Government news via Twitter

I was musing the other day about a method of aggregating news about government in one place. Justin Kerr-Stevens – government communications consultant, barcamper and general good egg – has combined a job lot of gov news sources into a combined Twitter feed, handily called HMGOV.

I’d never considered using twitter to pull all this together. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to be a twitter user to read it, as each twitter account generates an RSS feed. Also, if people want it in their emai boxes, Justin could cobble something together in no time with FeedBurner, meaning that however people want their news delivered, he has it covered.

Great work. And in the wake of the Civil Serf affair, it’s good to see someone else working in government starting a blog. It isn’t all bad news, folks.

Tom Watson’s been busy

Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister for web stuff, has been busy, first of all giving a speech on Government 2.0:

Driving through the cultural change in all our communications that sees the internet, mobile and other new media as the norm

  • ensuring better innovation and much faster implementation. Build stuff small, test it out then iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • capturing the skills, talent and energy we need for change – from within the public service and from outside. Over the next few weeks I hope to say more on this.
  • using new media to engage more directly and more effectively with individuals and communities.

Certainly sounds good. Am available for the middle one, obviously 😉

Also, on his blog, Tom comes up with a code for civil servant blogging, obviously in the light of the Civil Serf affair:

1. Write as yourself
2. Own your own content
3. Be nice
4. Keep secrets
5. No anonymous comments
6. Remember the civil service code
7. Got a problem? Talk to your boss
8. Stop it if we say so
9. Be the authority in your specialist field – provide worthwhile information
10. Think about consequences
11. Media interest? Tell your boss
12. Correct your own mistakes

Not sure about 8 (who’s ‘we’?), but otherwise a reasonable list.

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?