Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Independent moderation - optional or must-have for government?

Bang The Table has released an excellent video piece on their moderation system (titled 24/7 moderation), including a part where Matt Crozier (one of their founders) says that independent moderation can be very important for government organisations in order to avoid risks of claims of censorship when they must remove some comments from a forum, blog or other online discussion device.

This part of the video does raise a good question - when should government agencies employ independent (external) moderation and when should they use their own staff.

Matt makes the point that where trust is fractured between a government agency and its constituents there can be increased risks of accusations of bias or censorship if the agency is seen to be doing the moderation. He suggests that an independent moderator could be seen to be less biased and that it removed perceptions that government officials may be moderating a little more than they should.

I think these are good points, which can apply in circumstances where a neutral moderator is both feasible and advantageous.

There are also circumstances where an authentic voice from an agency is required - where officials need to be actively engaging as participants and be seen to be moderating the discussion.

This is particularly important when engagement is occurring through a government-run website, rather than through a separately established or third-party vehicle. Otherwise there can be issues around whether an agency is really seen to be committed or is just engaging in a token effort. Also nuances can be lost where an independent moderator doesn't understand the subject matter at sufficient depth to carry the conversation, particularly in consultations.

Agencies need to weigh up the risks and benefits for each engagement activity, as well as assess them over time as needs change. Where possible I recommend that long-term partnerships with a trusted moderator work better than tendering for a new moderator for each separate engagement as this allows an external party to build an understanding of your guidelines and the subtleties of what may be considered inappropriate comments, rather than having to re-educate each time.

Where staff are moderating they need support as their decisions impact on the integrity and public perception of your organisation. For starters they should have clear moderation guidelines and examples, possibly borrowed and reworked from the experiences of other agencies.

It helps if they have a good understanding of any Information Privacy Principles relevant to their jurisdiction and training in conflict resolution or other engagement-type interactions. It really really helps if they also have prior experience at moderation or participation in online forums and similar mediums which involve moderation activity.

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