In the Trenches: Moderation for OpenGov

I’m a 20 year EPA staffer and Computer Specialist doing much more than computers these days. One of my tasks is to help moderate comments that come in to the EPA’s Open Government discussion forum.

I’ve quickly come to realize that moderating comments in the public arena, especially in these sometimes politically-charged times, requires a curious mixture of patience, firmness and humor.

  • Patience: Like our favorite teachers and professors from education, sometimes we have to let folks submit their opinions about issues that are important to them, even when they are off the topic of discussion. It’s very important to guide them toward translating that energy into ‘do-able’ suggestions so that we can include them in our Open Government Plan, if possible. Early on, we decided to allow some latitude to ensure transparency and participation in the process.
  • Firmness: When we encountered wrong information, not just opinion, we tried to provide correct information, and this was mostly well received. The forum has published Terms of Participation, and the only times we’ve moved ideas to the “off topic” area, or removed comments from the forum, was most likely because of this. We recorded all of these actions to preserve all input.
  • Humor: Occasionally I come across a comment that is “strongly worded” against government (or some other group or issue), and I am reminded about what my mother always told me: That arguing with anyone — usually about politics, sports or religion — when it was obvious that there would never be movement to the middle, was useless. “Don’t engage,” she said. “Keep it light and polite.” That seemed to be a very prudent credo. Anyone with a background in customer service, or who has spent time answering a help desk phone also knows this.

We are now into the last few days of the project, and the response has been very good. I encourage you all to visit the OpenEPA page to find out what the EPA is doing to promote transparency, participation and collaboration. Also, visit our discussion forum site to suggest ideas for our Open Government Plan. To date, there have been 150 ideas, 317 comments, 3,080 votes, and 707 users. Please join us in the discussion, vote for one of the 150 ideas or share your own.

About the author: Barry Everett is one of EPA’s OpenEPA Moderators, who is currently on temporary assignment from the EPA’s Dallas office to the Agency’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters office. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.