A twitter friend sent me to this blog recently, on the blogger's thoughts about the new Government 2.0 Taskforce. I agree with it in principle, but I suspect that a Whole of Government policy on social media is equal parts vitally needed and doomed to failure.
In part, this is because government and public servants need to re-look at an element of their relationship that has now changed fundamentally - talking about their work. Traditionally, public servants could talk write about their work, and publish their diaries in later years if the information was sensational enough (think Spycatcher (and how stupid am I - I didn't know that his lawyer was one Malcolm Turnball - how ironic is THAT given "Utegate")). Alternatively, though could blow off their mouth at the local watering hole, in the comforting, dim awareness that the people they shouldn't be telling these things to would be just as likely to drunkenly forget what was said as the speaker. Or, you could leak to the press, and maybe or maybe not get a result. The end result was generally the same though: most people didn't care what a public servant said in private as it was generally unheard of for them to say anything interesting enough to listen to. There wasn't an audience, and traditional "codes of conduct" reflected that.
Now, though, public servants twitter. They facebook, the LinkIn, they participate in the great social media revolution. And other people can listen. Sure most of it, inside and outside the public service, is utter dross. My twitter feed and facebook profile have followed me in and out of the public service on several occasions, with little-to-no change in the amount of drivel I dish out. But if someone's listening hard enough, there's probably enough in there to get some gleaning of the kind of work I'm doing, the kind of tools I'm using, and consequently, the kind of investment decisions that are being made in government. I don't think its a secret, but I couldn't say for certain.
Even worse, I occasionally crowdsource answers when I hit problems I can't solve "inside". Should I be doing that? I honestly don't know. On balance, I remember the adage of my old project management lecturer ("Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission"), and figure if anyone is that keen to stop me talking, they can tell me. Assuming anyone else in my area is listening (they're not).
So, what can I talk about, and what can't I talk about. Well, in a broad sense, I know I can't go blathering about tender processes or contract negotiations or staffing or any of that obvious stuff. But what about what I'm working on right this second (well, aside from my blog, obviously - I mean that I'm setting up a new SharePoint TeamSite (grrr!))? What about going out to lunch with a couple of colleagues? What about being pissed off about the outcomes of a meeting? What about complaining about the computers being upgraded? The office being refurbished? The new team driving me nuts?
What if I'm slowly building a narrative that - when done in ephemeral pronouncements at a weekend lunch or a local piss-up is OK because everything is said and forgotten - but when done in the "permanence" of the Internets, can give huge clues about things that otherwise wouldn't be known. What if I'm being researched by those mysterious followers that pop up on my twitter feed? I honestly have no idea, and much, MUCH worse, I don't know who to ask. By asking these questions, I'm getting the horrible feeling that I'm being the expert I'm looking for (please don't ask me for advice - I only give bad advice).
Those are just some questions off the top of my head. They may add up to nothing important at all, but what if...? And its that "what if" that may change the very nature of how public servants talk about what they do. I don't think a broad policy is going to capture all of that - I don't think it can. But this is probably something that shouldn't be done on the fly - its not simply a matter of updating the current policies and codes under which public servants conduct themselves, but requires pretty much starting from sratch. Creating an entirely new framework for managing public servants as private citizens, and an environment where the overlap between the two is growing ever larger and more confused.
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