I first blogged in April 2009 on Blogspot and this is my 81st post. My blog doesn’t have a particular focus, this is a place where I write about the things that interest me. It isn’t therefore a ‘public sector’ blog, it’s not a work blog and it’s not official but I don’t hide who I am or where I work and sometimes I do write about it.
A couple of weeks ago #lgovsm (a weekly hour long, hosted and themed, discussion about the use of social media within local government) looked at blogging. 610 tweets have been captured on SearchHash but my follow up from it was to think about four questions – Why should we blog? Why don’t we? How can we get past those hurdles? What more could be done with blogs?
Why should we blog?
I ought to blog more because otherwise thoughts rattle around and around and around in my head. For me that’s not productive – bottling up frustration is not helpful and denying yourself a creative outlet blunts my effectiveness. Blogging for me is a helpful bit of reflective practice.
So there are personal reasons why blogging is important but there are also benefits for the public sector at large. If you’ve got ideas then share them because the chances are other people need to hear them. If you’ve seen something brilliant then let people know about it. If you’ve got a question then someone might answer it. You never know where what you write might end up.
I am so impressed by the government focused blogosphere. They put their thoughts online so it’s all findable. They’re enabling us to join the dots, to see both trees and wood and to take their work as inspiration for our own activity. They share their slides, their notes, their pictures, their videos, their ideas and as they distill issues and suggest solutions they kick off great discussions and debates.
So why don’t we?
I don’t because I prioritise other things rather than writing. But even when I do I edit, re-edit, agonise, re-edit and then re-agonise about something seeing the light of day. That isn’t because I’m worried about getting me into trouble but mostly because I doubt whether it will be a worthwhile contribution and why would you go to the trouble only to get flamed (even if that has never happened).
But there are those who don’t because they fear internal censure. Personally I would have celebrated anyone wanting to discuss something I’d blogged because it would have suggested we’d broken our inward looking bubble. Equally I am happy to defend everything I’ve written – you will invite problems by launching tirades against an employer or airing things that should be dealt with internally. It’s all about common sense.
But common sense might not protect you from journalists. This week someone wrote an anonymous negative comment about a local headteacher; the next day the local paper ran a full page article fanning the flame of criticism. A complete non-story prompted by a negative, random and unjustified comment. But the national media is just as bad, if not worse. So the fear of a witch hunt means people will be reluctant to write.
How can we get past those hurdles?
JFDI is a good challenge to get on and do. Of course there are situations where being candid may not be best but if there’s something you want to share, then share it.
I appreciate it isn’t as easy as that. Confidence is a big deal when it comes to hitting that ‘Publish’ button. WeeklyBlogClub is a brilliantly supportive idea that has obviously encouraged people to start blogging. And it highlights the strength of community amongst those interested in the things of the public/third sector which moves beyond our day jobs and into the softer side of life too.
But still, that public facing open to all environment of sharing is not necessarily something people would want to do and nor is it always suitable. I think there’s an opportunity and responsibility for those of us who value blogging to think about whether we can play our part in a journey I wrote about last year about the value of content behind walls
…as people become familiar with the idea of sharing with the others in their office, their colleagues across the organisation and then their peers across the sector it breeds a pattern of behaviour that thinks little about moving to the next level and starting to share in public and being excited about the possibilities for engagement with the public…
Such internalising can also help towards ensuring one of the key things that will encourage blogging – knowing that you’re going to be supported by your organisation and valued for the contribution you make. I think Puffles expressed it well in sayingThere was a problem connecting to Twitter.
And whilst that does presuppose that they understand the value themselves isn’t that the kind of environment we’d like within our organisations?
What more could be done with blogs?
Two years ago Dave Briggs interviewed Mark Lloyd, Cambridgeshire’s Chief Executive and ever since then I’ve been stubbornly convinced that a blogging platform is a far more effective option for internal communications than either paper based newsletters or sporadic email. Rather than those one-to-one, broadcast mechanisms the beauty of a blog is that it can facilitate conversation and comment across an organisation and, hopefully, encourage healthy debate. However, there are always unintended consequences. In Sandwell the the chief executive’s blog, which had been public, was made internal when the local press started to quote comments from officers as changes to policy.
The relationship between councils and local media can be fractious. We’ve relied on them to tell our stories and have often dumped press releases onto our websites. Adrian Short has some ideas about changing that dynamic but it’s clear from Birmingham News Room (let alone hyperlocal journalists) that approaches to news and blogging have a lot in common. Instead of just words on a screen there’s room for pictures, video, audio and (perhaps most importantly) the metadata which links related content together.
My final thought about blogs is to to ask a question about whether their contribution can be amplifed. A couple of months ago I read an influential academic blog that annoyed me because the writer was clearly ignorant to what’s actually happening. At the moment the good stuff that’s shared doesn’t always manage to break out.
When people are studying the role of digital within local government or emergent trends in how things are being done then there’s a wealth of knowledge which is being missed because blogging from officers does not carry the same visibility or legitimacy as something in the library. Much of what I’ve seen shared through blogs is often highly empirical – they’re full of testing, exploring and experimenting. There are some people contributing to these conversations who are students or academics who will further the debate but it would be great if there was some way of capturing the learning and the doing from those who aren’t.