My assessment is that Australian public sector organisations are backing away from blogging. Many are blogging less frequently. Some are shutting down their blogs altogether.
Compared to the growth of government blogs in the US, UK, parts of Asia and Europe, my conclusion, very reluctantly arrived at, is that many Australian government blogs are failing - with a few notable exceptions.
This really disappoints me. Blogging offers government a direct channel to citizens and stakeholders. It allows organisations to bypass traditional media gatekeepers, to present the fact, to dispel myths, to state their positions in their own words, humanise bureaucracies and directly source feedback and views from the community.
However I can understand why this might be the case.
In my experience there appears to be less support and greater barriers to blogging in Australian government than in some other western jurisdictions.
We don't have a Cabinet Director of Digital Engagement or a Memorandum from our executive Head of State that directs public sector organisations to engage online and holds senior management accountable when they don't.
There's a current culture of adversion to risk (as stated in the Ahead of the Game report) with very deep roots throughout the public sector. This leads to an unwillingness to say anything which might be considered the slightest bit controversial.
It is simply safer to not blog - there's no official kudos or reward for publishing.
What do we do to change this?
First we must directly confront the question of whether we need to change. Explain why using only the tools that worked in the 1980s simply doesn't cut it 30 years on.
We must skill, support and reward those who engage. Give them a more comprehensive framework of what is and isn't appropriate, how to moderate, how to handle dissenting views in a positive and productive manner.
We must ensure our managers remain willing to engage with appropriate risks, remaining frank and fearless, a culture that some have stated is no longer as evident in the public service. Our managers must be prepared, supported and equipped to engage with risk, not merely shut down engagement and hope to avoid it.
We must accept that often it creates greater risks when we don't engage than when we do. There have been many examples of how the lack of active engagement has increased the risks to government and the public sector.
Most of all we need to employ and empower motivated and skilled individuals - then get out of their way. Hire people with experience in online engagement and trust them to safeguard the interests of government, just as we hire experienced media people and trust them to speak to journalists.
We need to have these social media practitioners advise senior management on the right ways to engage on given issues and through which mediums and channels. To advise senior management of the demographics of social media - who uses it, how and why.
I am hopeful that Australia is just going through a short dip at the moment, that we'll see a reversal as more guidance is provided and the commitment of the public sector to digital engagement grows. After all, the public is not reducing its use of social media channels, it is newspapers and television channels seeing shrinking audiences as social media continues to grow.
However this dip might be elongated - negatively affecting government's ability to communicate - if we don't see a willingness to actively address the challenges and step beyond comfort zones.