June 2nd, 2007

Compulsory blogging for civil servants?

I’ve had a bad case of blog block – now over – the whole month of May without posting to Bacon Butty… not least due to a hideous computer crash. It’s amazing just how much embodied time is stored in a computer! Anyway, it’s been a busy period and there is much to be said, so stand by for further posts…

But first a comment on blogging itself: what a pity Owen Barder’s excellent blog [now removed] mostly on development issues has been forced into a ‘members only’ space by a ridiculous article in the Mail on Sunday. Owen is a senior civil servant at the Department for International Development and is well known for his challenging and incisive insights into development thinking. It’s a great pity that his colleagues and the wider world are to be denied his insights and informed commentary because a muckraking comb through his blog by a reactionary newspaper.

The government appears increasingly nervous about civil servant blogging and is reportedly to require civil servants to obtain the same permission they would require before writing an article or letter for a newspaper (ie. make it impossible). The logic is impeccable of course. But the approach is wrong. The position is extremely risk and loss averse – seeing only problems but no opportunities. And there are great opportunities to open thinking and ideas to debate and challenge and to invite greater inclusiveness for communities of interest. But then that isn’t what the civil service is really after.

Mandatory mandarin blogging
One could argue entirely the opposite case and see blogging as an extension of Freedom of Information – going beyond what is written to what is actually believed. Perhaps civil servants should not just be allowed to blog, but should have a duty to declare what they are thinking, and be required to keep a public blog for that purpose. It would be a fantastic form of meritocracy – we could see what the mandarinate is actually spending its time thinking about and how good their ideas are. Junior civil servants would be able to position themselves as thought leaders and everyone would be open to challenge. It could create an evolutionary system of diversity in ideas, challenge and selection and promoting of the winning ideas and individuals. All in public view.

6 comments to Compulsory blogging for civil servants?

  • Clive Bates

    Hello anon…

    My sympathies… though without knowing what you said and with what motive, it’s a bit difficult to know if or how much you’ve been wronged.

    Generally I’d avoid ad hominem attacks on blogs (though with Gordon Brown, that will be ever more difficult). Having said that, it’s all about people getting things in proportion and having a bit of confidence to take open criticism on the chin – and to explain themselves and engage if they are criticised. Personally, I would have loved more challenging feedback from my staff – and would have engaged with it… What sort of manager wouldn’t want feedback – however hostile? What sort of leader has the first instinct to cut out the tongue of someone that has something to say about them.

    Anyway – enough sermonising… you are probably having a wretched time so if you want to get in touch e-mail: clive dot bates at blueyonder dot co dot uk.

  • Clive Bates

    Dear Anon – I really like the Power of Information by Tom Steinberg you point to in the link above… though the thought of the government ‘mashing’ anything is a little hard to bear.

    Let’s hope they act on it – but still can’t see them bring back Owen Barder’s peerless development and vasectomy blog though.

    Clive

    • There is this a third view on civil sanrevts: The guardians of correctness in public policy. To a priori distrust civil sanrevts (as being just self-interested) is to erode their opportunity to guard correctness in public administration, thus leaving one main criterium of correctness: The successfulness of spin! This also amounts to politically (not economically) corrupting the civil service.

  • Paul

    I think this is a good idea, not least since it would challenge them to practise writing in something other than Mandarinese. I think there’s an equally good case for asking SPADs to do it: instead of being seen to whisper mischief into Ministers’ ears, they could be seen to shout it with a megaphone.

  • laloca

    i don’t know, clive. during my recent brief stint in government, most of my thoughts while not at work were variants of, “thank god i’m not at work.”

    boring blogging, that.

    • Mark Serwotka’s rssnopee to the Daily Mail misinformation is commendable but I would have worded it in much stronger terms than he has. Frankly, I’m sick of the government and media witch hunt against civil servants. The misbelief that we sit drinking tea all day and have ‘cushy numbers’ is a fallacy. What the media and the government fail to recognise is that for every post that is cut those that are left become more and more overburdened and as a result less and less actually gets done. This certainly applies to where I work where we have a permanent backlog which we will never clear, and one which grows exponentially with each passing week. On top of this we are inundated with corporate claptrap generated by overpaid consultants who are paid to bolster the ego’s of those at the top who falsely believe that a civil service department is a ‘business’ with ‘customers’ and ‘clients’. Wake up and smell the coffe guys – WE ARE CIVIL SERVICE DEPARTMENTS, NOT BUSINESSES. By the time the mandarins responsible for generating this insidious attack on government departments and their efficiency – which is perfectly serviceable without the injection of flase corporate ideals – it will be too late. I hope to see in my lifetime a volatile backlash against this kind of movement, the outcome of which will leave those in charge deeply embarrassed and which will force them to significantly retrench their corporate ideals and return the civil service to sanity and unhindered productivity.

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