Archive for the ‘ public sector blogging ’ Category

John Suffolk blogging – does he need webby design help?

Props to Ian Cuddy at PSF for spotting that John Suffolk, the UK government CIO, has recently taken up blogging. Its great to see this level of openness from a very senior official (he even has a link for his work email account at the bottom of the page) and also his decision not to follow the crowd and get WordPressing (might upset one or two people…)

But am I being a bit of a webbie pedant when I see that he’s using Comic Sans as his main content font? I mean, its not comic its criminal.

Come on John, smarten up a bit please if only to satisfy the eyes of web developers across Whitehall (if you need the number of one of them for a bit of design advice I’d be only too happy to help). But please, please keep up the blogging.


Tom Reynolds – public sector blogging pioneer

I went along to the TALK Innovation and Transformation event at the Natural History Museum last week. Three speakers talking about their experiences of social media in the public sector, then a brief sales pitch about a Confluence platform tweaked for local government use, followed by a rather nice lunch and conversation.

One of the speakers was Tom Reynolds, ambulance driver and author of Random Acts of Reality. I was quite excited about hearing him as I’ve been reading his blog almost since he started it five and a half years ago. I think that probably makes him the first public sector blogger in the UK.

I wasn’t disappointed. Tom was tired, having come straight from a night shift (and slugged back Red Bull whilst he talked to keep himself awake) and although he wasn’t as eloquent as he might have been after a long night’s sleep, his earnestness and enthusiasm for the subject shone through.

I wrote a few notes which are almost impossible for me to read so what follows is a precis of my memory of the event. But even this is enough to contain some genuine nuggets of goodness about the power of blogging in the public sector:

  • Bloggers are enthusiasts who care about their jobs and do it in their own time because they have a genuine desire to improve the organisations they work for.
  • Individuals are generally considered to be more trustworthy than faceless organisations and readers of blogs invest in the writers. The personal neature of the relationships that develop as a result of this bypass the corporate PR ‘filter’.
  • The value of blogging about your job for the public is that Individuals can tell great stories that humanise faceless organisations (who shouldn’t worry about bloggers on their workforce, their passion for the job is itself generally enough to prevent them saying things that would bring the organisation into disrepute).
  • The value of blogging about your job for the organisation is that they can find out way more about what employees think than annual staff surveys (Tom told an excellent anecdote about ambulance workers whinging on an unofficial forum a few years back during a heatwave about not having time to stop to buy drinks when on shift. Two days later the management delivered pallets of bottles of water to the depot. The impact on staff morale was immediate because management had listened, and demonstrated that they had listened).
  • The value to an organisation of senior managers blogging is that they can easily and quickly debunk rumours from the top of the organisation right to the bottom without layers of chinese whispers.
  • Work blogging is the ultimate in transparency and openness, it needs to be embraced by more organisations. Bloggers are the best advocates and advertisements for their employers. They are evangelisers for their employers. Their reputation is their currency and bloggers will generally fact check each other.

Thanks Tom, really enjoyed the talk (and without the aid of the dreaded powerpoint). Hope you got some sleep after.

Interview with Municipalist

Apologies for the light blogging, I’m away on holiday and desperately trying to avoid touching computers (and failing dismally to date, apart from blog posts..).

Anyway, if you follow Craig Colgan (aka Municipalist)’s excellent blog, you may have seen an he recently published an interview with me about my experiences of public sector blogging. For those Manchester United fans who ever read Whitehall Webby, I can only apologise in advance (that includes you Dad 😦  ).

Correction: Craig is Municipalist, not the Municipalist. These superheroes….

Neil Williams hits the blogosphere

Another civil servant geek has started a blog, hurrah. Neil Williams leads the web team at DCLG, sorry Communities and Local Government. He’s a proper techie webbie too and has been involved in lots of cool stuff both in government and before he was lured into Whitehall.

I’ll watch his blog with interest, Neil has lots of great ideas and is active in the conversations taking place around Whitehall about the opportunities for government presented by all this social media stuff.

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.

Gadzooks! I missed my birthday :-)

As I’m going through one of my (reasonably regular) “neglecting the blog” phases at the moment I failed to recognise that somehow Whitehall Webby has made it to the ripe old age of one.

I started writing here on 29 April 2007, when I was helping the Cabinet Office to produce a report on government communicators’ use of social media. It was an experiment to demonstrate the opportunities of civil servants blogging (jury’s still out on that one I think…)

Since then I’ve published 91 pieces on the site, not bad considering I find it all so difficult, and had 336 comments (some of which, admittedly, are mine… ).

The most popular post over the last year has been the ‘about me‘ page, with over 1,100 views. However the posts I wrote on the civil serf affair got the most interest at the time (as most other government web related blogs experienced).

Over the last twelve months I’ve tried to to publicise examples of good government use of web, particularly innovative stuff. This includes the launch of the Ministry of Justice website, the Wales Office wordpress site, the Foreign Office’s social media big-bang, and more recently the excellent experimentation coming out of Number 10.

A common theme throughout my musings has been the role of webbies in government, and how we can organise ourselves into a group of experts who are recognised as such in Whitehall.

This thinking led to what has been my highlight of the last year – setting up the UKGovWeb Barcamp and bringing together civil servants, consultants, freelancers and others with the intention of encouraging the building of a community of committed people around government online.

So far thats bearing fruit. Many of us meet regularly at “teacamps” and colleagues in several departments are beginning to create self-organised groups in their organisations with the intention of working together to offer networking and training opportunities.

So, the future looks bright, and this blog has actually made it through a whote year – something I often thought wouldn’t happen.

End of term report completed, lets hope there’s another one next year.

Some things that have caught my eye recently

Time flies, and suddenly I realise that I haven’t posted here since the excitement of the civil serf affair. Rather than the usual (unintentional I assure you) long essay, here’s a few things that have interested me over the last few weeks – and might be of interest to you too:

  • Networking Democracy – really interesting debate beginning over at Our Kingdom about how government can use the internet to assist a national debate. This is related to the Governance of Britain programme, which I have talked about before.
  • Andrew Brown‘s been busy using to create a feed of cabinet papers from Lewisham Council. What a brilliant idea! – and an easy way to syndicate content if you’re not all RSS enabled. Hoping to use this idea shortly.
  • The BBC has published some guidance for its staff engaging in social networking. Its thorough but succinct and most importantly its out there for everyone to see. (I have had some involvement in the development of similar guidance for civil servants but that’s not published yet. Frankly, the BBC guidance and the civil service code cover the bases for any civil servant unsure about what they should/n’t or could/n’t do online).
  • Almost as a companion piece, Colin McKay has published a great piece of guidance on how to do social media ‘stuff’ in large organisations. Worth reading for tips on getting people onside and stuff in ‘under the wire’ (according to Wikipedia, Colin is a professional skateboarder – you kept that quiet!)
  • I saw Clay Shirky speak at the RSA last week about his new book ‘Here Comes Everybody‘. David Wilcox has a good video clip of part of the presentation. Can’t wait to read the book.
  • Some more public sector blogging – nine members of the house of Lords have launched a team blog. Be interesting to see how that develops.

Civil Serf – final thoughts

As this story will be digital fish and chip wrappings tomorrow, I thought I’d just clarify my position in light of continued interest in the story from the media.

Civil Serf is an individual who expressed her personal individual thoughts. She is not a corporate PR machine attempting to control the ‘message’ and shouldn’t be treated as such.

She made a mistake.

She realised her mistake and did the right thing – protected herself.

Nobody died.

Leave her alone.

I hope she’s okay and safe (and feeling safe).

Tom Watson on transformational government

Tom Watson, the MP blogger and cabinet office minister responsible for e-government, spoke at a conference yesterday about how technological change will redefine government’s relationship with the citizen. Its well worth a read.

Interesting to note his thoughts on the civil serf story – a very promising approach and much more measured than the scare headlines that have been knocking around in the press (have they learnt nothing from last time?)

Looks like there will be interesting times ahead for us working in and around government online.

Civil Serf – what went wrong

There’s been a lot of discussion across the blogosphere, and in the press, about the disappearance of the Civil Serf blog yesterday. The Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph both published articles about Civil Serf and shortly afterwards the blog disappeared.I’ve been quite taken aback by the response. You’d think some terrible contravention of human rights had occurred the way people have been talking about it.The facts are simple, Civil Serf crossed the line. The Civil Service Code is clear about integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality being critical to acting as a civil servant. Even if all she’s guilty of is being indiscreet, then she’s certainly not acted in the spirit of the code.

If you work for an organisation, any organisation, and choose to criticise it anonymously (but leave enough clues to identified) you are asking for trouble (this isn’t the first time I said that). End of.

The fact that the person in question is a civil servant does not make it in the public interest to ‘lift the lid on Whitehall’, because a civil servant is more aware than most of their terms and conditions of employment and why they’re important. So they have less excuses if they do cross the line.

For the record, I enjoyed reading the blog. I recognised the tone but 1. although its not my experience, I know some colleagues sympathised more and 2. Working in any large bureauocracy (public or private) is frustrating. Its easy to single out the public sector but its a pretty obvious target.

Obviously I think civil servants are absolutely in their rights to blog their thoughts, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I do here. But that right needs to be placed in context whoever you work for.