The new social media guidance for civil servants

On Thursday, in a blaze of RTs on Twitter, the Cabinet Office launched their first comprehensive Social media guidance for civil servants [PDF]. This has the potential to be a hugely important document in the wider uptake of social media throughout the public sector – especially at a senior level where managers remain a little skittish about such things.

There is alot of like about the guide. The six principles (these GDS folks are a very principled lot!) are both ambitious and sensible;

Government should

  • Communicate with citizens in the places they already are
  • Use social media to consult and engage
  • Use social media to be more transparent and accountable
  • Be part of the conversation with all the benefits that brings
  • Understand that government cannot do everything alone, or in isolation
  • Expect civil servants to adhere to the Civil Service Code (online as well as offline)

Having forewords from both Francis Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake giving the document a massive stamp of approval from the powers that be is a huge plus. To be honest just having people that senior supporting this kind of work is an amazing victory.

I do find the publication a little odd beyond that though if I am honest. It seems a slightly weird mix of vision, policy and how-to guide. Alot of space seems to be taken stating the wider case for embracing social media and presenting options and examples of how to do that. All good stuff but I wonder if it ends up with one publication trying to be all things to all people?

Section 7 about how social media and the Civil Service code interact is very good but seems a little lost in the wider document when I (and it might just be me) would think this is the most important information for the majority of people using, or considering using, social media (certainly in a semi-personal capacity).

I also find the second section (from the Home Office this time) Guidance on overcoming the technical barriers to accessing the Internet and social media really strange for a public document – I can’t imagine there are many decision makers working in IT in Government who don’t know how to fix the issues they simply haven’t been a priority til now. A single email from Sir Bob to all the CIOs would have fixed that I would have thought?

This sounds a bit more negative than it should as I think just the existence of this guidance is hugely important and demonstrates a real change in attitude from leaders within the civil service. This is bound to filter through to the rest of us in the public sector over time and this can only be good news for those of us who advocate embracing more social communications.

3 responses to “The new social media guidance for civil servants”

  1. Based on my experience with Socitm in researching social media use in local government, I think including the guidance for IT decision-makers with the rest is inspired. IT managers’ default setting on social media in local government has been to block it. A document like this, in which the top dogs say to all parties involved ‘yes there are risks, but the value is even greater, and here’s how to fix things’ will be really helpful. IT managers will no longer be able to use security or technical obstacles to fob off staff who want to use social media and management who think it might be a good idea but need also to manage risk.

  2. Nice write-up Matt. I tend to agree with you about the IT section. It certainly triggered some slightly off piste feedback at BIS, with people assuming the whole document was aimed more at fixing IT issues.
    I tend to find this detracts from the overall message and sends conversations off on a tangent.

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