Well I can complain about the media till I’m blue in the face, they’re after ratings, entertainment and so on. Anyway, I said to one journalist that it was ‘crazy’ that public servants who I knew read Troppo didn’t comment, not because I don’t understand that they don’t want to get embroiled in controversy – that is generally speaking fair enough, but because they can stop way short of any of that and still participate. Anyway, my guess is that the journo in question led with the word ‘crazy’ because it was a good word to lead with, and the subbie did the rest with this headline. ”
Public servant blog mentality ‘crazy’: Gruen
Oh well, I can’t really complain that my word ‘crazy’ came up to the top of the media blender to be quoted, not so much out of context but to flavour the entire story. It was the juiciest morsel, the juiciest word of the ones I used. Anyway, it’s probably a good thing. Perhaps we can get some attention to what is emerging as a problem. A lot of heavy lifting has been done at the policy level. It really is crazy that we don’t get a little more action. Not risky action, just a teensy bit of action. Public servants who are already reading policy blogs like this one, could for instance simply help people find resources. On reading some post, they could point to bits of literature that were relevant to the conversation. Why should they?
- They’re paid for by the public and most of them are keen on serving the public – that’s why the good ones are where they are and not making more money in the markets. So if they can see a place where they can add some value, and do so for a negligible investment of their time . . . they should.
- They will also be investing in their own professional knowledge, because we’ll know they’re in the conversation. That means we might be able to tailor our comments to be of greater relevance, we’ll get to know them, and their interests. I doubt if there’s any regular author of posts on Troppo and many on other blogs who doesn’t get the occasional ‘you’d be interested in this’ email from me when I spot something that I think would be of interest to them.
So come on guys. It’s easy. The APSC’s guidelines on online engagement begin thus:
Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.
Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches.
They go on to outline all the ways in which they must remain consistent with the APS Act and code of conduct and so on, but there are no surprises there. Since then we’ve had the declaration of open government that the Taskforce championed. This is a passage from it (emphasis added).
Citizen collaboration in policy and service delivery design will enhance the processes of government and improve the outcomes sought. Collaboration with citizens is to be enabled and encouraged. Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees, in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commission Guidelines. The possibilities for open government depend on the innovative use of new internet-based technologies. Agencies are to develop policies that support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0-based proposals.
As we put it in Chapter 4 of the Government 2.0 Taskforce report:
[B]etween the ‘ideal types’ of public servants officially putting forward their agency’s position and their speaking in a private capacity, there is much middle ground. In negotiating this terrain, public servants may find official stipulations, codes of conduct and other guidance useful. Yet for the distinction to be practically useful, they must have an intuitive ‘feel’ for how these apply as they negotiate the public space of the internet in ‘real time’.
To date public servants have taken an extremely cautious approach. There is a rich array of blogs hosted from within Australia and elsewhere which provide a valuable avenue for professional discussion. It is true that such blogs sometimes descend into party political debate and even acrimony. It is appropriate that officials avoid public debate of this kind unless it is seen as strictly private activity (and even here senior officials should show sensitivity). Yet much discussion on blogs covering public and professional issues is not rancorous or highly partisan. Yet, except for some pseudonymous participation, Australia’s public servants are largely absent.
In the right context, particularly where it was not some matter of heated party political debate, a public servant might discuss their own professional judgement as to the pros and cons of various policy options, providing it was clear that they accepted whatever view the government of the day or their agency had or might come to. As the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Hon. Lindsay Tanner MP commented; ‘While no one is suggesting that we allow public servants to simply tell reporters what is on their mind, they should feel free and encouraged to engage in robust professional discussion in public including online.’
The taskforce agrees with Google’s submission to it:
Members of the Australian Public Service should be able to make attributed comments in fulfilment of their official duties and as part of their work environment that do not necessarily represent the views of their agency, and the default might be that their views do not unless stated otherwise. This is the customary default setting by corporations that permit their employees to blog on an attributed basis, then backed by internal protocols and approval processes as appropriate to the organisation and its culture.
But all this is running, compared to where we are now. At the level of high policy Australia is actually unique in the emphasis that’s been given to the involvement of individual officers and not just Agencies. That led Andrea DiMaio, Gartner’s lead Government 2.0 consultant to observe “Australia is the place where the government 2.0 taskforce has recognized the centricity of employees and the federal government has bought into that idea.”
But so far, public servants haven’t. There are now quite a few public servants running blogs on behalf of their agencies, so they’re doing some posting and some commenting, but public servants joining the discussion – however carefully – is still a very rare thing. So can’t we just take some baby steps. Pleeeesse? We know you’re out there – I know it’s caretaker time but if you’re reading this and you’re a public servant, can you say ‘hi’, thanks for the blog, or something less appreciative. Tell us which recent Troppo post you’ve liked lately, or the colour of your dog’s hair. Anything really just to get things going. It’s the Government’s policy!