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Social media and Australian public servants – Online participation not wanted?

Hi Govloopers – How does this compare to the situation in the United States or Canada? What is your reaction to this?

Read an interesting piece by Markus Manhheim, Public Service Reporter, Canberra Times – PS on notice over social media use.

I know that central agencies in the public sector do not deliberately issue circulars with the intent of telling public servants to, as it were, shut up online. However, that is precisely what Circular 2012/1: Revisions to the Commission’s guidance on making public comment and participating online does.

It is important to have a sense of balance here. Read through the circular and you will see some sentiments that suggest that this circular is not intended to discourage online participation and, to be fair, it is intended to provide guidance.

However, and this is the important point, what the circular does do is give managers within APS agencies a big stick to whip employees into line. It does so due to the fact that it is ambiguous in some key respects. Consider the extract below.

. . . it is important for the employee to notify their manager of any comment that they propose to make in their ‘expert’ role that might reasonably reflect on their APS employment. This would need to be considered in light of the agency’s policies and the APS Values and Code of Conduct. It is important that the employee also make it clear, when making public comment in this role, that they are not representing their agency or the Government.

Consider the ambiguity. If an employee critiques, say, a publicly available communications strategy and their immediate manager does not like it they could easily end up in a world of pain. Then again, some managers may be more tolerant. But what if senior management then holds the employees manager accountable.

So yet again we have something well intentioned creating a climate of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in the public service. I have nothing against HR per se – it’s roughly a quarter of my professional background – but this circular has got severely risk averse HR written all over it.

I have absolutely no problems about setting decent fencepost saround the use of social media by public servants, but this circular goes beyond that. Now let me make some points that will get me in trouble.

  • Government is not perfect
  • The public service is not perfect
  • Management is not perfect
  • Public discussion is a good thing
  • Constructive criticism is a good thing
  • The community expects and deserves better
  • Employees can be trusted
  • It’s 2012 not 1912

I am drafting something more detailed on this over the next couple of weeks for publication elsewhere.

And some last words on this from a citizen

This is just typical of the PS in protecting its own backside. Once you start having an effect, they try to shut you down. I wouldn’t mind if they first made an attempt to change their behaviour that led to the original criticism, but they never do or at least what they do never works.
Pollies have to understand that people sometimes resort to slagging off because all other avenues for getting the message across have become ossified, courtesy of the stultifying effect of the bureaucracy.

Hint to the PS: stop being so self-interested and take external criticism as a warning sign.

So head on over to the Canberra Times and have your say

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