Briefing

Smithsonian Goes Wiki

It's difficult to imagine how any organization could undertake a mission as broad as "unlocking the mysteries of the universe." But that's what the Smithsonian Institution's strategic plan calls for, so the world's largest museum network has turned to the public for help. In 2009, the Smithsonian launched a public-facing wiki, a collaborative online document open to anyone who wishes to comment, edit or create.

The next step in expanding the institution's digital presence is the debut of a prototype Smithsonian Commons in January. The searchable Web resource places its vast collection at the public's fingertips. By incorporating smart phone GPS technology, social media and bookmarking capabilities, the site tailors the learning process to individual needs.

The wiki embodies what the institution is all about: collaborative problem-solving and knowledge creation, says Michael Edson, Smithsonian's director of Web and new media strategy. The platform is cheap and malleable and gives smart people outside the institution an opportunity to contribute.

Edson and his team take contributions from staff and students seriously. Last spring, nearly 300 Smithsonian employees participated in a workshop series to discuss the strategy's challenges, and the wiki was updated alongside the conversation. The Voice Your Vision YouTube contest during the summer solicited ideas from the public for improving the Smithsonian's offerings. But one of the project's greatest upshots is the imperative to talk and then take action. After all, says Edson, "promises made in public are not easily forgotten."

-Emily Long

Last Resort

Feel the need for a little R&R but can't afford St. Bart's? There's always Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Air Force officials hope you'll one day consider a soon-to-be-built resort on Santa Rosa Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Service leaders are negotiating a long-term lease with Emerald Breeze Resort Group LLC to develop a first-rate, beachfront resort on 17 unused acres.

The Air Force is executing the deal under what's known as enhanced-use lease authority, enacted by Congress in 2001, which allows officials to lease government property to private contractors when such leases can benefit the military services. Typically, military officials have negotiated EULs to build less glamorous but vital infrastructure such as power plants, office space or wastewater treatment facilities.

One of the service's best-known EULs is the 140-acre solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where installation officials negotiated a 20-year-lease with SunPower Corp. to build the largest solar array in the Americas on a brownfield. Not only did the Air Force save the cost of rehabilitating unused landfill, it cut a deal that will save facility managers $1 million a year on electricity.

While the economic benefits of the Emerald Breeze Resort might seem less clear, Air Force officials said the project would generate jobs and breathe new life into an unused beachfront parcel.

"When this project is complete, I think everyone involved will be very proud to have been a part of it," says Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations.

-Katherine McIntire Peters

Team Fed Tryouts

Federal recruits could be in for more prep work before interviewing with Uncle Sam.

Agencies might have better luck selecting the best candidates if they included a simulation of the work in the application process, according to a report from the Merit Systems Protection Board. Job simulations-which can include everything from asking candidates to explain how they would handle a specific situation to exercises in which they must answer customer calls-allow hiring managers to determine whether an applicant has the right stuff.

Developing tests to see how prospective employees respond to a given work environment or perform a particular task can be expensive. But, the report said, "Agencies need to weigh the fact that it may be more costly in the long run to make poor hiring decisions than to spend the money to make good ones." Fewer than half of all agencies are using job simulations, the report found.

-Alyssa Rosenberg

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