GovBlogging

Ingrid Koehler led a really interesting session at the weekend’s GovCamp about blogging in the public sector and how it might be supported and promoted (the session later went on to cover the excellent LGovSM twitter chats that happen on a Friday afternoon, convened by Louise, who also blogs).

One great contribution was from David Allen Green who blogs for the New Statesman as well as his own, extremely popular, Jack of Kent blog. He gave some great tips on writing engaging content, including keeping sentences and paragraphs short, and ensuring you are actively contributing to the topic under discussion, rather than just repeating others or trotting out opinions – advice I’d probably do well to heed.

Carl Haggerty – one of the best govbloggers we have – also contributed with some great thoughts on the use of blogging as a personal learning and knowledge tool.

Ingrid followed up with a great post on her blog:

It’s personal reflection. I’ve worked out a lot of things through blogging, the process itself has often help me achieved clarity. But other things that are great about blogging are community aspects – feedback, additional information, learning new things, reality checks and correction. And for that you need an audience, but not a big one. And many people (like me) find that having an audience provides some stimulus to keep doing it. But again, it’s not about big numbers.

It’s funny, because a very similar sessions ran last last year’s GovCamp, only it was a lot smaller. Clearly Pubstrat and I just don’t have the same appeal! Last year’s session was inspired in part by a post I had written on the topic:

…people blogging is important, and a Good Thing. There are a number of reasons I think this way – mainly that blogging is a great way to develop and share ideas, to create a movement, to develop a reputation. A healthy and active blogging community in a sector means that it’s a sector where there is a lot of creativity. It means that sector is an interesting place to be.

What’s changed in a year? I’d say that govblogging is growing. Public Sector Bloggers is being populated by more blogs than ever – to the point where there’s now almost too much stuff (see later on for thoughts on that).

Another important change is the use of the common blogging platform on the Communities of Practice. Predominantly a local government space, for the first few years of the platforms life, the blogs were pretty much ignored. Now lots of people are using them to share ideas, knowledge and experience.

These blogs, as well as being plentiful in terms of the number of posts they produce, are also well engaged with, and when I remember to copy-and-paste content across there from DavePress I find I usually get plenty of comments, which is great. It also provides a reasonably safe environment for those new to blogging, of course.

However, the Communities of Practice remains a fairly closed platform, and the fact that you have to remember to log in and check for stuff means it’s always going to lack a bit attention-wise. This should be fixed in the up and coming Knowledge Hub, which promises to be more open – where users choose it to be – and it will be easier for those of us with existing blogs to import our content automatically rather than having to copy and paste it as we do now.

I’m keen, and I know others are too, to support the use of blogging within public services. There is still a joy to be had in publishing, especially when you start to gain a readership and people interacting with what you write.

So what could be done to encourage others to get involved? I’m keen to see Public Sector Bloggers play a role here. We’ve added more and more feeds to it, and while it is by no means comprehensive, it’s also getting rather unwieldy. Some kind of categorisation is needed, I think.

I also suspect that it isn’t that well known. The FeedBurner stats show that 125 people subscribe to the RSS feed, with 24 subscribing via email. The Twitter feed has 785 followers, which isn’t too bad. I don’t think we have Google Analytics installed, so I’m not sure what the direct visitor numbers are like.

What could we do with Public Sector Bloggers to help encourage more blogging in the sector? Here are some ideas – I’d welcome yours, and any feedback too.

1. A source of guidance on blogging for public servants

There lots of stuff out there (including this rather outdated guide by me) and it should be too hard to pull together the whats, whens, hows, whys and wherefores of good public sector blogging, and to publish them on the site. Maybe it could be cobbled together to form an e-book.

2. A blogging platform

I’m not convinced this would help much given how easy it is to sign up for your own blog on WordPress, Blogger, Posterous or Tumblr (maybe there are too many options!). It might however take away some of the pressure people feel about having to post regularly to their blog, if they are contributing to one big one with lots of other authors?

3. Some kind of event

A PubSecBlogCamp? Or perhaps something more formal and workshoppy for those new too it. But would people give up time to talk about blogging in the public sector? Maybe not 200 of them, but perhaps a handful would…

4. Blogger mentoring

How about some kind of blogger mentoring, where a newbie blogger is introduced to a veteran, who can provide ongoing advice and guidance on posting, writing style and that kind of thing?

5. Better aggregation

This one is a definite I think. We need to go through the list, cull the blogs that aren’t updated any more and add some of those that are missing. Some kind of categorisation would be useful, whether in terms of the parts of the sector the blogs are written about or the themes they cover. Maybe a common search engine across them all to make finding content a lot easier.

As I said above, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on these ideas and any you might have yourself!