November 3, 2008 By Matt Williams
Governments have proved willing to experiment with Second Life, a popular online 3-D community in which users create virtual worlds and interact with one another via computer-generated characters. For instance, Missouri recently announced it hired its first IT employee recruited directly from Second Life; the employee attended a Second Life job fair as a computer-generated cat wearing a bow tie. Several universities also have held classes in the virtual world.
When Bill Greeves, the IT director of Roanoke County, Va., started looking around for Web 2.0 best practices, he said he didn't find much so he decided to create a venue for discussion. "Thanks to Roanoke County's interest in exploring, I developed the MuniGov2.0 group as a way collaborate, communicate and share best practices amongst other local governments," he said. "Along with a partner - Pam Broviak, director of public works for LaSalle, Ill. - I developed a MuniGov2.0 Web site and a Second Life group."
MuniGov 2.0 is about six weeks old, and in that time Greeves said 100 members have signed up from 61 organizations - mostly city and county governments - in 20 states and three countries. It's growing so quickly that Greeves said he's looking for more volunteers to help manage the group.
The discussion group meets weekly in Second Life. Sometimes the topic is Second Life; other times, they may talk about Twitter, technology incubation or other Web 2.0 technologies. A few weeks ago, participants built virtual conference rooms, demonstration halls and meeting spaces that they could someday use in their own agency's Second Life presence.
Many MuniGov2.0 members who come their first meeting in Second Life are new to this virtual world. Greeves said the community holds orientation for "newbies."
"[Second Life] is definitely more dynamic than getting together on a conference call. We have the ability to share documents and items in real time, that we wouldn't otherwise," he said.
Greeves said Second Life could be useful to governments in unanticipated ways, especially during this period of tight IT budgets. A few weeks ago, Greeves said he talked to Roanoke County's human resources director, who mentioned that a Second Life job interview could be a cost-effective, intermediate step between a phone interview and buying a plane ticket for a prospective employee.
"Did the person come to the interview in a suit and tie, or did they come with their avatar wearing a purple Mohawk? That could tell you something about the person," Greeves said.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.