Using Web 2.0 Technology to the Government’s Advantage; EPA’s Water Quality Video Contest

After the success of President Obama’s political campaign, it became impossible to ignore the importance of emerging Web technologies. A Web presence characterized by information sharing, social networking and online communities emerged as a powerful way to transform a fledging grassroots movement into a national campaign. In 2008, Craig Hooks, former Director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, recognized the opportunity for EPA to utilize Web technology to get citizens involved in addressing environmental challenges together. He proposed the idea of a video contest to engage the public and to help solve problems associated with non-point source water pollution.

Although there have been great improvements in water quality over the past three decades, there is still a massive problem resulting from human activity on the land. Educating citizens about actions that they can take to reduce their impact is vital to improving the nation’s water quality.

The contest was a new way for the Office of Water to experiment with participatory governance using the Web. I’m happy to say that it worked well beyond our expectations. We marketed the contest using social media channels, creating a special EPA group on YouTube and filming our own promotional video, publicizing it on various Web pages, such as VidOpp.com and Fastweb.com, creating a Facebook group page as well as using more traditional outreach such as listservs. It helped that I am a twenty-year-old intern, comfortable with these cutting-edge marketing technologies.

We had modest expectations. The Radon Video Contest conducted last summer by the Office of Air and Radiation generated thirty videos, and we assumed we would receive about the same number. We were wrong. As the contest drew to a close, we began to get overwhelmed. By midnight, more than 250 videos had been submitted.

The judging proved somewhat challenging because of the range of topics and variability in quality. But in the end, we selected two outstanding top videos, “Protect our Water-Check Cars for Oil Leaks” by Lucas Ridley and “Dastardly Deeds and the Water Pollution Monster” by Nora Parren, along with twenty-one videos honorable mentions.

This contest was a monumental success. Collectively, our YouTube contest channel generated more than 18,000 collective views at the contest close and 28,839 views as of today. The interest it has generated has been amazing, and EPA has begun to realize the potential for government to gain the public’s interest using emerging Web technologies. We have been flooded by calls and emails from other EPA offices as well as other government agencies and nonprofit groups that wish to run similar Web contests. On June 10, 2009 Web 2.0 became the one millionth word to be added to the English language dictionary, showing how truly epic this movement is. This is the beginning of a new age for the government and with social media tools at our disposal, individuals can truly participate in their government.

Check out the contest winners.
View all the contest entries.

About the author: Rebecca Neary has been interning with the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds at Headquarters since January 2009. Rebecca will be beginning her Masters Degree in Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management at Indiana University this fall.