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My Response To The VA Microconsulting Work Statement On API Outreach

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is listening to my advice around how to execute their API strategy and adopting a micro-approach to not just delivering services, but also to the business of moving the platform forward at the federal agency. I’ve responded to round one, and round two of the RFI’s, and now they have submitted a handful of work statements on Github, so I wanted to provide an official response, share my thoughts on each of the work statements, and actually bid for the work.

First, Here is The VA Background
The Lighthouse program is moving VA towards an Application Programming Interface (API) first driven digital enterprise, which will establish the next generation open management platform for Veterans and accelerate transformation in VA’s core functions, such as Health, Benefits, Burial and Memorials. This platform will be a system for designing, developing, publishing, operating, monitoring, analyzing, iterating and optimizing VA’s API ecosystem.

Next, What The VA Considers The Play
As the Lighthouse Product Owner, I must have a repeatable process to communicate with internal and external stakeholders the availability of existing, new, and future APIs so that the information can be consumed for the benefit of the Veteran. This outreach/evangelism effort may be different depending on the API type.

Then, What The VA Considers The Deliverable
A defined and repeatable strategy/process to evangelize existing, new, and future APIs to VA’s stakeholders as products. This may be in the form of charts, graphics, narrative, or combination thereof. Ultimately, VA wants the best format to accurately communicate the process/strategy. This strategy/process may be unique to each type of API.

Here Is My Official Response To The Statement
API Evangelism is always something that is more about people, than it is about the technology, and should always be something that speaks to not just developers, being inclusive to all stakeholders involved in, and being served by a platform. Evangelism is all about striking the right balance around storytelling about what is happening across a platform, providing a perfect blend of sales and marketing that expands the reach of the platform, while also properly showcasing the technical value APIs bring to the table.

For the scope of this micro engagement around the VA API platform, I recommend focusing on delivering a handful of initiatives involved with getting the word out about what the API platforms, while also encouraging feedback, but all in an easily measurable way:

  • Blogging - No better way to get the word out than an active, informative, and relevant blog with an RSS feed that can be subscribed to.
  • Twitter - Augmenting the platform blog with a Twitter account that can help amplify platform storytelling in a way that can directly engage with users.
  • Github - Make sure the platform is publishing code, content, and other resources to Github repositories for the platform, and engaging with the Github community around these repos.
  • Newsletter - Publishing a weekly newsletter that includes blog posts, other relevant links to things happening on a platform, as well as in the wider community.
  • Feedback Loop - Aggregating, responding to, supporting, and organizing email, Twitter, Github, and other feedback from a platform and report back to stakeholders, as well as incorporate into regular storytelling.

For the scope of this project, there really isn’t room to do much else. Daily storytelling, Twitter, and Github engagement, as well as a weekly newsletter would absorb the scope of the project for a 30-60 day period. There would be no completion date for this type of work, as it is something that should go on in perpetuity. However, the number of blog posts, tweets, repos, followers, likes, subscribers, and other metrics could be tracked and reported upon weekly providing a clear definition of what work has been accomplished, and the value from the overall effort over any timeframe.

Evangelism isn’t rocket science. It just takes someone who cares about he platform’s mission, and the developers, and end-users being served by the platform. With a little passion, and technical curiosity, a platform can become alive with activity. A little search engine and social media activity can go a long way towards bringing in new users, keeping existing users engaged and encouraging increased level of activities, internally and externally around platform operations. With simple KPIs in place, and a simple reporting process in operation, the evangelism around a platform can be executed, quantified, and scaled across several individuals, as well as rolling teams of contractors.

Some Closing Thoughts On This Project
That concludes my response to the work statement. Evangelism is something I know. I’ve been studying and doing it for 8 years straight. Simple, consistent, informative evangelism is why I’m in a position to respond to this project out of the VA. It is how many of these ideas have been planted at the VA, through storytelling I’ve been investing in since I worked at the VA in 2013. A single page response doesn’t allow much space to cover all the details, but an active blog, Twitter, Github, and newsletter with a structured feedback loop in place can provide the proper scaffolding needed not to just execute a single cycle of evangelism, but guide many, hopefully rolling contracts to deliver evangelism for the platform in an ongoing fashion. Hopefully bringing fresh ideas, individuals, storytelling and outreach to the platform. Which can significantly amplify awareness around the APIs being exposed by the agency, and helping the platform better deliver on the mission to better serve veterans.