The Department for Work and Pensions has opened (what I think is) the third ‘blog’ in Whitehall circles, this time on the less-than-gripping subject of pensions reform. Launched on 20 July, it’s their latest attempt to engage the country on the subject, and good on them for trying. But I almost think they’re trying too hard, losing some of the rough charm of the typical blog as a result.
The site is (currently) running on WordPress v2.0.3 with all the standard features, including RSS feeds right down to individual post level. A good choice, and not just because it’s free. They’ve done a nice job producing a custom theme to integrate the blog into DWP’s design.
But the content feels very ‘staged’, much more than (say) David Miliband’s musings. The weekly Talking Point articles don’t sit too well alongside the more ephemeral postings; and techniques such as subheadings in longer posts imply the involvement of serious writers. I guess you could level the same criticism at Education’s ‘FindOutMore‘, but then again, we don’t explicitly call it a ‘blog’ as such. (Unless it’s advantageous to do so. 😉 )
The approach to comments seems very heavy-handed, too. Most of the comments reproduced on the site are serious, considered and on-topic. In other words, not what you generally get on a blog. The policy hints at meticulous moderation:
We aim to publish a representative cross-section of comments… The Department reserves the right not to publish comments and to edit comments on grounds of space or style.
All in all, it’s hard to know what they’re trying to achieve. Some of the content looks like it has the general public in mind; some is just too geeky. They’re making valiant efforts to reply to comments, implying a desire for debate, but it’s always a bit clunky. (Hardly their fault though; few blogs handle the back-and-forth exchange of comments too well.)
I can see merit in a blog aimed at professionals; it would be a forum for serious discussion, and a chance to build buy-in for the government reform process (which will inevitably get ugly… so generating some goodwill is a very sound move!). But will this engage me as a citizen? I doubt it.
A subject like pensions needs to address me at the ultra-personal level. It needs to be about estimates and calculators, telling me exactly how much I’m going to be living on when I’m 65 (or whatever), or how much I need to be putting away now to fund the lifestyle I think I deserve later on. Ideally, without me having to fill in a tax return-style questionnaire.
And I hate to say it… but if you can’t encapsulate all that in a simple one-screen web form which I can fill in within a minute, from memory alone, then the system itself is too complicated.