Templating a Government 2.0 Blog

photo_102408_005What is a blog, and how does it fit into Web/Gov 2.0? Because with the most basic use of the technology, a blog isn’t much different at all from a traditional Web site, and those have been around for a long, long time (OK, if that offends, the fact you’re reading shows you’re young at heart 😛 ).

So what makes a blog 2.0?

I would argue that it has to be interactive. It has to allow comments, and the author of the blog has to respond to and interact with the commenters. It should often link to other sources, promote the work of others, and have a collaborative instead of pedantic or hubristic tone. The author should also comment on others’ blogs now and then.

After these essential elements, you have structural problems to address: how to handle commenting, how often to post, what other resources to include.

Commenting is easy. We’ve got a model from the President’s transition site, Change.gov. In short: “stay focused, be respectful, tell the truth, no spam.” Change.gov’s policy also reserves the right to remove comments that violate the policy. Success in this area means clarity, and the gentle and consistent hand to steer comments back on track or to delete those that clearly cross the line.

How often to post is also easy. Three times a week, maybe a little more. If you don’t have anything to say or you’re going on vacation, perhaps you have a colleague who’d love to do a guest post.

More difficult is additional features. A schedule of events is good. Links to neighborhood or topical blogs. E-mail and RSS subscription options.

What else does a Gov 2.0 blog need?

(Also check out this great resource, a list of gov blogger Q&A’s by Municipalist)

16 thoughts on “Templating a Government 2.0 Blog

  1. Nice summary. I’d say it also needs a clear focus. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

    For my gov’t colleagues who are concerned about out-of-control comments: we’ve gotten about 5400 comments on EPA’s blog since we launched last April and maybe 10 were really vulgar, so were deleted. The bigger problem is deciding whether to allow commenters to promote products they like. We’ve decided to remove such references while leaving the rest of the comments intact.

    One other thing I’d add: you MUST accept criticism. MUST. Your credibility will be zero if you only post praise.

  2. What is a 2.0 blog?

    Dating myself beyond Tim O’Reilly’s coinage of Web 2.0, blogs have allowed commenting and hyperlinking. So, what’s different today, Adriel?

    I’d offer today’s blogs should not be restricted to words, but include embeddable images, videos, and other data structures. That’s what 2.0 is really about.

  3. Pingback: Posts about Blogging as of January 26, 2009 | Quality Wordpress Themes

  4. Sorry for my poor English, but my mother tongue is catalan and I’m just improving my English skills, but …

    I think that a GovBlog 2.0 has to be part of a bigger strategy and has to be only one of the tools to interact with your audience.

    Blogging municipality is about contact with people of your town, nothing more and nothing less than that. Could include a wide rang of references of the “social media” were municipality is involved and, first of all, the Blogger has to be in mind that a Blog is only a tool.

    Gov’t 2.0 = Web 2.0 + Attitude 2.0

    The core business was PARTICIPATION.

  5. Along with frequent posting, a clear focus, allowing comments (no heavy-handed moderation), responding to comments, and multimedia content:

    Tag posts – to provide some context to visitors and to allow navigation to other articles of interest.

    Use trackbacks – to allow visitors to find related posts on other sites.

    Be part of the community – engage in conversations, both within the blog (by responding to comments and linking to external content) and submitting comments to other blogs that have a similar focus. I believe that this is a major web 2.0 need, since a major facet of web 2.0 is collaboration.

  6. I think more than having the odd guest poster, more than one person’s involvement is important. I wouldn’t suggest more than 3-5 people (one per day in a week) or else the message will get watered down and readers/commenters won’t be building a relationship. But I also think it’s good to show a united effort in building that relationship, not just “one guy blogging.”

  7. I’m glad one of your provocative questions crossed paths with some of my free time!

    So, let’s focus on the “blog” itself. Remembering “blog” is just short for web log, and “log” means something like “official recording of events,” I think the first priority for Gov 2.0 is to focus on job #1 – recording events. Nothing fancy. Text is fine. I can read… but I want it all.

    Recording events unto themselves is just a start. Those events need to be captured in a consistent manner, and documented in a universal way – like international signage. Every knows what a green light or wheelchair symbol means. We need similar simplicity. The tens of millions of people in America who don’t use computers will need equal access to any computer-based government.

    There needs to be a common site (gov.gov?) that all elected officials must link to. Its 2009. We’ve all seen movies like Enemy of the State, Die Hard 4 or Eagle Eye. We know what technology is capable of, so its especially maddening when some public servant automaton-type sits there behind their Formica counter and tells us they can’t figure out how to set up a blog, or that its “against policy,” like a scene from more reminiscent of “Brazil.”

    Elected officials should have to post their daily “to do” lists and calendars while they receive paychecks from taxpayers.

    “Working for the government” is commonly seen as a “cushy job with good benefits.” I would like to see what my money is paying for. GPS tracking on government vehicles? Sure. Chris Matthews wasn’t joking when he said every check written on that bailout money should be scanned and posted on the web. There is nothing wrong with transparency when spending taxpayer money.

    And schools. Ugh. I have three school aged kids. The oldest has been in public school for ten years. Since day one, I have asked for teachers to get online. Even the simplest, most efficient ideas like a teacher simply blogging the days coursework and homework – go ignored. More disturbing is the apathetic attitude of teachers. They act as if they will get in trouble for blogging, or that its “extra” work. I’m not sure what they were considering putting on a blog that would make them liable for anything, and they can just as easily type out the days assignment on a blog instead of putting chalk to the chalkboard.

    Hmm… I guess that means “buy in” is a big concern. These kinds of things will have to be implemented and encouraged from the top. Otherwise, Gov 2.0 will just be another oversized, ill-planned, slow-moving version of the existing offline mess. Worse, the internet runs on electricity. It can be turned off in an instant. What happens if most of the important functions of government move to the web, then the web goes down?

    I have no great hope that, simply by virtue of being on the internet, government workers are going to magically start caring about the people they serve. If we have five clerks sitting on their asses ignoring real-life patrons at the DMV, we’re still going to have five clerks ignoring blog submissions. So, while interactivity would be great, I don’t see it happening much.

    We have to change the mindset of most government employees – the technology will evolve naturally on its own.

  8. See http://www.tsa.gov/blog. Their Evolution of Security blog is transparent, invites participation and is interactive. (3 elements the President emphasized today for in his memo for the yet to be named CTO).

    TSA blog team receives hundreds of comments and interacts with their readers. And, very importantly, have actually made changes based on customer feedback. (full disclosure, TSA is one of the agencies of my Department, but I would single them out anyway because I don’t think that anyone is doing blogging better, right now.)

    I agree that it’s critical to have a clear purpose and focus on a gov blog. Focus would include clear identification of your audience. Remember, there are many different ways that blogs can be used—to provide customer service, to explain policy, to provide insight into an agency, just to name three.

  9. The Around Dublin Blog reports on the many exciting developments throughout Dublin, CA. In the second half of 2008, the discussions on our blog became more lively than we had ever anticipated. We have received feedback from readers who are concerned about the occasional inaccurate comments made anonymously in the heat of the moment. While we share these concerns, we believe our savvy readers can discriminate insightful statements from ill-informed assertions and steer discussions back on topic on their own. We at the Around Dublin Blog are fiercely committed to protecting everyone’s freedom of political speech, even when the speech is critical of our work. What we have found is that personal attacks made by anonymous posters may get a lot of attention early on; however, they do not remain in most readers’ consciousness for long. Insightful remarks, posted anonymously or not, are the ones with staying power. Basically, we feel that it is up to the community to decide what is appropriate and what is not. We are blessed with a readership that gets what we are doing.

  10. Pingback: Eights Top Tips For Gov 2.0 Practitioners « Adriel Hampton

  11. Adriel,

    Great fast read, and wonderful comments that add value. I’m sharing with coworkers as we look at adding blog elements for citizen engagement.

    To the one comment with a negative view of government employees, I’d just say it’s not exclusive to the public sector. (Yes, I’m a public employee and have been for 11 years; before that, I had my own small company and worked in the private sector.)

    We’ve all had plenty of negative encounters with customer “service” people who aren’t, unanswered complaint letters, faulty products, and so forth.

    These are issues of organizational priorities, and recruitment, training and retention of the right people in the right jobs with the right tools.

    The shift to new tech tools will simply take time; the entire Baby Boomer generation started out with black & white TV and dial phones, after all.


  12. @BarbChamberlain, I’m sure most would agree that there are apathetic customer service reps in both the private and public sector.

    The difference is, with private sector services, we can take our business somewhere else. If the government monopolizes a service, then sucks at performing it, we’re simply screwed with no alternative.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. The government will never prioritize customer service over its own growth.

  13. Good post and appended comments. It’s worth mentioning that at least in the Westminster system, anonymity is an enshrined value. Gov2.0 interrogates that value, but it can’t be swept aside lightly. Public servants must do their utmost to speak “truth to power”, meaning that in delivering neutral recommendations they mustn’t bend to whatever political breeze is the day’s flavor. Westminster’s structure protects public servants from public lynchings.

    More importantly, though, is the shield anonymity throws up against public bashing by politicians. Politics is war (hopefully without the violence!) and scapegoating of civil servants is always a clear and present threat.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately), many municipal administrations are already naked before the public, an engendered thing. Anonymity is a fiction in local gov. Next month, for instance, I will be making a recommendation NOT to fund a very popular capital campaign for Palliative Hospice. (The issue does not occupy our legislated policy domain). But the decision is ultimately political, not mine in the least. But who will be tarred and feathered, do you think? Radio, newspaper, citizens will be cross-examining me, not for a decision I won’t make, but for the professional advice I submit merely for Council’s consideration.

    I would have started blogging years ago had I NOT been in the public admin game. That said, I’m planning to do it now anyway because I believe we find ourselves in the midst of a radical Kuhnian paradigm shift. All I have is my integrity, so I figure if I can preserve that, I’ll survive. But the political criticism I will endure will be entirely misplaced, Councils, ethically, politically ought to be fully accountable for Council decisions. The deflections glancing off tough decisions WILL bounce on the faces of staff. A blog could exacerbate the sting.

    Our political systems are centuries behind our technologies, not weeks, months or years. The marriage will never be a comfortable one, no matter how much comfort our dreams of a benign public engagement may provide.

    Thanks for provoking thought once again. Appreciate it.


  14. John Lilly,

    There are obviously some monopolies in government services in a given location. I recall learning in a graduate public finance class years ago that people do vote with their feet for various levels of taxation and services thus funded.

    While that takes some effort on their part, it does suggest that a government that isn’t meeting expectations will lose customers over time. If you think about people choosing to locate in the better of two school districts given a choice when they move to a new city, this makes sense.

    It also suggests that it’s a false dichotomy to say that government “chooses” (which is reification of something that is not a real living thing capable of choice, BTW) between growth and customer service. A popular place to live attracts more customers, needs to deliver service to more people, & grows through simple demographic drivers, if nothing else.

    I absolutely agree with several of your points in your first comment about the need for things such as good online access to school information. I happen to have that in my district (Spokane Public Schools).

    I’m also from a family of generations of teachers and I know just how much time “after work” teachers put in. It IS a new element to their workload to be updating something every single day. If we want to add new duties, we need to restructure the expectations and edit something out.

    As far as it being against policy, I’ll be speaking to a group of city & county IT directors in a couple of weeks. One of my questions will be to ask how many of them have firewalls and policies that don’t permit public employees to utilize tools such as blogs and social networks.

    I’ve heard that from a public information officer in a nearby city, and I expect the percentage to be fairly high. The belief that this sort of activity would be a waste of taxpayer money–public employees “wasting time playing online”–is fairly prevalent still. Your expectation of a lot of online availability is fantastic support for changes in just such policies.

    Good dialogue.


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