Vicky Sargent's Blog Watch 4: social media; civil service reform
With Social Media Week running 24-28 September, it's been a good time for bloggers to consider how it has impacted the sectors they work in.
UK journalists have also been absorbing findings of the annual study on journalism and social media by Canterbury Christ Church University and media services provider Cision.
Regarding the latter, Rachel McAthy in the journalism.co.uk blog focused on journalists’ concerns about how social media is affecting their productivity and privacy, and the whole future of journalism. She noted that the number of journalists who said they felt social media improved their productivity had fallen from 49 per cent in 2011 to 39 per cent in 2012.
But its not all bad, said American blogger Erik Sass in MediaPost.com. Notwithstanding his blog headline U.K. Journos on Social Media: Meh he reported on the 28% of respondents who said they couldn’t do their work without social media, and the 77.5% who said it allows them to promote themselves and their work better - something he claims to be near and dear to every reporter’s heart, something on which I couldn’t possibly comment……
He also points to the study’s unsurprising finding that age plays a role in journalists’ perceptions of social media. More than 60% of journalists under 27 think social media has had a generally positive impact on the profession, compared with just over 29% of journalists aged 45+.
It would be surprising if a similar age bias were not at work in other sectors, and it is particularly hard to imagine latin-quoting senior civil servants feeling comfortable in the world of lol, hashtags and twitpic.
Which is why the Government Digital Service is keen to help them out.
In Finding your digital stakeholders (and why you should bother to) Louise Kidney points to the emphasis in the Civil Service Reform plan on open policy making – and engagement with people unlikely to have been involved with this in the past.
Digital is key to getting open policy-making to happen, she says, and web-based tools, platforms, and new media will do this if a key problem can be overcome: the digital skills gap that currently exists within the Civil Service.
In response, GDS have come up with Finding digital stakeholders, a walk-through guide on how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to find the right people to talk to – whether they are stakeholders, influencers or opinion shapers. But be warned, she says, you will need to invest some time to get the most out of these networks, because its not enough to be in a network, you need to be active, and it will take at least 4-6 weeks to start contributing to discussions, establishing a voice and building relationships.
Academics could use similar advice suggests the former civil servant who now blogs as A dragon’s best friend.
Participation as a social media workshop host at Bristol University’s Policy and Politics Conference prompted a post last week explaining how social and digital media could help academics engage better with policy-making.
Academics clearly get annoyed by the influence of Think Tanks in Whitehall compared to their own impact on policy-making. But that’s not surprising, he says, since academics continue to write up their knowledge in complicated language in academic journals that are locked up behind paywalls.
To overcome this they should get more user-friendly and harness the power of social media. At the very least they could be commenting on things coming out of Whitehall & think tanks that could do with the scrutiny academics can bring to bear.
More active participation in social media would raise their profile and spread their expert knowledge to audiences far beyond academia. Of course, they will then face challenges from audiences that may feel far less ‘safe’ than the ones they are familiar with, but these are things that can be managed, given a little bit of training and support.
New ways of doing things are always painful, as Paul Cleal, PWC Partner and public sector lead points out in a blogpost promoting the consultancy’s new book, Under Pressure.
The Government is still in the foothills when it comes to reducing the public debt mountain, he says, and fewer public servants in future will have to do things differently as well as do different things.
Opening out service provision beyond the public sector to private and not-for-profit providers, one of the current prescriptions, is no easy task. And as well as cutting costs, public service providers need to become better at managing demand and become more agile. They also need to better at dealing with failure.
A good thing, then, that civil service reform is firmly on the Government’s agenda.
Clearly a topic close to the heart of the Institute for Government, it is something that has occupied a series of recent posts in their blog, also informed by the speech Why Mandarins Matter delivered to the Institute by Oliver Letwin on September 17th.
In the most recent post, The ideal mandarin: exhuming the dead generalist? Peter Thomas, who is leading the Institute's work on Transforming Whitehall, describes how Letwin’s ideal top civil servant is far from the one outlined in the Civil Service Reform Plan.
Letwin would ‘go for character as well as intellectual prowess’ and ‘not worry too much about the discipline they have been brought up in’. By contrast, the Civil Service Reform Plan says: “the old idea of a civil service ’generalist’ is dead – everyone needs the right combination of professionalism, expert skills and subject matter expertise.”
Interestingly, one of those commenting on the blog, in support of the four activities described by Letwin as ‘essential’ for administrators in a modern liberal democracy was Colin Talbot author of the Whitehall Watch blog.
But he’s pretty clear that the civil service needs reforming, especially the idea of the ‘fast stream’. The senior civil service in this country is also too class-dominated, he says. ‘I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve had Latin thrown at me…….there is a very particular culture which I don’t find at the top of civil services in other countries, and I’ve been in quite a few’.