Debating the civil servants online engagement guidelines

Yesterday I was invited to a round table discussion at the Cabinet Office. The purpose was to talk about the recently published principles for participation online for civil servants – what’s good, what’s bad, what’s missing and how they can be applied in practice.

Around the table was a good mix of web strategists, practitioners, enthusiasts and those just interested to find out more. As we went round the table introducing ourselves and our particular interests it struck me that there is an awful lot of good stuff going on around me. There are plenty of implementations of social web tools happening – collaborative tools, using blogs for stakeholder engagement, social networks etc etc so plenty of shared learning developing that we somehow need to plug into and harness.

We were lucky that we managed to avoid falling into the trap of concentrating on blogs and bloggers, as I understand the first of these sessions last week spent much of the time discussing (Dave Briggs has a good round up of that session). But there was still, unsurprisingly, a focus on how organisations can deploy tools, rather than the simpler (but in my mind more powerful) opportunity of civil servants participating in exsiting online environments. As Justin put it succinctly in a tweet, “all I hear are broadcast models

There was a recognition that, if we are to embed these skills and techniques in government organisatinos, then we need to invest in both training/ongoing support and in capacity. Simply mandating people to include online engagement in their already busy day jobs will not work. If we are going to take this stuff seriously its going to have to be resourced properly. We also need to be realistic about the potential scale the resource will require, particularly if we use online tools to debate a high profile or contentious issue (remember the road pricing petition?).

I think I heardpeople were asking how to translate the principles into more operational / organisational guidance. In other words, how they’d actually do this stuff. But its also clear that we are still in the very early days of experimenting with the technologies and tools. There is no correct way to do things or optimum tool or technology. This is not the time for mandated solutions but for encouraging innovation.

All in all a useful conversation. But like a lot of conversations about social web that I have nowadays, I can’t help thinking that there is still an awful lot of actual work to do to support and encourage the use of social web tools to support better policy engagement. Guess that comes next…

    • neilojwilliams
    • August 7th, 2008

    I love it that the guidelines are so refreshingly short.

    But as the newest blogging civil servant (I won’t hold the title for long) I found it quite a nerve wracking experience to make my first few blog posts, and the guidelines don’t quite do it for me. I feel like I need examples, case studies, some real clarity about the boundaries of what is and isn’t in contravention of the code. I don’t want to find that out the hard way…

  1. @Neil: Yes you’re right. These are only principles, not detailed guidelines. There are plenty of examples around of organisational guides to this stuff in the public sector. Not least the social media guidance that accompanies the principles. You’ll find it on the Digital People CoP site. I think its a starter for ten for organisations to take and model in the way they see fit.

  1. August 3rd, 2008

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