Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Should public servants blog about work-related matters?

Public sector blogging is becoming established in the UK, US and even New Zealand - although there is still very little being written by Australian public servants ('government' isn't even a category in Australian blog indexes such as The Australia Index).

Situations such as Civil Serf in the UK and Washingtonienne in the US raised the awareness and risks of public sector blogging. Both involved very personal 'gossip-style' commentary on the workplaces of the bloggers.

In both cases the official reaction was to shut down the blogs and then establish clear guidelines under which public sector blogging could productively take place - rather than to simply ban the activity altogether.

In Australia there are, as yet, no guidelines for public sector blogging. This may mean that the government hasn't yet seen the need (most likely), or that it wishes to keep its options open as to whether blogging is acceptable in the long-run.

The Guardian published an excellent article on the topic in April, New sphere of influence.

There will be many people who believe, often for good reason, that it is
simply not done for public servants to sound off in public. Would we be
comfortable with the commander in chief of the armed forces being so frank about
government policy?

And yet chief executives of public organisations are no longer expected to
be mere administrators. In the era of the £200,000-a-year council chief
executive, they are also expected to be leaders - arguing the case for policy,
engaging in debate, demonstrating accountability, and providing a degree of
transparency about the organisation's work.

What do you think - should public servants be entitled to blog about their workplaces?

What type of guidelines should be in place?


  1. A great post and blog. This question occupies my thoughts too - as an educator, bogger and state govt employee - and without clear guidelines it is a minefield.

  2. The definition of 'bogger' - one who blogs without proofreading.

  3. Nice blog and gret post!

    Personally i feel that

    "very personal 'gossip-style' commentary"

    Isn't a 'Good' thing no matter where or what sector its coming from :)


    Banjo Smyth

  4. I'm all for it - and until the Australian Government comes up with its own version I'd suggest you follow the UK Gov's guidance on Online Participation for the Civil Service:

  5. I'm exploring the possibilities of blogging to promote a more inclusive and faster moving discussion than is currently available in my area. I could do it outside of work hours but I'd like to capture things as I read them during the day, in real time. It's just more efficient that way. I'd be keen to know what kind of process you took Craig to clear your own blog with your agency. Noting that you've taken the bold step of leaving the timestamp on, and you're obviously not in hiding :-)

  6. As a UK Public Sector blogger. I think it is important to feel that you can write a blog, I do blog about my work as i find it is a great way to share common experiences with people who read it.

    It is also essential to ensure that there is a basic code of conduct and the UK code is a great starting point as previously suggested.

    I personally blog about a wide range of things and don't just focus on work, as it is about me and work is only part of what i am about. I feel it is important to share and contribute to wider discussions and debates, after all this is what i do offline as well.

    However it is also important to remember who you are doing a blog for, yourself or others?

    I blog for me, it helps me clarify my thoughts and share and obtain feedback on them by interested people who i don't have to meet in person or can't because of distance.

    I think it is important to remember that in the world of social media "honesty is the only policy - Brian Solis - Social Media manifesto). This should help to avoid the gossip-style blogs that banjo smyth refers to.

    Carl Haggerty

  7. Hi Pauline,

    Actually I don't blog during working hours - blogger allows me to set the publishing time and date. This lets me prepare posts ahead of time and have them go live through the day (I'm experimenting with times to see which attract the greatest readership).

    My agency has not authorised my blog, but they are aware and supportive of it.

    As there are no guidelines in Australia for blogging - or any form of online participation - for public servants I use the UK and NZ rules as a model and the APS code of conduct as a formal framework.

    I'm writing guidelines at the moment for my agency and hope to propagate them from here.

    Carl, I appreciate where you are coming from. My blog is about egovernment - the ways in which government interacts with citizens via digital channels - and reflects my thinkings and musings on the topic (per my byline). It doesn't relate to the government of the day, but rather how to serve citizens better directly and via serving staff within government agencies. So quite a broad, yet strictly limited focus.