Why civil servants need to be careful about blogging

I’ve just been sitting here with my jaw on the ground reading about today’s Mail on Sunday article about Owen Barder, ‘Whitehall’s jogging blogger’ and subsequent commentary from observers. The best summary of the situation comes from Andrew Brown who helpfully points to a dissection of the original story by Tim Worstall.

One thought – yikes! This does somewhat set the potential reality for anyone willing to put their head above the parapet of anonymity. As Andrew says,

“They’ve put us all on notice that what we write here in the ’sphere can and will be used to smear us should it suit their purposes”.

But I don’t feel quite as crestfallen about the situation as Andrew’s view :

“The Daily Mail have just killed the idea that there could be a on-line discussion with civil servants beyond the driest of consultation exercises”.

It certainly means that anyone blogging who includes reference to their professional work (even if the focus of the blog is not about that) needs to be aware that anything they have said on the blog could be used as ammunition against them – however unfair that might be.

It also reinforces my view that authors need to be clear about the appropriateness of the medium, their authority to write, what the focus of their writing is – and stick to it.

Owen seems to have done nothing wrong. But something has happened – people are talking about whether civil servants should blog or not. The debate is important, I have been glad of the responses to my previous post on the subject. If we can create some thoughts and guidance between us to help civil servants who might be thinking of using blogs for public engagement then all the better.

My starters for ten:

  1. Don’t forget who pays your wages.
  2. Is creating a new blog the best way of joining in the conversations? Is this the most effective use of your time?
  3. Create a focus for your blogging activities. Tell people what it is. Stick to it. Its easy to get distracted.
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  1. Jeremy, you know the way the civil service works better than I do so I’m pleased you don’t think this will be as damaging as I’ve pessimistically painted it. But I do fear that those who were already less certain that civil servants should be more visible to the rest of the world – ie outside the wonk and lobbying world that already work with them off line – will use this as a stick to reduce the scope for blogging.

    • Che Tibby
    • May 22nd, 2007

    thanks for the interesting links. we’re currently talking through these same issues here in new zealand, and reaching many of the same impasse.

    i think i can add to your list, “just don’t ever talk politics”, and “see your blog as a potential CV” (the latter remark from jason ryan at the network of public sector communicators blog)

  2. Good points Che. I’ll drag these together with other comments I’ve had by email and offline and put it into a list in the near future.

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