Arlington, VA (September, 2014)— Devis' ePolicyWorks project was recently featured in Department of Labor's Frances Magazine. The article is reprinted below, with permission from DOL.
You Do What?: Disability Policy Development for the 21st Century
By Ann Mangold, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC
According to Michael Reardon, a policy supervisor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy, technology can be the great equalizer or the great barrier for people with disabilities.
“In the federal government, we've become used to working with Web-based tools in the sense that we automatically assume that anything we post online or through Facebook or Twitter will reach its target audience, simply because it's available,” he said. “In some cases, although intentions are good, you could actually leave people with disabilities worse off.”
In response to the President's Open Government Initiative, announced in 2009, Reardon and his colleagues utilized Web 2.0 technology to more efficiently and cost effectively elicit the targeted, meaningful discussions needed to generate policies for people with disabilities.
While most agencies used Open Government as a mandate to make information about their services and programs more transparent, Reardon leveraged the initiative as an opportunity to engage audiences in more modern ways, essentially, taking policy development into the 21st century, an idea that eventually earned Reardon and his team the 2014 Secretary's Honor Award for Innovation.
As a policy development office, ODEP depends upon engagement with stakeholders and key constituency groups, including federal departments and agencies, grantees, state and local governments, business groups, and advocacy associations to carry out its mission. In the past, this was done by traditional means, such as conferences, phone calls or direct mail.
But through Reardon's efforts, ODEP has made use of technology to target stakeholders in two significant ways.
The first is through a mechanism created for hosting a series of online dialogues on a number of employment and disability issues, ranging from transportation and youth transition to veterans issues and employer engagement.
“In years prior, revised rules or regulations would be posted to the Federal Register and you could expect about 200 ideas to come back, 10 of which might be thoughtful, actionable recommendations, and you could always assume they were coming from organizations that we work with anyway,” remarked Reardon. “This new method skips the middle man — and provides much more value in the process.”
For example, a recent two-week dialogue on youth transition co-sponsored with the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice, included more than 3,000 participants who contributed 355 unique ideas and provided more than 1,600 comments. Federal agency partners are analyzing the responses, which will be distilled into an insightful and action-oriented report for Congress.
The second mechanism created by ODEP is an online collaborative workspace called ePolicy Works, which is intended to aid national stakeholder organizations, grantees and federal partners in the development of employment and disability policy. This password-protected forum provides a wide range of stakeholders the opportunity to learn and contribute to the policy conversation as well as access organizational and productivity tools. Built using Microsoft SharePoint and supported in a cloud environment, ePolicy Works includes the participation of more than 1,200 national stakeholders in dozens of project-specific workspaces.
In addition to leveraging technology effectively, these platforms also save time and money, and ODEP is using its success to educate fellow federal workers and policymakers on the benefits of applying technology to policy development.
The General Services Administration recently hosted a forum for more than 100 federal social media managers, and asked ODEP to speak to the audience regarding the most effective ways to make social media accessible for people with disabilities. “There was a lot of concern and an overall misperception about people with disabilities. Everyone pictures Stephen Hawking or someone with tremendous needs or a situation that is very expensive or difficult to address,” said Reardon. “One of our presenters stood up and punched a couple of buttons into his iPhone, which promptly started reading an email from his inbox. The audience gasped in surprise because they had no idea their phone had that built-in capability — the tools are there, we just need to become comfortable and familiar with them.”
That's what ODEP is trying to change.
“Developing new policy used to take at least 5 years, from start to finish, but nothing can take 5 years anymore.” Reardon added. “We live in a world where preparing dinner takes 7 minutes and the TV show or movie of our choice is seconds away — why should policy take so long?”
About Development InfoStructure, Inc. (Devis)
Development InfoStructure, Inc. (Devis) was founded in 1992 to provide innovative, practical approaches to information management. Devis is a leading provider of IT Consulting services and solutions to Federal, State, and Local Governments as well as the international development community. Devis' standards-based, vendor-independent approach and active support of the open source community help maximize the return on clients' IT investments.
Contact: Heidi Aquino