Last weekend I was fortunate to be able to spend the entire weekend at the UIC campus in Chicago hanging out with about 100 other people who are interested in local government. The event was CityCamp – a conference held in unconference style where the attendees determine and host the sessions.
While there were several GIS professionals there, I found no other attendees working in public works or civil engineering. In a way, I was not surprised – we are used to working behind the scenes and trying to remain below the radar. Our collective tendency to lie low is because about 98% of the time no one even realizes we are there – everything is running as it should and no one really notices or cares why. However, it is that small percentage of the time when things break down and cause a disruption in services that we are thrust in front of the cameras or the reporter’s pen and taken to task as if we have been doing nothing or purposely neglected our duties. And even though we try to explain our job and what caused the disruption, the resulting public article often leaves many of us end up feeling unfairly beaten up by the press.
But if we choose not to get involved in this new social media stuff due to past issues with public relations, it doesn’t mean we will be ignored. And yes, public works was brought into the discussion at citycamp. So we can stay out of the online channels, but it won’t mean people aren’t talking about us and what we do. As an example of this, I embedded a portion of an interview between Tim O’Reilly and Chris Vein, CIO of San Francisco. From about 7 minutes in to about 9 minutes, public works is the topic of discussion. At some point, we need to ask ourselves, “can we really afford to stay out of the conversation?”