Steph Gray reaches for the big guns

During my ridiculous January, nearly over now hurrah, I missed some important stuff – too much for me to list here, and possibly not overly interesting for you all, but THIS, this has to be shared.

Steph Gray, the community manager at DIUS, has decided to start fighting corporate decisions to close down access to social media by creating this social media test suite. Here is his blurb:

So let’s try and build a picture of access to social media tools from the workplace. Please run my social media test suite survey from your workplace machine and let’s see who the blockers are. I’m happy to publish here, or in the survey results you can see when you complete the survey, any appropriate explanations or justifications from IT providers. I know there can be good reasons for limiting access, and we should separate those from the bad ones.

This is a great thing to do, and especially apt for departments where in recent weeks all access to social media has been inexplicably turned off without rhyme or reason.

People will understand if there is a problem that is being solved by switching off access to certain sites, but this blanket bigotry is ill-informed and often not based on solving a proven problem.

Emma Mulqueeny welcomes the social media guidelines…

Small dance for joy! They are here but this is what the front page synopsis says, and this says it all:

I am a civil servant

Principles for participation online

  1. Be credible
  2. Be consistent
  3. Be responsive
  4. Be integrated
  5. Be a civil servant

Web standards and guidelines for UK Gov websites

Are here:

Don’t get too excited, much of this is still in consultation (opportunity, folks, to get involved) – for example, the following:

  • Using social media (in consultation)
  • Metadata (in consultation)
  • Minimum standards for web metrics (in consultation)

Sadly, I am unable to fathom how to contribute to these consultations, but someone will know – I know many of you would have some great insights into this, so I will work alongside you to find out how to be included in the consultation.

I am disappointed, and I so SO did not want to be, that the section on domain name guidance and use of a dotgovdotuk url is still in the dated and a bit wonky section of the Cabinet Office website. I know many of the individuals involved in developing this, and I promise you that this apparent belligerance belies the passion of those involved in developing the new standards in light of website rationalisation and convergence.

In my own opinion only, I believe that it is a simple message: no content is to be published online for citizens or business, unless through the adequately funded Directgov and Saving the public purse from a hammering through unnecessary website deployment. (That means, you and I no longer have to fund the near on 1000 websites published by the UK government – each with their own design and marketing budgets (it can add up quite quickly)).

Yet it is a very difficult message to deliver. I could bore on about how hard it is to join policy makers with their communication teams, and to establish enough of a relationship to even discuss online delivery of what is happening – my explanation: it is as hard as trying to explain a rave to your parents (for those born in the 70s/80s). Neither party is too fussed by the detail, but both want the outcome to meet our needs, whilst successfully avoiding our worst fears.

These guidelines are the detail, the ‘yada yada’… but they are key, paramount to success. We need to understand the (un)spoken rules – let’s just clarify them and get on with it. But as ever, the devil is in the detail (I really did not want to use that phrase but hey ho) – and probably there is an element of JFDI and if there is a fallout – manage it. (But what fallout will there be, other than brand arguments and ownership concerns? This is the public sector – there is no argument).

Frustration all around.

My reason for posting about this is to show you where the guidelines will be published and to encourage you to keep a close eye on this. Please do join in consultations where you can, and please don’t use it as a stick to beat the beaten. There will be some super cool stuff coming out of this huge change – and this change will benefit us all.

Who could do with a ‘tell us once’ policy and delivery channel that works? All of us, birth, marriage and death – pretty salient and definitely doable… if we can get this absolutely right from the start.

Let’s get on with it.

PS Anyone who knows any more, please let me know, particularly on the status of the consultations.

Links, libel and law

This has been a week of mixed emotions. I have been very touched by everyone’s comments both on- and off- line about the post on the justicefortom site, and was equally as elated when I found out that I had – finally – been linked to from David Miliband’s blog.

Now, I have to confess that I bullied and nagged to get a link – simply because I harbour a completely unrequited respect for the man (the man not the politics, necessarily).

Within minutes the elation of finally having achieved nirvana was replaced by panic about what his linking to me might mean; not for myself, for him – well for both of us actually – with the death throws of civilserfgate still reverberating around Whitehall. By linking to me, he was seeming to bring my own views and opinions into his own blogosphere and could, perhaps, be seen to be endorsing whatever I say. In light of my post on justicefortom this might not be a good thing for a Foreign Secretary to be doing. Hmm…

I could detail the following 24 hours but it is neither interesting nor relevant – however, I ended up asking someone to remove me from the links on Miliband’s blog, as I was on the point of throwing up if they didn’t!

Of course, they obliged and I felt relieved yet confused.

At lunch the next day I discussed this with a respected colleague and he asked whether by linking to someone are you endorsing all of their views? In the same way as quoting something libellous that someone else has said, in a court of law makes you guilty of libel. Does the same law stand for linking?

By linking to me, was Miliband saying that he endorsed my fight for Tom?

By my linking to anyone, or recommending anyone on this site, does that mean that I endorse every belief they have?

No… but what if it did?

Social media and democracy – Part 2 (in light of civilserfgate)

Resistance is futile, I was really trying not to say anything about all of the media reports on the civil serf blogger, and the news in the Timesonline today that Sir Gus O’Donnell (aka Sir GO’D) is about to (finally) release the guidelines for civil servants on engaging in the social media space. However, the charming Simon McManus linked to my social media and democracy post, was himself linked to from the Guardian and so I thought it would be churlish not to say anything.

I will not repeat my misgivings about how social media will affect democracy in countries where autocracy rules, you can read that on the other post 🙂 but I will have a little muse about it in the context of civil servants, living in a democracy, under the auspices of the civil service code.

Aside: our civil service is highly respected, and the civil service code of conduct is key to this – I fundamentally believe that it should not be written off or ignored. Nor is it complicated, you can view it in all formats here:

There are some misconceptions in the Press about who exactly civil servants work for. Here is a good definition of a civil servant, for those not wanting to leave my prose the explanation is as follows:

Civil Servants are those who are employed by the Crown, excluding those employed by the Monarch herself. The Civil Service therefore excludes those who are employed by Parliament and those employed by other public bodies.

It may remain confusing, but basically, civil servants are employed by the Crown, the Crown’s executive powers are exercised by government, therefore, civil servants must do as they are told by the governing party – but they remain loyal to the Crown as their ultimate employer. (This explains why a rather brilliantly painted picture of the royal family en flagrante on the balcony of Buckingham Palace was refused in horror by a colleague in HMRC!)

So, to our very own Belle du Jour – the civil serf. She is a civil servant, therefore is required to do the bidding of the Labour Government Ministers, whilst remaining in the employ of the Crown. She will have signed up to the Civil Service code and therefore will be required to stick to the rules of the game. On reflection, (OK printing and scribbling) I believe that the following bits of the civil service code are salient here:

The code is broken down into four simple sections: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, so taking these areas and looking at what they require, I am just going to highlight those guidelines that should have given any blogging civil servant pause for thought…


You must always act in a way that is professional and that deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings

You must not misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interest or those of others (NB I am intrigued by what the last four words imply)

You must not disclose official information without authority. This duty continues to apply after you leave the Civil Service


You must set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible

You must not deceive or knowingly mislead Ministers, Parliament or others

Political impartiality

You must serve the government, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of your ability in a way which maintains political impartiality and is in line with the requirements of the Code, no matter what your own political beliefs are

You must act in a way which deserves and retains the confidences of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future Government

My take on it all

As with any mediation, we need to remain true to the facts… however entertaining it has been to read the riotous posts about what it is like in whichever department this lass works for, what damage is it doing to her colleagues? Employers? People working for her? Citizens of this country? Has she broken a contract that she signed up to when taking on her job in the civil service?

My position is that she had a right to write down her thoughts, but she went too far.

I am far more reassured by the only other blogging civil servant I know – Jeremy Gould – I hope that he is still able to talk about his thoughts and experiences, in his own way. I may unduly promote his blog, but with reason – it is all the things we want from the civil serf without the sensationalism.

Update 11th March: Yikes, thank you David Briggs for having the grace not to point out that you too are a blogging civil servant! I shall unduly promote your blog forthwith! Oops and Paul Canning… I am not doing well here am I?

I should make a public curtsey to Tom Watson MP who is not a civil servant, rather a rather precocious politician – however, he does seem to have some empathy with what we are trying to achieve. Many bloggers have spoken about him today far better than I can… go read: up-to-date bloggers on Google