Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants

I love stuff like this.

Nick CNick Charney works in government in Canada, and is also a prolific and excellent blogger. He’s also pretty active on GovLoop, which is where I first came across him I think. Anyway, follow his stuff.

Nick has just published an ebook called Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants which is great reading.

It’s “a tactical guide for any public servant looking to make an impact. It offers practical advice on how to be innovative in the public service while managing your relationships and reputation.” Awesome!

I have embedded the document below, or for those whose employers don’t trust them, here’s the direct PDF download.

I mentioned to Nick that the style reminded me a little of Colin McKay’s wonderful (even after 3 years!) Secret Guide to Social Media in Large Organizations – and it turns out that document helped inspire Nick to write his guide. Good stuff.

How not to get fired

Great post by Neil Williams on how civil servants can approach blogging in a way that means they will get readers but won’t lose their jobs:

Starting up your own personal blog is dead easy. Unless you’re a civil servant and want to talk about your work.

If you are, then you face this choice: play it safe and say nothing interesting ever, or do some homework to learn where the boundaries lie. As ‘Mr Newest Blogging Civil Servant UK’, I’ve been doing the latter: reading up on what I can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) say.

Yay! Another Govblogger!

A big welcome to the blogosphere to Neil Williams, all round good government web egg, who has started a blog called Mission Creep. He says in his opening post:

It genuinely feels like exciting, important things are starting to happen in government’s use of web right now. It just got really interesting, and I’m going all in.

Neil has done a stack of cool stuff, like getting David Miliband started with his blog, for example, so I really do recommend folk subscribe to him and listen to what he has to say.

He’s on Twitter, too, by the way…

Civil servants and the social web

I spent an interesting morning last Friday at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, attending a meeting of ‘civil servant bloggers’ – not many of whom, it turned out, actually blogged – to discuss the recent guidelines for online participation. It was organised through the Power of Information Taskforce.

I found it a peculiar experience, not really being sure of what the purpose of the workshop was, nor what would happen to the results, whatever they may have been.

The guidelines themselves are short and sweet, and whilst in many ways their brevity is a strength, they do (out of necessity) simplify an issue which is actually pretty complicated when you think about it. For instance, what do we actually mean when we talk about online participation? Also, how could civil servants participate online? There are several choices:

  • They can do so internally or externally
  • They can use social media to communicate or collaborate
  • They can use their own platform, or get involved with someone else’s
  • They can do so officially, or personally

I doubt whether the guidelines will encourage too many civil servants to start blogging, which is probably a good thing, if we are being honest. Most have neither the neither the time nor the inclination to start their own blogs, and it is a truth universally recognised that there is nothing worse than blogs that run out of steam, or enthusiasm.

Instead, I think there needs to be a focus on participating online in other people’s spaces. This is a quick, easy way for officials to engage without the need for the continuous content generation that comes with setting up a new platform. It’s also something that could develop over time:

  1. Listen to what’s being said – set up simple RSS feeds and subscribe to searches on key terms to monitor the online conversation
  2. Get involved – where appropriate, leave responses where they are required, or acknowledge and link to such conversations from the traditional web presence
  3. Create content – if it is necessary or useful, start a blog to provide a way of providing information and views that work better on a standalone site

To do this though, officials need the resources to be able to do it: time, skills and tools. The recent work at DIUS goes to show just what is possible when roles are created to focus on digital participation issues. Training is required to show civil servants how to do stuff – but it needs to be directly focused on what people in specific jobs need, whether press officers, policy officials, or whoever. Rather than training, ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ is probably the better term for this. In terms of tools, people need to be able to access sites, whether blogs, forums or social networks, without having to request to IT to lift the block on each one. They also need up-to-date browsers which can handle Flash or AJAX type content, and which render pages properly. Far, far too many public institutions use IE6 as their most up to date browser – it isn’t good enough.

Ingrid was at the event too, and posted her thoughts here.

Three cheers for Dylan Jeffrey

I rather glossed over it at the time, because of the general excitement of the moment, but a remarkable thing happened a couple of days ago. A man called Dylan Jeffrey commented on this blog.

Why is this so remarkable? Well, Dylan is a civil servant. What’s more, he was commenting as a civil servant. He was also giving the official line of his department (Communities and Local Government) in a place where discussion was happening online. Not by emailing out a press release, or making some grand announcement, but by quietly finding where the conversation was, and taking part.

Indeed, Dylan did his department great service – the conversation was a fairly tempestuous one, with disgreements abounding about who was at fault for the decision to cut the funding for ICELE, the centre for local eDemocracy in the UK. Several bits of communication had come from ICELE – a press release here, an email there – but nothing, apparently, from CLG. This was a communications risk for the department, as their side of the story simply wasn’t being told.

The comment that Dylan posted was pretty uncontroversial, simply providing some background factual information and then adding detail of a Ministerial statement on the issue, which was probably available buried away somewhere on the CLG website as a press release or somesuch. But Dylan brought it to us, where we were talking about the issue, sticking his neck out to both inform us, and do his department a service by communicating their message.

Of course, this week saw the publication of the guidance for civil servants engaging with the social web. Of the five main points, three were: be credible, be responsive and be a civil servant. Dylan hit all three of these.

Let’s hope other civil servants take note, and that Dylan’s colleagues at CLG thank him for doing this on their behalf.