Public servants must blog, despite Civil Serf

…but they do have to be sensible about it. The UK blogosphere is getting jolly excited about the case of the Civil Serf blog (no point linking to it, it’s gone now) which has disappeared following mainstream media interest in it.

Here’s the report from the Times:

A Cabinet Office spokesman denied that the move was directly linked with the Civil Serf blogger, believed to work for the Department for Work and Pensions, who has embarrassed Westminster with her revelations about officials and ministers.

The 33-year-old Londoner, who has yet be named, has ridiculed Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, and Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, as well as accusing the Government of recycling old policies and creating “cheap headlines”.

She has attacked Whitehall’s lack of innovation insisting: “There is a strong sense of deja vu in the land of surfdom.”

Jeremy Gould says:

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.

Emma Mulqueeny says:

…however entertaining it has been to read the riotous posts about what it is like in whichever department this lass works for, what damage is it doing to her colleagues? Employers? People working for her? Citizens of this country? Has she broken a contract that she signed up to when taking on her job in the civil service?

My position is that she had a right to write down her thoughts, but she went too far.

Simon Dickson says:

The only controversy, and that’s already stretching the definition, was the fact that a civil servant dared to ‘tell it like it is’, and very eloquently too. It was provocative, but having been in a very similar position myself, I can say it was absolutely valid. Frankly, I think we’d be better off if there was a bit more of that.

I have a nasty feeling this has set back the cause of ‘government 2.0′ by a good few months – just as it seemed the word ‘blog’ had shaken off its most negative connotations. It’ll be interesting to see if Tom Watson makes reference to it in his big speech tomorrow.

Simon McManus says:

I have not managed to find much information about the circumstances around the blog being shut down (it only happened over the weekend). While I understand the reasons for shutting it down I would much rather see them do something more positive with the blog. If the civil servant has been identified and sacked it will be a real shame for the civil service. They would be wasting a fine asset.

My view is this:

  1. Public servants blogging is A Good Thing and we need more of it. This is to open up the workings of government, at whatever level, so that the citizens can become engaged with the work undertaken on their behalf by public servants
  2. Anonymity is A Bad Thing, and only trouble can result from it. Don’t think you are being clever: you will be found out
  3. No matter who you are, you have to take a common sense attitude towards your blogging. Don’t slag people off. Don’t criticise your superiors. Do write about what interests you in an open informal way, but don’t give away any secrets
  4. Employers have to have reasonable blogging policies. A good start would be to copy IBM‘s. Relying on existing codes of conduct might not be easy in the future – having a dedicated policy removes the vagaries and lets everyone know where they stand
  5. The savage approach taken by mainstream media is unsurprising but should make any public sector blogger think twice before hitting the ‘publish’ button
  6. Pubic sector workers will now be put off blogging because of the idiocy of one blogger. This is a real shame, because it doesn’t need to be that way. As long as you stay sensible, your blog should never have anything but a positive effect on your career.

Update: Paul Canning writes sensibly on the topics also:

What Civil Serf fitted into was the category of work moan blogs of which they are a number of examples proliferating all over social media. Yes, it provided right-wingers with thrills and those of us in eGov with recognition but what did she achieve? What was she trying to achieve?

18 thoughts on “Public servants must blog, despite Civil Serf”

  1. I believe that you have the beginnings of a policy in here, Briggsy. There actually need not be any more than the civil service code, but perhaps explicit rules for engaging with social media would help clarify the position. I cannot help but feel sorry for the naivety of the civil serf – I admired her gumption! But not really in a respectful way – this day was always going to happen.

    Perhaps it is not all doom and gloom, this might be the catalyst for future blogging which is thoughtful, inspiring and educational.

  2. Dave,

    Its nice to see someone making sense of all this. Way back when I tweeted the existence of the blog I was wondering how long it would take before ‘she’ was fired (which of course we don’t know yet…)

    I think this highlights unfamiliar territory for government, an ability to interpret the civil service code in a variety of ways and a lack of clear guidance.

    Whilst this might be a reason for pause in what civil service bloggers say and how they say it – I actually think it’s a great opportunity to encourage more people to blog, with clear guidance in place and an understanding of what is permissable and what isn’t.

    If you want to be a civil service whistle blower, a blog isn’t the right place – there are official paths of recourse. Unless you’d prefer a book deal…

  3. If Control Freak inc (aka Microsoft) can get by on a Blogging Policy of ‘Blog Smart’ and they have enemies aplenty and commercial secrets, shareholders etc, surely it’s not beyond the brains of Whiethall to come up with something that can enable passion and ideas to come through while retaining corporate responsibility. Does the Civil Service need more codes, documents, rules et al? HR procedures have dealt with unprofessionalism, misconduct etc for years without needing to appoint a new grade to listen in on pub conversations. I’ve been working with the RAF and they are finding ways through this without problem. Surely Government can;t object to taking a leaf out of Microsoft or the Military’s book.

  4. One of the examples used on Newsnight last night as a possible reason why this blog ran into trouble was the criticism of working practices (meetings that ran on for several hours). It made me wonder whether criticising departmental systems was breaking the code. Does anyone know?

    Surely if there *are* systems in place that are less than effective – therefore increasing department costs, the tax payer deserves to know about them.

  5. @ Jenny – but is it the place of the civil servant to make it public in this way? I think there is an issue of respect here – and the need to always remember who it is that pays their salary!

    I think that if any employee has an issue with the ways things are done, then they must take it up internally. I think discussing such things on a public blog is actually a pretty arrogant thing to do.

  6. @davebriggs

    What if the issue *had* been taken up internally and nothing was done about it.

    Not saying that happened in this case and of course this is hypothetical anyway.

    Perhaps it raises the question ‘when is it (if ever) acceptable to break the code?’

  7. I was at university with Gordon Brown and knew quite a number of the present (and some of the now dead) New Labour politicians. I loved the Civil Serf’s comments. I absolutely recognize the Brown she describes. It will have driven him totally bonkers. He was nothing like as brilliant an academic as he encourages his minions to infer. There were lots of bright people at Edinburgh University and if he was so fabulous why could he only find a teaching post in Caly Poly by far the worst new university in Scotland. Willie Haig does not need staffers to make claims about his intellectual ability. He only has top open his mouth to make it quite obvious he is razor sharp. Brown is a strange, damaged individual who seriously believes he has a cosmic significance. Maybe that is what is needed to become Prime Minister and make millions of people unhappy but it unsettling to know such a weird guy is in charge.

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