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!

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Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.

14 thoughts on “GovBlogging”

  1. Oooh thanks for the lovely mentions. I think more aggregation but separated aggregation by theme is necessary. I think there’s also more that can be done around promoted blogging to reach a wider audience. The LGID weekly knowledge newsletters hits 35K. Imagine a weekly post rounding up top content from the week around different topics and the traffic that would generate. But until we have the Knowledge Hub we can’t actually link to the CoP blogs because of direction errors, arghhh.

  2. Good stuff – I find myself saying that blogging is the answer to many engagement questions, even though it feels old-fashioned and laborious these days. It doesn’t have to be.

    Guidance definitely needs developing, and event could be quite fun (but we won’t be so foolish as to organise it, will we? Will we, Briggs?). I really like the idea of mentors for new bloggers, and an aggregation platform (not a new publishing platform though) which helps people take their first steps, learn about tools that can help, and gain an audience.

    People like the FCO have already been there and done that, for some of their bloggers, of course.

    For info, there is analytics code on Public Sector Blogs: about 200 visitors a month is the answer.

  3. On your ideas; 1 and 3 possibly but 5 definitely.

    The added value for me would be helping the conversation by letting people know what the live debates were – the multitude of blogs makes it difficult to get round even a fraction of them. I’d missed the PSB site and there are loads of blogs there I realise I haven’t got round to.

    So I agree with Ingrid – but not one of those automated things – a real person writing a human narrative of what’s happening in the public sector blogosphere. In fact it’s probably a blog… yes a metablog in fact!

    Like the round ups of football transfer gossip they have on the bbc and guardian sites..

  4. I think this is a good time to be raising this question again, but some of it is quite tricky.

    On the last point, we can improve aggregation, but I agree with Ingrid that it needs some thematic arrangements, and the ability to be selective about which themes are followed. I had a go at that a couple of years ago – almost certainly not right for this purpose, but (I hope) makes the point that anything too obvious is almost certainly wrong. I am also reminded yet again of this approach to classification (which also includes what may be my favourite ever comment on my blog), but that’s by the by.

    There is also a risk of this just getting to big to be useful. I find that with Govloop, which is currently sitting accusingly in my feed reader with 449 unread items. That’s too intimidating, so I will just mark them read and move on, and the rate at which it grows means that I pretty much always do that.

    So we need something smarter. One way – which is de facto what happens now – is that somebody or bodies select what is covered in the first place. The second is to split the problem into smaller pieces with themes or categories. A third would be to apply some kind of social smarts to it using some Digg-like tool to filter the good stuff to the top of the pile.

    Not sure what the answer to any of that might be – which could suggest that a get together to discuss some of it might be a good step (though I would definitely start at the less formal, smaller scale end before deciding to attempt anything bigger).

    Final thought: finding a blogging platform isn’t the problem. It is pretty much impossible to imagine anything with fewer barriers to entry than a wordpress.com blog, unless it’s posterous or tumblr – I can’t see any advantage in attempting to improve on that.

  5. Thanks all. To be honest, the suggestion of platform was a bit of a list-filler.

    Have started work on a brief guide. It’s a Google Doc, so if anyone wants in, let me know your Google account email.

  6. Regret not going to the blogging session at GovCamp. Truth be told it was Saturday and I spend most my time at work surrounded by blogs. So basically I had my fill of blogs. However despite my rather fatigued feel about blogging I am still very hopeful. Plus reading this post makes me feel even better about the value of blogging.

    Suggestions three and four are ones that I would subscribe too. An event I think would be a good idea. From my side I would be happy to run a session or help out in some way. Either way i would attend as it would be a great learning exercise.

    Not because I am a particularly good blogger but having over two years experience working on FCO blogs I have seen stars fight on the shoulders of Orion. Well not quite but instead I have seen some star diplomatic bloggers in action. So happy to pass on some observed knowledge.

    Mentoring is another good idea this could happen one to one or in small groups.

  7. Thanks for the lovely words Dave. Maybe my plea in the session for a link from your blog worked !!

    Part of me thinks that resolving the issue would actually require a “resource” on at least a part time basis. I’m not sure that there is a tech alternative which would be sustainable without some kind of manual or human validation.

    I agree with Stefan about large numbers put you off, I’ve recently reorganised some of my rss feeds as they were too big. But I expect this in some way – my filters get better and deeper the more I understand what I’m really looking for.

    I accept that a more defined set of themes would provide a better and more accessible route into the content and associated twitter streams – like the BBC and guardian do.

    Mentoring and an event sound like a great idea – maybe worth a session at local gov camp as well as a more focused blogcamp but I kind of struggle to see what a whole day would do at the moment – who would the intended audience be for it to offer value?

    Anyway great post as usual

    Carl

  8. Share the doc with me, Dave?

    With full awareness of the irony of my blog having drifted a bit lately, I am well up for helping to get more of a community going between gov bloggers, and making it feel like a safer place to be (strength in numbers and all that). A discussion would be a good starting place.

    As one of the 125 RSS subscribers, would plead that you keep pubsec bloggers alive, and yes some kind of categorisation would help to filter. Some which suggest themselves: digital; innovation; local gov; LOTB.

  9. Hi Dave, I was at Ingrid’s session and also found it very interesting. I am not a blogger myself (probably one of the few non-bloggers in that session?). Of all your ideas, I found that the most interesting one would be a collective blog to which I could contribute to esporadically. And as a reader/ practitioner it would be great if, instead of subscribing to dozens of blogs, I could just get a round up.
    At the moment I am working on developing an ‘internal blog’, to get right arms knowing what the left arms are doing inside the council (or at least inside our team). Maybe the guidance/ mentoring you mention could include that?

  10. …would be good for a revised pubsecbloggers aggregator to capture all the official blogs too, and to make that distinction explicit.
    Personal, professional, official.

  11. I’m wondering if a Public Sector Bloggers type resource specifically for Scotland/Scottish bloggers might help us get more folk north of the border blogging…or ‘Scotland’ could be a category in the new and improved UK site?

    1. Hey Lesley

      I’m sure Scotland could easily support its own govblogging ecosystem, both through aggregating existing blogs and encouraging other public servants to give it a go. Let me know if I can help.

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