “bubble up” in
the search based on their articulated expertise through participation in discussions, work
groups, their answers, and self-identified project descriptions. However, being automatically
identified as an expert in any enterprise expert system comes with a potential burden. The
IBM Center for The Business of Government
expert might spend his/her time on giving advice, which takes away time from accomplishing
the task for which s/he was hired.
At NASA it was also important to ensure the appropriate use of the networking tools and mini-
mize the threat of unpredictable employee behavior. Employees may waste time or act unpro-
fessionally online and guidelines for harassment or discrimination had to be developed. In
addition, Generation Y employees needed to be trained to distinguish between the personal
and professional use of the sites. Guidelines for differentiating content and behavior were
developed to address what constitutes shareable and professional content, and what the limits
of transparency and openness are on the intranet. From an organizational standpoint, these
rules might help to limit erroneous information from getting published.
NASA managers also recognized a shift in training requirements, including the new communi-
ty’s need to learn rules and conventions around web publishing. As an example, information
release procedures might need to be updated to reflect the expectation of timeliness and
immediacy online, as well as the definitions of authoritative and formal content.
The screenshot below shows Spacebook, which includes customized headlines, updates from
the network, specific Spacebook announcements, a search for other employees’ profiles, exist-
ing groups, and an RSS feed with collaboration opportunities.
Current Status of Spacebook
Parts of Spacebook are still in use, while others, such as the social networking piece, were
not scaled up to the whole organization. Lack of top-down leadership support and an organi-
zational champion for the project—because he was moved into a new position—contributed to
the failure of adopting and initiating the behavior change across the whole organization.
However, parts of the initial social networking platform are still in use, such as the equipment
exchange platform and social tagging functionalities. Most importantly, the organization has
learned to use social media tools, which the public manager interviewed for this report states
is an important step toward organizational change and acceptance of new technologies.
Figure 3: NASA’s Spacebook Screenshot
Case Study Three: Intelligence Community’s i-Space (intelligence space)
The U.S. Intelligence Community consists of 16 different departments and agencies under the
umbrella of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The ODNI’s mission is to
integrate intelligence collection and analysis across the member organizations to inform deci-
sions. One of its main goals is to ensure responsible and secure information sharing. As part
of the intelligence community reform after the 9/11 terror attacks, a failure to “connect the
dots” has often been cited as an organizational knowledge-sharing challenge (Chomik, 2011;
RAND, 2005). As a result, ODNI and other agencies have started to use Web 2.0 tools on the
intranet, such as wikis, blogs, and other social networking tools adapted from private sector
technologies (microblogging tools similar to Twitter, or profile pages similar to Facebook)
(Andrus, 2005; Treverton, 2016).
The social networking tools are used to create information, access already existing information,
share information with analysts in other departments, and contribute to faster decision making.
The general brand name for the social intranet is Intellipedia and rollout started in 2005. However,
this brand name includes a suite of tools that has been made available via the Intelink intranet.
It includes the Intellipedia wiki, but also blogs, microblogging, a capability to upload and share
files via a web-based shared drive, and a tagging capability similar to Delicious.
These tools have been deployed as a social networking suite and made available to the intelli-
gence community to capture knowledge and allow for back-and-forth conversations, especially
on contentious issues. The collaborative debate on blogs and Intellipedia is used to aggregate
information through a robust discussion. As one of the interviewees for this report said: “It’s
more about capturing our knowledge and then, as a result of capturing that knowledge in a
shared space, we can have a lot of those discussions back and forth on issues that we dis-
agree on.” A second interviewee added: “[It] really allowed the connection of the who with the
what and the what with the who. It allows sort of the linkage between a prospect or an idea,
and people that are interested in it, and vice versa. So it’s a connection engine. It’s an engine
for interweaving our community in a way that was not possible before.”
Contributions and access are divided into three levels of classification (top secret, secret, and
unclassified), and analysts link together knowledge, aggregate knowledge across organizations,
and ultimately identify an analyst in another agency working on the same issue. Figure 4 shows
the different types of tools used to create, aggregate, and share information on the intranet.
Implementing i-Space
Creating Incentives to Shift Culture to More Collaboration. In bureaucratic, command-and-
control organizations in which analysts are trained to closely hold top secret information, it is
challenging to change the culture to allow for cross-boundary knowledge sharing. Before the
social technologies were implemented, analysts shared information in e-mails as attachments
or had occasional conferences that brought together the whole community. The intelligence
community created incentives to ensure that analysts recognize the information benefits of a
collaborative knowledge-sharing environment. As one of the public managers interviewed for
this report noted: “We talk about vibrancy. [The social intranet] is the place to go. It is the
party that everyone wants to be at. Socialness: Are people talking at the party, or are they all
there just to represent themselves, or are they all just creating pages about their organizations
and that’s where it stops, or they are they just throwing up meeting notes or whatever, or are
they actually engaging in conversation about key topics that are important to the organization?
And the third thing is relevance: When you implement the [social technologies] within the
organization, immediately some people think, oh, well you’re just catering to this younger crop
of people that are expecting these tools when they come in, and that’s not where the ‘real
IBM Center for The Business of Government
work’ is happening.” The content therefore needs to be relevant for the tasks, the organiza-
tion’s operations, and both the tools and the collaborative integrations have to measure up to
these three metrics: vibrancy, socialness, and relevance.
Chat rooms, in conjunction with blogs, web pages, research and development environments,
and a whole series of social technologies that are integrated in the Intellipedia and i-Space
architectures, support information sharing both within an organization and to and from an
organization. The intelligence community took a grassroots movement approach by including
analysts in their current roles; they started moving their Microsoft Word processes into the
intranet wiki and let the analysts become the advocates for the social technologies. This
approach has proven to be successful, especially because current employees can speak the
(accepted) language of their organization.
Incentives to create a collaborative culture need to be designed to reward not just contribu-
tions to the knowledge base, but also the act of “connecting the dots” and bringing people
together. The intelligence community aims to encourage positive levels of collaborative rein-
forcement, in the form of positive influence in a collaborative space. An interviewee noted:
“It’s not so much about the tool, it’s really about the culture. Really about how we as organ-
isms of multiple people reward the participation in that [collaborative] activity.” Many of the
contributions to a shared space have to be altruistic in nature—a reward might never occur—
because the current culture might not even encourage collaboration. One of the interviewees
explained the need for collaboration as follows: “If I put my information out here, and if I coor-
dinate with or if I collaborate with my colleagues over at NSA, or at CIA, or NGA, any of the
three-letter agencies out on Intellipedia, first, then I’m going to be able to get their ideas, their
opinions, earlier in the analytic process. So that way when I actually end up having to write
my product, it already has the benefit of their input. Rather than how we typically approach
it now, which is ‘Oh, well, I’m going to write my product, I’m going to squirrel myself away
in a cubicle.’”
Figure 4: i-Space of the U.S. Intelligence Community
Levels of
Decision Making
Top Secret
File Hosting
(Now i-Space:
Intelligence Space)
Driven by Mission, Enabled by Innovation
Getting a series of organizations to change their collaborative culture has proven to be the
most challenging part. The social technology itself is not the hurdle, instead it is important to
understand and experience the information benefits individually. As one of the public manag-
ers said: “I would say you just, you have to start using it for yourself. You have to create the
energy and the vibrancy in the tool, so that others start finding value in it. You have to create
the party that everyone wants to join. So, you cannot expect that everyone else is going to run
and join your parties immediately. You have to create this environment and then stay in it long
enough so that others start saying, ‘oh, this is kinda real.’”
However, it is also important to recognize that the community itself might not provide all the
solutions to a collaborative problem in the public sector. Even though analysts will find a lot of
valuable information while they interact with their counterparts online, they might not find all
the answers. Instead, as one of the interviewees said: “It can probably be your 80 percent
solution, and then work on that 20 percent somewhere else.” Some information might not be
available through the social channels; it might always remain proprietary information, inciden-
tal information that cannot be shared in real time, or must held in a proprietary database with
The Experience of the Intelligence Community with Social Intranets
from Gregory F. Treverton, New Tools for Collaboration: The Experience of the U.S. Intelligence
Community, Center for Strategic & International Studies, January 2016
The functions of the tools in the Intelligence Community might be grouped in five categories,
again recognizing that the categories cannot be entirely discrete, for most tools serve more than
one purpose.
Discovery. NSA’s Tapioca Neighborhood function, which locates expertise, is a good example.
But chatting (instant messaging, IM) and blogging also can aid discovery. One interlocutor
refers to chatting and blogging as the “water cooler” function. Yet even chat can cover a range
of purposes—from pure logistics (Can I get a ride home?), to mundane discovery (When is
the meeting?), to more substantive discovery (Who knows about x?). So, too, blogs can range
from curating (setting down ideas for further analysis later), to crowdsourcing (by inviting oth-
ers to critique an idea or argument), to discovery (by seeing who responds to a blog or asking
a question).
Curating, reference, and research. Here, the signature tool is Intellipedia. Like Wikipedia,
it contains pages arranged by topic, which officers can add to or edit, with all the metadata
available. People also have their own home pages on Intellipedia. It is a handy, living reference.
Managing. Here, the principal tools are probably IM, chats, and blogs, and most of the manag-
ing is done through agency-specific tools, for most agencies have their own internal chats and
blogs. In principle, though, Intelink chat and blogs could be used to manage projects—from
analysis to development—across agencies. Tapioca is suggestive of the possibilities, for NSA
makes it available to its “five eyes” international partners (Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and
Producing original content. This has been the ambition for several tools, notably A-Space and
Intellipedia. Indeed, Intellipedia’s managers regret that the association with Wikipedia induces
users to think of Intellipedia only as a living encyclopedia, not a forum for producing original
content. And A-Space, now i-Space, is valued more for its discovery function—helping analysts
with convergent interests locate each other behind the security wall.
Outreach. Here, the signature example is the WIRe (World Intelligence Review), the CIA’s daily
“publication” that is no longer published in hard copy, only available online. WIRe uses col-
laborative tools for outreach. For instance, feeds on eChirp are based on topical groups, and
provide notice of thought-provoking or special items.
IBM Center for The Business of Government
access control. The main information benefit is that the predominant amount of information
can still be shared openly on the platform, and it can be leveraged by the entire community
rather than be locked up.
Current Status of i-Space
i-Space is fully rolled out and used in the intelligence community. Training is part of the
onboarding process, and formal as well as informal knowledge is created and shared. While
first conversations might lead to the combination of informal knowledge sharing within one
subject area, formal knowledge is moved into the open space once all collaborators agree to
it. For example, the formal information can be moved to Intellipedia and made available to the
whole organization. A more detailed review is available from Treverton (2016). Overall,
i-Space is the most advanced of the four social intranet platforms reviewed for this report.
Case Study Four: Government of Canada’s GCconnex
The Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada (GC) is located in the Treasury
Board’s Secretariat. Within the CIO’s office, the GC2.0 Tools team is responsible for maintain-
ing, developing, and upgrading the Government of Canada’s digital collaboration tools,
collectively known as the GCtools, which include:
GCconnex, a professional collaboration platform or enterprise social network, started
in 2009
GCpedia, the Government of Canada’s official wiki started in 2008
The Web 2.0 ecosystem in the Government of Canada follows an onion model approach. The
outer layer includes external social media tools that many government employees use to col-
laborate on Twitter and Facebook. Information they find useful on the Internet can then be
moved to the second layer (GC2.0 Tools), which includes government-wide tools that can be
used behind the firewall by all employees. According to the manager interviewed for this
report, the GC2.0 Tools are the only existing option for online collaboration between all federal
organizations inside the secure Government of Canada firewall and are available in both
French and English. This layer includes GCpedia, a wiki-based collaborative workspace and
knowledge-sharing platform, and GCconnex, a professional networking platform for meeting
and collaboration purposes. Individual department-level tools for collaboration purposes consti-
tute the inner layer which is only accessible to specific employees with department-level
access rights. The inner layer of tools can be used to communicate department-specific infor-
mation that employees need to do their job and can include local SharePoint instances and/or
departmental intranets.
The Web 2.0 tools, GCconnex and GCpedia, are accessible to over 250,000 public servants
across 138 federal agencies in the Government of Canada.
Components of GCconnex
Generally, the Government of Canada’s GC2.0 team is committed to an open-source approach:
GCpedia is built on free and open-source collaboration software, MediaWiki, and GCconnex is
built using the free and open-source social networking software, Elgg. The GCtools are built on
open-source principles and all code for both platforms is available on Github and designed for
easy deployment.
GCpedia has over 65,000 registered users, over 28,000 content pages, and over 1.5 million
page edits. Since its launch in 2008, GCpedia has received almost 50 million page views.
GCconnex, the professional social collaboration platform, has over 80,000 registered users
as of February 2016 and is growing by approximately 2,000 users per month. Users have a
variety of classifications and varying levels of tech savviness. So far they have shared more
than 68,000 files and 30,000 photographs, and they have created over 6,300 groups and
10,800 blogs. Figure 6 shows the uptick in use across all GCtools since their inception. A
clear increase happened since 2013 with increasing popularity of blogs, discussions, and
forum contributions, which is also reflected in the increasing number of users.
Each user creates a profile and can join existing or start new discussion groups. In a standard
profile template, Canadian public servants fill in their personal information, like work experience
and skills, and upload a profile photo. Some widgets are available to help employees highlight
certain information about themselves. In addition, public servants have the ability to search
for other people throughout the federal government of Canada; but employees usually find
each other through participation in groups, or through activities such as posting questions on
the platform. As an example, the newsfeed displays a post by someone who contributed infor-
mation about an area of interest. Users can click through to the person’s profile page and
select the “Add colleague” button.
In groups, public servants can connect with each other to share experiences, knowledge, or
common interests. Examples have included functional communities, senior-level committees,
policy crowdsourcing, government-wide employee engagement, code-fests, charitable cam-
paigns, open-source computing, and environmental interests. Other interested employees join
existing groups, where discussion threads can be started. Certain open-source widgets are
available to add to a group. Groups are either open or closed with access control, and they
provide users with discussion pages, forums, blogs, instant messaging, group chat, idea voting,
Figure 5: The Web 2.0 Ecosystem in the Government of Canada
Source: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Government of Canada.
IBM Center for The Business of Government
bookmarks, and file-sharing functions. Actively monitoring a page’s discussion thread is not
necessary because the person who started a post is notified as soon as a new comment or
feedback is received. One advantage of groups is that the breadth of feedback public servants
receive increases as sharing and team interactions increase. In addition, informational benefits
occur because group members can access a diverse body of innovative knowledge beyond
their local teams or agencies.
A search function allows users to search all groups, blogs, and profile pages. The search result
will display discussion threads, links to groups that already exist, and blog posts. The search
function connects content with people, so those who are seeking already-existing expertise
and skills can directly connect to each other or make recommendations for connections. In the
future, the search functionality will include light HR activities, such as mentoring, coaching,
job shadowing, etc. The search also will allow users to search for someone willing to coach an
employee or help them to figure something out.
Implementing GCconnex
At the moment, the use of the social intranet tools is not part of the official training or HR
onboarding activities of new government employees. Instead, three outreach and engagement
officers actively promote the tools across all Government of Canada departments and agen-
cies. Their task is to change learned behavior of hierarchical knowledge sharing and siloed
communication structures to open communication and open knowledge sharing on the Web
2.0 platforms. They help managers to engage employees and involve them in online discus-
sions. The engagement officers visit teams and show them step-by-step how to increase
In addition to the engagement officers, 250 grassroots ambassadors (or “super users”) have
volunteered to help their colleagues use the GCtools. They give presentations at lunchtime sem-
inars to increase awareness for the tools and what employees can do with them. Their task is
to alleviate the hesitation to post questions and problems and to overcome the historic chal-
lenges of accessing knowledge through the hierarchy. The GC2.0 team would also like to guide
Figure 6: GCconnex at a Glance
users in their searches and help them find groups. An onboarding feature that guides new users
and helps them to connect with their peers will be added in spring 2016.
Current Status of GCconnex
The GCtools are continuously and iteratively improved and, together with other social network-
ing tools, are actively promoted through roadshows, in-person visits, trainings, and most
importantly, through active use and observed outcomes. The GC2.0 team uses advanced
social network analysis techniques to evaluate networking connections among government
employees—along with their contributions to groups or documents—to better understand the
effectiveness and efficiency of social intranet tools.
GCconnex will be receiving a major upgrade in March 2016 to streamline and improve collab-
oration on the platform and improve the overall user experience.
The Government of Canada renewal initiative, Blueprint 2020, launched in 2013 and has
been a significant enabler of the GC2.0 Tools GCconnex in particular. This initiative currently
manages the largest group on GCconnex with over 6,000 members and consistently uses the
GC2.0 Tools to engage employees and share information.
Figure 7: Government of Canada—GCconnex Screenshot
IBM Center for The Business of Government
The following insights are derived from interviews with public managers in charge of designing
and implementing in-house social networking platforms in three U.S. federal government
agencies and the Government of Canada.
Insight One: Active Leadership Participation Is Essential
Two levels within the organization need to be models for social networking adoption:
Top leadership. Top leadership buy-in cannot only occur as a passive confirmation that the
use of the sites is approved, but it has to be active and observable; managers need to
comment on updates to validate that they themselves pay attention to and use the plat-
form. Otherwise, employees will get the impression that their updates are duplicating
efforts or that social networking platforms are only a secondary communication mechanism
that is not worth their time.
An agency champion. Especially in organizations that are divided into many segments, it
is important to have in place an agency champion with a respected voice that is heard by
the department leadership. The agency champion can serve as the “owner” of the project
and aim for top leadership buy-in to support the scaling up and out of the social intranet
Insight Two: Three Technological Considerations Are Key
Based on our interviews, we found the following technological considerations to be key in the
design of a social intranet:
Radical transparency in design and change is needed. Practice radical transparency and
openness during the design and implementation phases of the social intranet. Include
everyone inside (and potentially outside) the organization who might have a stake in the
successful use of the social intranet. This can be legal staff who might bring up intellectual
property rights issues, HR staff who might have to deal with online misconduct or “friend-
ing” behavior, or unions who aim to protect staff. This procedure will create trust in the
process, the tools, and the final outcome by showing how effective and efficient informa-
tion benefits can make the organization.
Allow deliberative knowledge discovery. Social networking technologies enhance collab-
orative knowledge creation and sharing approaches. This also means that knowledge is not
necessarily only created by authoritative sources or organizational roles responsible for
providing formal knowledge products. Instead, discussion threads, wikis, blogs, and other
social networking tools follow a more deliberative approach of knowledge creation: They
include opinions in posts and comments, not necessarily just the final authoritative top-
down command. This approach allows for innovative voices to be heard and decision
makers to have more data points as the basis for their decision making. The downside is
Insights: Successfully Implementing
Social Intranets in Government
that opinions and information in draft form can be difficult to analyze; public sector
managers need to be ready to interpret and assess information from multiple sources.
Allow external and internal knowledge sources. Opening the boundaries of the internal
organizational units can be enhanced by allowing access to external knowledge sources on
the internet (assuming the government site is secure). Many government organizations
don’t allow employees to access information distributed through external social media
tools. However, allowing search and discovery online and disseminating the information on
the intranet can enhance productivity. This approach needs to be carefully implemented,
though. Many managers believe surfing the Internet makes their employees less produc-
tive, so education and training is needed to incorporate this cultural and managerial
Insight Three: Successful Implementation Requires Key
Management Involvement
Based on our interviews, we found the following set of actions essential to the successful
implementation of social intranet:
Investing in training, education, and outreach. Employees need training on social media
concepts to understand the new community rules and conventions. There is also a need for
“gardening” content. Remind employees about the community standards and merge similar
information pieces, but make sure that employees are aware of the interventions.
As part of this outreach, it is crucial to define the “social” context of the collaborative
online work environment. As an example, Corridor at the State Department was purpose-
fully branded as a “professional networking site.” It is important to (re)define the “friending”
concept and terminology in the professional environment. What does it mean to friend or
defriend your boss? In work environments, following or unfollowing certain employees
does not necessarily imply any special relationship. However, defriending might have
implications for the offline relationship. In addition, it is important to set governance
rules. Employees need to know that users publish and edit content without interference
from or cleaning by webmasters.
Moving from siloed to open communication. It is crucial to abandon siloed knowledge-
sharing practices and replace them with social intranet components for sharing and
retrieval. This can be designed in a phased approached. Start with individual calendar
functions, such as requiring employees to find meetings and appointments on the social
intranet rather than relying on external software to populate their calendars. Another option
is to change the meeting style to assume that meetings are not used to share information
that is already available on the intranet; instead employees have to come prepared with
the knowledge that they retrieved from the intranet.
Most enterprise social networking platforms fail. Employees tend to open the site once,
but they do not return to the site because their personal day-to-day operating procedures
have not changed and their communication structures are already established. The goal of
the social intranet is to move conversations out of e-mail threads for topics that don’t
make sense to be discussed in silos, such as discussions that may need to be retrieved
for future use.
Demonstrating innovativeness, effectiveness, and ease of use. Demonstrate to every
single employee some of the informational benefits so they understand “what’s in it for
me.” Demonstrate that the social networking site solves an organizational problem that is
not solvable with other technologies or face-to-face interactions. Demonstrate that the
social networking site helps employees discover knowledge or connections they are
otherwise not able to access or didn’t know they could access. Demonstrate that the social
IBM Center for The Business of Government
intranet allows employees to conduct their tasks in a more effective and efficient way. A
recent study by McKinsey’s Global Institute found that knowledge workers’ productivity can
be enhanced by 20 to 25 percent if they use social technologies to discover information
(Chui et al., 2012). Allow private discussion groups, but use a “front porch” approach: Let
employees know these groups exist, but protect sensitive information where necessary.
Making the social intranet the new standard operating procedure. During onboarding
activities, introduce new employees to the site’s functions in parallel with other communi-
cation modes, but make sure they see the value immediately and encourage them to use
all tools. Don’t emphasize the voluntary nature of use. Use a phased approach for longtime
employees who will need to change their ways. Start with simple applications first: Show
them what they can contribute and use social analytics to demonstrate how their contribu-
tions are used, who pays attention, and what their potential impact is.
Phasing in implementation, but consider a wider spread of testers. Technology projects
are usually rolled out in phased approaches; after the IT department, volunteer users are
selected to test the application. Technologists often aim for a broad spread of testers, but
social intranet applications such as collaborative working spaces or groups have different
needs. Bring in a group of collaborators and let them test the applications at the same
time. These groups need to understand the value of the tools and see that the new tools
help them to collaborate in a more effective and efficient way.
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IBM Center for The Business of Government
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About the AuthorAbout the Author
Dr. Ines Mergel is Associate Professor of Public Administration
at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at
Syracuse University. Professor Mergel teaches courses on
social media management in the public sector, managing digi-
tal innovation in the public sector, and public organizations
and management. Her research interest focuses on managerial
and technological innovations in the public sector that make
government organizations more effective and efficient.
Professor Mergel received a BA and MBA equivalent in busi-
ness economics from the University of Kassel, Germany. She
received a Doctor of Business Administration in Information
Management from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
She spent six years as a pre- and postdoctoral fellow at
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she conducted research on public managers’
informal social networks and their use of technology for knowledge sharing.
Professor Mergel’s work has been published in, among others, Government Information
Quarterly, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Public Administration
Review, Public Management Review, American Review of Public Administration, Journal of
Public Affairs Education, International Public Management Journal, and Government
Information Quarterly.
Her books, Social Media in the Public Sector: A Guide to Participation, Transparency and
Collaboration in the Networked World and Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide:
Designing and Implementing Strategies and Policies, were published in 2012 with Jossey-
The IBM Center has published four previous reports by Dr. Mergel: (1) Using Wikis in
Government: A Guide for Public Managers, (2) Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for
Using Twitter in Government, (3) A Manager’s Guide to Designing a Social Media Strategy,
and (4) A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media
Professor Mergel currently serves as the associate editor of Government Information Quarterly
and as a member of the Public Management Research Association’s board of directors.
IBM Center for The Business of Government
To contact the author:
Dr. Ines Mergel
Associate Professor
Department of Public Administration and International Affairs
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Syracuse University
215 Eggers Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
(315) 443-1462
Social media contacts:
Twitter: @inesmergel
Key Contact Information
Reports from
For a full listing of IBM Center publications, visit the Center’s website at
Recent reports available on the website include:
Beyond Business as Usual: Improving Defense Acquisition through Better Buying Power by Zachary S. Huitink and David
M. Van Slyke
Eight Actions to Improve Defense Acquisition by Jacques S. Gansler and William Lucyshyn
Collaborating Across Boundaries
Inter-Organizational Networks: A Review of the Literature to Inform Practice by Janice K. Popp, H. Brinton Milward, Gail
MacKean, Ann Casebeer, Ronald Lindstrom
Adapting the Incident Command Model for Knowledge-Based Crises: The Case of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention by Chris Ansell and Ann Keller
Improving Performance
Balancing Independence and Positive Engagement: How Inspectors General Work with Agencies and Congress by Dr.
Charles A. Johnson, Dr. Kathryn E. Newcomer, and Angela Allison
New Jersey’s Manage By Data Program: Changing Culture and Capacity to Improve Outcomes by David Lambert and Julie
A Playbook for CIO-Enabled Innovation in the Federal Government by Gregory S. Dawson and James S. Denford
Making Open Innovation Ecosystems Work: Case Studies in Healthcare by Donald E. Wynn, Jr., Renée M. E. Pratt, and
Randy V. Bradley
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Julia B. Keleher
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Using Technology
Using Mobile Apps in Government by Sukumar Ganapati
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