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?

Social networking in the public sector

Interesting report published by Quocirca on behalf on IBM, on the topic of the opportunities web 2.0 and social media offers the public sector:

Social networking can help public sector bodies interact to a far greater extent with citizens as well as with internal and external resources. Full policies are required to be put in place to mediate social networking, and back-end technology needs to be chosen carefully to include support for the majority of clients likely to be found within a consumer-focused end-user environment, as well as kiosks and other systems aimed at the non-computer owning citizen.

Usig web technology presents a huge opportunity to engage with people on a scale that wasn’t possible before. But we do have to acknowledge that it can only ever be a part of a consultation strategy. Too many people don’t have web access, or don’t want to engage with that medium, for more old-school methods to be ignored.

Government offline

The Economist has published an interesting article on “Why business succeeds on the web and government mostly fails”:

Why is government unable to reap the same benefits as business, which uses technology to lower costs, please customers and raise profits? The three main reasons are lack of competitive pressure, a tendency to reinvent the wheel and a focus on technology rather than organisation.

That reflects another problem. In the private sector, tight budgets for information technology spark innovation. But bureaucrats are suckers for overpriced, overpromised and overengineered systems. The contrast is all the sharper given some of the successes shown by those using open-source software: the District of Columbia, for example, has junked its servers and proprietary software in favour of the standard package of applications offered and hosted by Google.

Hmmm. Thanks to John Naughton for the tip.