Meet the Loudest Silent Hero in Government
Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 4th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2014 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick off the NextGen Training Summit on July 23rd in Washington, DC. We have 18 finalists in six different categories. All month long we will be introducing you to the finalists.
Meet the Finalist:
Who: Allison LePage, Digital Media Manager, Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS)
Achievement: Finalist for the NextGen Public Service Award in the Exemplary Leadership Category
“Allison LePage is the loudest silent hero in all of Washington, D.C. She has completely transformed the web and social media presence of the nation’s largest service organization, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) that runs AmeriCorps, without once taking credit for her phenomenal leadership, technical work, and impact. LePage has an innate ability to lead others, learn new skills, and ignite the creativity, humor, and spirit of those around her.” – Michael Gale, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) Strategic Planning Coordinator (Acting). Gale nominated LePage for the NextGen Public Service Award.
These days if you want to engage with the public, you have to go online. The Corporation for National Community Service wanted to be in the digital space for better civic engagement – but they had a problem. Their website was not interactive, the Twitter traffic was low and they didn’t have an email marketing strategy.
But now all of that has changed, thanks to Allison LePage.
In the three years since LePage started as the Digital Media Manager for CNCS, the organization has migrated over 10,000 web pages to a new open source content management system, established email and social media outreach platforms that reach 17.9 million people, and added CNCS to Instagram, Flickr and nine other social media platforms.
“I looked at our digital platforms and said, ‘Whoa, this is not helpful for the American people,’” said LePage.
Her first step on the transformation process was to learn from those agencies who had successfully implemented new systems. “I think in the world of technology you learn a lot if you listen,” Le Page said. “We were going to use a content management system (which I will not name), but then one day and an email came across my desk from the Federal Web Manager’s Forum, saying that there was a couple of other agencies that were using that same company to do their content management system, and that it was not working as well as they would hope to be. So about four months out, I went to my boss, and who is the chief of external affairs here at CNCS, and said we need to completely rethink our approach on what we’re doing for our web presence.”
LePage and her team decided to throw out the old system and use the open sourced Drupal platform. “We were able to do this in-house, we didn’t have to waste money externally bringing contractors to do the job, and we were able to create it with our current employees. We didn’t waste time. We just pulled our bootstraps up and went for it.”
“With Drupal have amazing analytics, we’re able to really look at what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis to understand what the American people want, and to give them a voice,” said LePage. “I think in the government we don’t do the best job of kind of listening to what the public wants. When we started listening it really changed our entire web presence.”
In the past three years, LePage has also transformed the digital engagement strategy at CNCS. “When I came here to CNCS we only had Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. We’ve grown in the last year and a half to nine different social media platforms.”
But it’s not just about having the latest platform, LePage said the key is matching the message to the platform. “We have the content and the audience to be able to take a single message and match the message to each those platforms to best accommodate the user. We look at things, like how can we best engage people to be mentors in their communities, how can we engage them in the Google Plus platform compared to Instagram, how can people share it on Facebook, and then how can people retweet it on Twitter?”
While the new website and social media outreach have done a lot to transform the agency, the biggest catalyst for growth has been a new email messaging campaign with GovDelivery. “We launched GovDelivery marketing and communication strategies about three months after I started,” LePage said.
“We started off with about 300,000 people from our internal lists. Organically we have grown, and we now message more than 17.9 million recipients.”
Social media platforms, messaging, communication, citizen engagement – all of those things are integral to how the government should make decisions, because agencies need to make choices based on things that the public really wants and needs. But in order to serve the entire public, you have to be 508 compliant. Back in 2011, CNCS was not very focused on the regulation.
“When I came here, one my first questions was who do I send this to make sure that this is 508 compliant? Everybody in the room said ‘what are you talking about?’ I’m thought, oh man, this is really bad. I immediately went to General Counsel and was like, listen; everyone I talk to has no idea what 508 compliance is. And this is scaring the daylights out of me.”
LePage volunteered to be the acting 508 agency coordinator. In addition to her regular job, she made sure that all of CNCS’s digital assets were accessible, so that regardless of who is reading or interpreting their information, it’s accessible for every single person, whether they’re deaf, blind, or have any other disability.
“I started on a year and a half conquest to build a 508 program from the ground up for the agency. It was probably one of the most amazing opportunities I’ve ever had within public service. I’m driven 100% by technology, and by communication, but there’s something very important about ensuring that someone that uses a screen reader or accesses an e-course can do it successfully.”
LePage is spreading the word — now more than 65 people are trained to be 508 compliance ambassadors within the agency.
Transforming an agency’s digital strategy and making it 508 compliant is no easy task, but LePage said she is driven to serve. “I’m originally from Michigan. I think there’s something very unique about the work ethic of the Midwest. I really feel like when I moved to Washington after I graduated from college and started working at the Department of Interior, I didn’t know how to stop. Like I just kept climbing, not so much the ladder, I just kept having an interest in these back pocket projects. I think that when these two big projects came up, I just kind of resorted back to how I’ve always been, like my area of interests and love for technology as well as being a public servant, and just said listen, there is a huge hole here, and we have to fill it, because this mission, part of this agency is so important to every single American. That pushed me in an incredible way.”
Why is LePage a public servant? “I think that being a public servant is really [about] being the voice of the American people, and helping other people around you understand what they need. I think that technology is one of the best places to do that, especially within social media and the web. It’s so incredible to see you post a very simple graphic on Facebook on our national service page, and to see it get 15,000 clicks within three hours. People can connect with government and now they can. I know that I will always be a public servant. I will always be in the government. People ask me why, and I can’t really tell them why except for the fact that I love to serve others.”