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…