Woo hoo! Social media guidelines for civil servants finally published

Goodness me, hard to believe that civil servants finally have a published set of guidelines on how to participate online. This is a piece of work I really hoped would come out of the GCN social media review I was involved with last year.

Since then, a great deal of effort has gone into drafting guidance on participation online generally, and using social media / web2.0 tools specifically. But as time has drifted, so the guidelines got more and more complicated to the point where they threatened to become unhelpful.

A recent sense check around Whitehall, with support from the egovernment minister has resulted in a much slimmed down set of principles for participation. They’re not perfect, they’re not comprehensive – but its a jolly good start and much welcome.

I understand that some of the denser draft guidance will soon find its way online as supporting information, perhaps on wiki, to allow organisations to develop operational guidance that support the principles. I look forward to seeing that.

In the meantime, the Power Of Information Taskforce are seeking feedback on the guidelines. Please help them to improve this first crack at creating the conditions for civil servants to communicate online safely by letting them know what you think.

  1. One comment Jeremy – which I hope others will pick up on – I don’t think this has much relevance for anywhere but Whitehall. I and others in Lgov are still living with extremely undefined guidance and making up our own rules to stay safe.

  2. @Paul – interesting. I think it was written with the wider public sector in mind, not just central govt. Do you not think it works in the wider arena? What else does it need?

  3. it probably is applicable – I like it’s approach. it’s getting it disseminated – are unions being made aware for example? the numerous bodies which lgov people work with (like IDEA/SOCITM etc)? if it was it could definitely help the progress of blogging in lgov as fear is definitely a factor holding people back.

    see you later ;]

  4. At one level I’m pleased that they are so vague. I think it would have been a real mistake to try to pin down every eventuality or situation and come up with particular solutions to what will inevitably be very subtle problems and issues. Following the Microsoft -style “blog smart”, we trust you to do your job, style guidelines seems to me the only really viable way forward.

    Of course for somebody obsessed with ideas of language and discourse, there are huge problems with the way these are written. Concepts such as “fair”, “honest” and “transparency” are such powerful ideologies and open to such massive amounts of discussion, debate and repositioning that arguably they become useless.

    I think in particular there is a problem in that clearly these guidelines are aimed at the lower levels within the civil service who are doubtless going to be paranoid about what they can and cannot say. In some ways these guidelines feed into the paranoia.

    What I would have liked to see is a more active and positive approach which worked on the basis of “permission” and encouragement. Rather than giving vague ideological parameters, these guidelines could actively encouraged these front-line communicators or service delivery teams to speak with real voice and to tell the business story.

    Arguably what is needed is a much more strategic approach addressing the issues appropriate to and of concern to management as well as those likely to be storytellers.
    This problem is particularly apparent in guideline number four. It says: “wherever possible, align online participation with other off-line communications.” This is clearly positioning social media storytelling as merely another channel for delivery of messages rather than as a conversational space. Rather than encouraging people to engage in conversation and storytelling, this guideline appears to be pushing civil servants in the direction of using these “channels” (sic) to market, promote or even “spin”.

  5. @Paul: All good points. This is undoubtably the start, not the end, of these guidelines. Its up to us to improve them.

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