Civil servants and policy making with social media – Guest blogpost by anon

Every so often I publish blogposts by Twitterfriends who don’t have blogs of their own. Here’s one about civil service policy making in social media world – and how small organisations interact.

Buzzling over the culture gap.

There is a culture gap, created as civil servants slowly tip-toe into social media, and into helping organisations in “civil society”, as they are now encouraged to do.

For effective use of skills and resources on both sides this gap needs to be recognised – because without it, it can not be closed.

Civil Servant readers will know that if you want something to happen in the civil service, you start by writing to the relevant department, and then things step forwards from there. Sometimes very slowly, sometimes in the opposite direction, but it’s how you get a seat at the table.

For much of civil society, bloggers, twitterati, and others, who have found themselves pulled into the Leveson process at the last minute, this seems to have been a surprise. The people who signed an open letter about the process got a meeting; people who didn’t send any form of communication weren’t spoken to. This may not be a good thing, but it can not be considered a surprise to anyone who knows policy processes. It is legitimately a surprise to those who don’t. That gap needs closing, or at least, an awareness that it is there, and then something can be done about it.

Thought processes

The thought processes of civil service and (especially) of campaigning NGOs, are about as similar as PRINCE2 and Agile development (the traditional large government IT projects vs Government Digital Service). It’s not that they’re primarily incompatible; it’s that there is a fundamentally different world view that needs managing.

While a small membership NGO can walk into a meeting and say that an entire piece of legislation is entirely unacceptable and nothing can be done, Puffles’ civil service fans will recognise that there is a much better way to say that, in a way which generates a more positive outcome.

Puffles’ civil service followers will also know how much gets decided in meetings, and how much outside. Knowing the difference & the styles of the personalities takes some domain knowledge – but the best way to handle a particular style does not.

While a civil servant looking to help civil society organisations might feel fundamentally uncomfortable offering advice on issues to do with their department, on areas of personal interest they are wholly unrelated.

Productively going forwards

How you style an executive summary for a policy nerd is very different to one for a politician. That’s something that someone with civil service training will know implicitly, and while it needs domain expertise, that can be from other members of the team.


One thought on “Civil servants and policy making with social media – Guest blogpost by anon

  1. I’m slightly disturbed by this, not so much by the suggestion there might be a gaping chasm between the civil service and the rest of us, but by the apparent assumption that we in the hoi polloi should tailor our submissions to fit civil service norms.

    I’m fully aware that tailoring presentations to the audience will give your message the greatest leverage, a policy nerd friend was recently raving about how good the presentation training course they had just attended was, but on the other side of the divide many of us don’t have that level of training, if any.

    We saw a prime example of the problem this creates analysed by the Spartacus Report, which showed the responses of many disabled people to a DWP consultation had been discounted because they were form responses facilitated by a disability campaign group, yet form responses would be the only practical response for someone with very limited energy, or other limitations caused by disability. Failure (or refusal) to understand the nature of an interest group resulted in that group being denied a voice in a consultation directly aimed at them. Social-media-enabled groups like Spartacus, which is more a collective of interested individuals than a traditional NGO, and therefore without any budget whatsoever, never mind one for presentation training, demonstrate that as social media groups become more significant the problem is likely to become even more significant.

    It isn’t simply a social media issue, but ultimately a measure of whether the civil service accords sufficient value to the input of non-civil servants to bridge the gap between those on the inside, and those on the outside, who experience the end result of their policies. Bridging that gap requires flexibility from both sides, including, particularly including, the recognition that other people may not be able to conform to civil service norms and processes, yet still have a vital contribution to make.

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