‘Official’ local gov blogging

Simon writes a nice post celebrating the existence of the new official BIS blog, and provides a handy list of existing Whitehall “formal, properly-designated corporate ‘blogs'”.

Here they are – I’ve also added UKTI’s blog to the list, which I’m sure Simon will do too on his when he gets a moment:

I’m pleased, because as I have written on many occasions, I think blogging is a fantastic way for organisations to tell their stories, unhindered by having to go through third parties, media organisations and that sort of thing.

As Simon makes clear, these are public, official blogs, corporately branded and not the personal blogs of civil servants or politicians, which is a quite different thing. So what makes a blog an official one like this? I’d say some, not necessarily all, of these are factors:

  • Use of corporate departmental or organisational branding
  • Sitting on the official domain of that organisation
  • Linked to (reasonably) prominently on the standard corporate homepage
  • Written by a group of people rather than an individual (or a collection of individuals’ blogs, like in the FCO case)

There probably are others too – please do suggest them in the comments.

I’d like to start looking at which local councils are blogging officially, like the central government examples above. At the bottom of this post, you should find a form to complete if you have any to submit. If you can’t see it, that might be because you are looking at this in an email or your feed reader. Viewing the original post is your best bet.

My next post on this topic will be on how we can get more blogging happening in this way, and perhaps what Kind of Digital can do to help! 😉

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!

(Some of) My favourite bloggers

Here, partly as a thank you to those listed for being so thoroughly excellent, but also as a way of pointing readers to great sources of content, are some of my favourite bloggers.

Dan Slee

Dan is a phenomenon. He seems to literally give away everything he knows on his blog. He’s a great one for lists, which is always a great framework for a post. Ten ideas for innovating in cold weather? 42 (count ’em!) ideas gleaned from a conference? 16 lessons for councils using Flickr? Dan has it covered. The best kind of blogger – he innovates, and then tells the world how it went, and what he’ll do differently next time.

Visit Dan’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Catherine Howe

Catherine writes with considerable knowledge and verve about democracy, localism and the internet. Part Phd research notebook and part public service, her blog provides neat summaries and ruminations on what she has been reading lately, along with perceptive coverage of events – she attends these things so we don’t have to.

Visit Catherine’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Steph Gray

There are some bloggers who don’t post as often as you like, but that’s only because when you see they have written something new, it makes you smile. Steph is one of those. He’s not just full of insight and practical ideas, but he’s a great writer too, with a neat turn of phrase and a ready wit. Steph’s also willing to hand out praise to those that deserve it, as his recent series of digital heroes shows.

Visit Steph’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Ingrid Koehler

It’s easy for those outside of government to take the risk of putting one’s head above the parapet, but much harder for those working inside the machine. Ingrid’s relentless blogging has paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps – the Policy and Performance blog highlights good stuff happening elsewhere, promotes good work happening throughout local government and shares the considerable knowledge that resides in Ingrid’s head.

Visit Ingrid’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Public Strategist

It’s fair to say that Public Strategist sees things that I would never see, and explains other things in ways I never could. Clarity of writing when discussing hugely complicated topics of public service delivery is guaranteed. A must read.

Visit Public Srategist, or follow him on Twitter.

Kate Bennet

A relatively new addition to my list of favourite bloggers, Kate works as a technology-focused civil servant, who most recently has been focused on innovation and her blog has been full of great stuff on how to innovate in government. It will be interesting to see where her career takes her next, and therefore what her blogging will be about. Am sure the engaging writing and diverse style of posts will continue, though!

Visit Kate’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Michael Coté

Michael Coté, or just Coté as everyone seems to refer to him, is a tech-blogging machine. Huge lists of interesting links, regular audio and video podcasts and interviews and in-depth coverage of the tech issues of the day all regularly feature at People over Process. Whilst he doesn’t cover specific government topics, a lot of the things he does discuss – like big data, social enterprisey technology, and open source – are very relevant. You won’t understand everything he posts, but that’s your fault, not his.

Visit Coté’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Mary McKenna

How sycophantic is it to choose my boss for this list? Probably very, but there’s a recession on, so, you know. Anyway, I’m lucky that my boss is such a great blogger so I don’t feel too much of a suckup to include her here. Mary’s blog is mostly about people, and sometimes about cats. It’s about the people she meets on her travels, many of whom are genuinely interesting – or at least, that’s how she portrays them. What I like best about Mary’s posts is that I always know I’m going to learn something from them.

Visit Mary’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Carl Haggerty

Can’t not mention Carl in this post. His is a great practitioner blog – he writes about what he does, and what he thinks about what he does. Often Carl throws out ideas without ensuring they are 100% polished, often resulting in fresh ideas popping into your own head as you’re reading his stuff. Great coverage of topics too, including internal social collaborative tech, local authority web strategy, big enterprise IT and local community stuff.

Visit Carl’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

There are loads of others, of course, and I’ll do another post like this soon. Thanks to all those mentioned, though – you’re doing great, important work.

Sharing and flexibility

Nice post from BIS’ Neil Williams on deciding up on a commenting system for the department’s website.

Go read the whole thing, but he summarises:

So what have we learned?

  • People blogging about what they are up to is dead handy. Stephen and Jimmy writing their posts, me reading them, has saved you thousands of pounds. Direct cause and effect.
  • Having the flexibility to embed stuff is awesome. Insist on it next time you buy a CMS. Hats off to the guys at Eduserv for really coming through for us on this one. We couldn’t put pages together like this and this and this without it.
  • The growing availability of embeddable stuff is way cool. I’m excited about what else we might be able to achieve without dev work – like page ratings using Bazaarvoice and forums using Talki.
  • We all need to think differently now. Few things we might want our website to do are going to be unique to us. Gov webbies, and suppliers of government web services, need to adapt and thoroughly check out 3rd party plugins before embarking on any kind of jiggery-bespokery. Why pay for our own learning curve when others have already been through it?

My take (which pretty much repeats what Neil has said:

  1. People sharing stuff via blogs is good and has measurable impact.
  2. In whatever you do, being flexible and open means you can make the most of developments in technology, or whatever.

Way to blog

There are a number of great options available now to start your own blog, for free, with just a few clicks of a mouse button. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and here I run through five of the best ones.

WordPress is my personal blog tool of choice – I’ve been using it since 2005 and I’ve grown to love it. The free, hosted version at WordPress.com is great – easy to use with a whole host of features.

Pros

  • Easy to get started
  • Huge user community
  • Very active development

Cons

  • Feature-rich, or feature-bloated? For newbies there is a lot to learn
  • Doesn’t do email posting as well as some of the competition
  • Limited in terms of rich media embedding
  • Theme customisation costs money and is limited

Blogger is pretty much the granddaddy of blogging platforms – it recently celebrated its tenth birthday. Interestingly, it was originally developed by Pyra Labs before Google bought it. People at Pyra later went on to develop Twitter.

Blogger was left on the shelf by Google for a long time, but just recently seems to be sparking back into life, which is good to see.

Pros

  • The online help provided is excellent for newbies
  • Extremely customisable
  • You can embed pretty much any code in  your posts

Cons

  • Beige colour scheme for the editor looks hideous
  • No static pages I stand corrected in the comments – Blogger does do static pages these days

TypePad launched in 2003 so has been around for quite a while, and is a mature and stable product. Like WordPress.com, it is based on an open source platform, Moveable Type. For a long time it was often the case that enthusiasts used Blogger and professionals used TypePad, but since WordPress came along that’s no longer really the case.

TypePad does cost money, though comes with a

Pros

  • Sophisticated and easy to use editor
  • Plenty of customisation possible

Cons

  • It costs money, unless you go for the stripped down Micro version

Posterous is the newest service mentioned here, and it is making quite a splash for two main reasons: the ease of getting started with it (by simply sending in an email, you publish your first post) and the neat ways it integrates with other services.

Pros

  • Very easy to get started
  • Extremely well integrated into other social media services
  • Email posting is excellent

Cons

  • Not many options for customising the look and feel
  • Very much built with posting by email in mind – web editor not the best

Tumblr is a blogging system which focuses on making it easy to share content you find on the internet, adding your own comments as you go.

Pros

  • Super easy to post to, with a simple editor and templates to use depending on what media you are posting
  • Some nice themes and designs to choose from, which you can customise

Cons

  • Lightweight in terms of features – adding things like comments, tag clouds etc takes some hacking
  • Obviously set up as a scrap-booking style of blogging, not really suited to longer written pieces

Which blogging service do you recommend?

The DavePress survey

Hello everyone, welcome back after the easter break!

I’d be really interested to find out more about the people who read this blog, and what they make of it. So, I threw together this little survey. It’s done in Google Docs, and if you can’t access it for some reason but would like to complete it, just drop me an email and I’ll send you a version you should be able to use.

Thanks in advance!

Update: thanks to all who have taken the survey. I’ll publish the results soon.

An interesting innovation discussion

An interesting exchange online happened last week after the wonderful Robert Brook posted a piece on his site entitled ‘Boring Innovation‘ – all about how innovation can best happen within large, complex organisations, like those you tend to find in government.

It’s well worth reading in full, here’s a snippet:

How about this: a two-pronged approach. Introduce, recognise and support innovative thinking within the existing processes – and, separately, set up a sandboxed arms-length entity to take on the risk. But, make that sandbox small and real – very quick turnover of work, short iterations, very tight on the money.

This was quickly picked up on by James Gardner, CTO of the DWP and author of several publications on innovation (he got the link via another post by Stefan – everything’s linked these days).

James writes:

Everyone thinks innovatively all the time, whether they know it or not. But when it comes down to the press of doing the day job, versus changing it to accommodate innovation, most people will just do what they have always done…

That’s why you need an innovation unit, whether you bought it or grew it yourself. The name of the game is about starting lots of little, new projects. Without waiting for that random blue-bird superstar performer who can do it without any help at all.

Genuinely, how great is it that this debate is being held, in the open, online so that everyone can share in what is being said, and contribute to, if they choose to.

This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my discussion about the .gov.uk blogosphere. it’s great to see people like Robert and James being so actively involved like this – and as per my earlier post, Alistair and Carl too.

Great blogging on #localgovweb

Two great blog posts recently on the ever thorny issue of local government websites.

Firstly, Al Smith recounts his experience managing the refresh of Newcastle City Council‘s site. A remarkably honest and open appraisal of how it all went, and Al’s own role, it’s a great read and one for any local gov web manager to take a look at.

Secondly, Carl Haggerty – who is on blogging fire at the moment – has written a really thought provoking post on web strategy. He says:

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

Great examples of blogging being used to share experience, knowledge and ideas. More of this, please.

Why chief executives should blog

I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, recently.

Since taking up his post, Mark has written a prolific internal blog about his work at the Council to inform and engage with his colleagues at all levels of the organisation.

This is exactly the sort of thing I have been talking about for the last couple of months – that really effective use of social media behind the firewall should be a priority for local councils. Mark’s experiences should hopefully encourage more of this activity across local government.

Many thanks to Michele Ide-Smith for arranging this interview.

I’m keen to do more videos like this – if you or someone you know would make a good subject, do get in touch!

Blogging for nothing, and your clicks for free

I started writing a blog because I was hacked off with nobody listening to me at work when I tried to discuss with them the ideas I had for using the internet to make the work we did more interesting. I found that by writing stuff in public, online, people who were interested found it useful, and talked to me. Later on, people found it so useful they gave me work based on what I wrote here. It was a kind of freemium business model, though I never planned it that way.

After all, in the archives of this blog is an awful lot of information about how organisations can innovate around the way they use the internet, and what lessons they could learn from internet culture. If the people that wield budgets read it properly – and trusted their own staff a little more – they probably wouldn’t need to hire me, ever. But don’t tell anyone that.

Dennis Howlett writes a really interesting and informative blog called AccMan which “concentrates on innovation for professional accountants with a strong leaning towards the technologies that drive client value”. Don’t worry though, it’s a really interesting read. The other day, Dennis posted about a couple of related things: one, that he spent a lot of time providing free advice off the back of his blog posts via other channels like email; and secondly, that as a result of this, he would be making some of his blog content available only on a paid for basis.

It’s an interesting response to an issue that probably didn’t exist until recently. The question is, I guess, once you start giving stuff away for free, is it impossible to withdraw, even partially, from that position? And do people then expect you to provide everything for free? In other words, just because I provide advice, guidance and opinion for nothing here on DavePress, does that obligate me to answer people’s questions on email for free? I, like Dennis, find myself doing it all the time.

I guess this is an issue a lot of content businesses are wrestling with at the moment, newspapers especially.

Don’t worry, I can’t see myself charging for what I publish here anytime soon – I doubt there would be many takers. I’m happy using the blog to develop my ideas, and develop a bit of goodwill in the hope that can turn itself into paid work at some point in the future.