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Thursday, May 11, 2006


An Advisor for the "E-Government Strategy & Policy" contacted me "looking to get some input from the New Zealand blogging community regarding the potential future blogging may have as a tool of communication by State servants and services (not, as of yet, elected representatives). As part of the E-government strategy, the State Services Commission is currently assessing the potential value of blogs in the public sector to engage with stakeholders, exchange information and views on policy and service delivery."

Well the obvious thing would be to put up a post about it and let you, the commenters have a crack as well. The Advisor then added that their responsibilities - and by extension probably that of all staff in the public service and by further extension that of any blog operated in an official capacity - were to:

  • maintain political neutrality
  • support the government of the day (if those don't contradict?)
  • avoid contradicting current policy
  • avoid bringing the department into disrepute

    Now I see nothing incompatible with that as far as presentation of posts go as long as the official blogger is competent and does not try to respond too off-hand to comments. Because the comments may get personal or heated it may even be appropriate that the official blogger/moderator even not get involved with comments at all and just passively note them. I consider the ability for punters to make comments and have them available for others to comment on to be absolutely criticial to the success of any official blog.

    So here are the questions he posed:

    1. Blogs have connotations of being personal, and are often opinionated. Do you feel either or both of these are essential aspects of what a blog is?

    2. Do you think a blog is suitable tool for an organisation to communicate with? What risks / safeguards do you think they carry/need?

    3. Are you aware of the NZAID blog? Do you have any thoughts on its utility?

    4. Do you feel a blog would provide more transparency for State servants/services? Do you feel there is a lack of transparency currently?

    5. Would a blog be an appropriate medium for discussion on policy or


    At 11/5/06 2:28 pm, Blogger Mellie said...

    I'm sure there are lessons to be learned from the corporate blogs (I wouldn't know them though), but certainly a few points to offer:

    - the moderator needs to keep debate on track and be more stringent on trolling, due to the complicated nature of policy debate. People will always have something to offer but I think a policy blog is in more danger of being derailed by personal vitriol and trolls than most other blogs.
    - I think a blog would be a good place for punters to discuss policy but a tricky place for response from the policy departments. Frogblog would have some good experience to share on this count.
    - Hadn't seen the NZAID blog before but I think it misses the object of the exercise. If it is looking to show the realities of 'aid on the ground', it could possibly do better. If it is going for an informative, more journalistic feel it could also do better (and might be better maintained by someone other than a field worker, who would be in a better position to report on the 'realities')

    Interesting noises though, and such a blog would be interesting, especially if enough people visited and commented on it.

    At 11/5/06 3:24 pm, Anonymous Matt -E-Gov said...

    Policy is one of the many opportunities for blogs. Also potential for discussion of non-policy issues.

    At 11/5/06 7:54 pm, Blogger peterquixote said...

    in regards mellie comment on troll, pc, toe the line, be nice to helengrad,etc

    once you get PC correct monitor incomning like cactus kate you dead

    i have never been rejected at frogblog

    pq rules

    At 11/5/06 8:53 pm, Blogger sagenz said...

    great opportunity tim - I will try to blog on it myself. a few quick thoughts.
    The informal & robust aspect of blogs are key. if policy makes are scared of robust comment then they have it wrong. the blogger can maintain their political neutrality and try to be honest about the options.
    moderation is NOT a good thing. as is corporate speak.

    I would suggest that they try putting a few thorny issues up for comment and see how it goes.
    it is not just posting on the home blog but commenting on the others that is important

    At 12/5/06 12:01 am, Anonymous jrw said...

    As a former "civil servant" I would say that the only way a blogger type interaction would work is with anon posting (within reason).

    Frankly the last thing a state employee is going to do is be critical about their boss, their boses policies, or the government of the day, regardless of what they think. Especially since the State Services Code of Conduct has some rather hard clauses in it that could lead to action or negative performance reviews, b/c a high number of middle managers dont like the bottom up shit approach. It is far easier for the crap to flow to the bottom I'm afraid. Indeed the code even goes as far as to list situations where one can and can not approach any member of parliament.

    Thus, a public/civil servant would need to know that only in extreme circumstances where someone is overly flaming, they would have the option of anon. Besides that they would also need to know that someone is actually listening and taking note, otherwise, why bother??????

    At 12/5/06 12:58 am, Blogger t selwyn said...

    "criticial" - Bushism of the day for sure.

    If people (incl. JRW) think anon. comments may work in a policy discussion setting check out the aotearoa constitutional convention blog on the side bar (where the flags and kiwi are). That was set up to gain a series of agenda by using a nominally neutral moderator and purely anon.-only comments. I believe that it got more comments than the actual govt. constitutional arrangements committee did - where there was no moderator and it took a week or so for comments to be registered and displayed.

    I haven't been focussed on it recently so it's static at the moment. I think the anon. comments system works well. As a method of taking the heat out of personalities and any potential abuse that occurs and keeping the debate on topic I think it was very successful.

    Also the moderator and the first few comments really do set the tone for the rest of the comments generally speaking regardless of blog format. So in that respect perhaps the moderator/blogger in an official blog aimed at serious discussion could make sure that each post is automatically emailed/RSS etc. to some key civil servant subscribers to provoke intelligent debate. A govt. webring accessible to all? Sounds dryer than Don's corn beef I admit. But even if it the commenters consisted of mainly "insiders" at least the private-sector/outside-Wellington would have a fair idea what that elite (!?) was thinking on issues.

    The potential for cross-fertilisation and outside perspectives beyond the usual groups and from outside agencies that perhaps may never be thought of and would never normally attend meetings to discuss issues is a potential advantage.

    At 16/5/06 12:18 am, Anonymous deano said...

    The idea of an official government agency using a blog seems rather odd. Almost inappropriate. No doubt the blogger would have to toe a certain line, and certainly would be constrained in their language. This would seem at odds with your question 1.

    2) A blog seems too informal for this role.


    4)Possibly and yes.

    5)Yes, it would provide a place for discussion, but if decisions are made according to what comments on a blog have said, this could mean a few determined individuals could completely reshape policy.


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