Civil service blogging guidelines

I guess you might see it as kneejerk; I prefer to see it as responsive. The Civil Serf affair has brought the matter of civil servants blogging to a head, and now is absolutely the right time to work out the ground rules.
At lunchtime, Tom Watson publishes a ‘for starters’ list of bullet points on his personal blog. By 6pm, he’s had responses back from all the usual suspects, and a few others. And you can see things taking shape. A case study in itself.
Point number one has to be the observance of the Civil Service Code. I don’t see anything in it which shouldn’t apply in the online world as in the offline. And if there are anomalies, the Civil Service Code needs to be reconsidered.
As for specific rules on (personal) blogging, It’s hard to argue with Tom Loosemore‘s suggestion that we adopt the BBC’s policy as a starting point. It’s well worded; it’s been collaboratively developed by people who actually do it; it’s been through several iterations, with a new release out today in fact; communication is their natural territory; and they’ve been dealing it as an issue for longer than most. Besides, ‘it’s what the BBC does’ usually wins any argument in this business.
But it’s official blogging which interests me most: use of the tools to engage your stakeholder audience in a rolling dialogue. Too often initiatives disappear the day after their announcement, sometimes never to be spoken of again. The job needs to be done, I’d argue; and blogs are the best tool for doing so. I’d like any official guidelines to actively encourage them, especially on long-running, sensitive and high-visibility projects. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking ID cards, Census, major public service reform.
Do they need separate guidelines? Initially I thought so; now I’m not so sure. The BBC guidelines basically say if you use your BBC identity, you must do so responsibly. Official blogging is the very same scenario, turned up a notch. But we’ve got plenty of experience in doing blogs like these – FCO, Our NHS, the various Hansard Society pilots. It should be fairly easy to test any guidance against prior experience.
My only thought is that any guidance will inevitably call for distance between personal capacity and professional capacity, opinion and fact. Where does that leave a Minister, who splits his posts between the Ministerial portfolio and the party-political? Tom?

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