One year ago, an entrepreneurial government leader Brian Whittaker started an initiative called “Humans of Public Service.”
Brian — who also successful leads change in his day job as Chief Innovation officer at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and is an alum of GSA’s 18F program – modeled this effort on the now internationally renowned “Humans of New York” stories, focusing on interesting and committed people making a difference at all levels of government. Brian recently received a Fed 100 award for his leadership on this work. He reflects on a year of success and previews things to come in a guest blog below.
Guest Blogger – Brian Whittaker, Founder, Humans of Public Service
This month marks one year since the launch of Humans of Public Service (HOPS). I have always believed that public servants are worth celebrating and telling their stories is something worth trying, I have to admit that I wasn’t confident about the launch. I didn’t know if the stories would be well received or if people would engage with the content on social media. We started on Instagram and quickly pivoted to LinkedIn, where we saw engagement and interest take off. Today, thanks to the support of passionate volunteers, we have shared over 100 stories of current public servants, gained 5,000 followers across our platforms, and even heard a HOPS story shared by a Member of Congress.
Building on the tremendous support we have received, we will be expanding our story telling efforts to take a look at the past and the future. Starting this month, we will accept nominations of former public servants so that we can share where they are now and talk about their journey through public service. We will also accept nominations of students who are focused on entering public service so we can learn about why they want to serve. Finally, we are incorporating videos into our content so we can share the humanity of our government with a broader audience.
We are grateful for all the support that allowed us to achieve so much in our first year. Reflecting on one year of HOPS, there are three things that have resonated with me.
First, people generally serve for one of three reasons. Some people are impacted by a life event, experience or injustice, which inspires them to find a way to make a difference. For others, a friend, mentor or family member demonstrates their own pride in serving others and it becomes contagious. And for others, it’s chance or a roll of the dice, but even with limited exposure to government, their instincts say to give it a try.
I’ve also learned that government employees come to serve the public but often stay because of their fellow colleagues. Sure, the government is an attractive employer who offers competitive benefits, a mission-driven focus, and an opportunity to tackle some of the most impactful challenges facing our country. But while this may be what first got people in the door, public servants consistently cite their coworkers as the reason they stay. And it makes a lot of sense. Driving change is hard and it can take focused effort over a long period of time to see your work really make an impact. This makes it essential to have a support system in place – people to encourage you when times are hard, remind you of the mission when you’re questioning your efforts, or even to pick up and carry on the work when you’ve taken it as far as you can go. These colleagues are what make government a great place to work for many public servants.
Finally, I’ve seen how powerful government employees are as brand ambassadors. Historically, the most visible government employees are senior executives – the ones we see on websites, TV, or other speaking engagements. Or they are those who are on the front lines providing a service and engaging directly with the community. There are millions more in between who are not seen every day, but they are our friends, our neighbors, and community members. And the next generation of public servants needs to see themselves in government, too. We have an opportunity to borrow from some industry best practices and begin to think about employees as a critical part of any sustainable recruitment strategy for the government.
Thank you for supporting HOPS over the last year as we celebrated more than 100 public servants across the country. I hope you’ll continue with HOPS on this journey as we work to humanize the government and attract the next generation of public servants. Be sure to follow us on social media and nominate someone today!