Right at the bottom of the UK Open Government Partnership Action Plan is a commitment that:
To embed social media as a mainstream channel used routinely to engage with citizens, business and internally, the Government will develop practical guidelines on departmental access to the internet and social media channels
and last week the Cabinet Office launched official guidance for civil servants on the use of social media, along with guidance for Departments on how to overcome technical barriers to civil servants accessing the Internet and social media channels.
As the launch blog post explains:
The social media guidance is made up of six principles:
1) Communicate with citizens in the places they already are
2) Use social media to consult and engage
3) Use social media to be more transparent and accountable
4) Be part of the conversation with all the benefits that brings
5) Understand that government cannot do everything alone, or in isolation
6) Expect civil servants to adhere to the Civil Service Code (online as well as offline)
This official encouragement for civil servants to make use of social media channels to be in conversation with citizens is an interesting step in the participative opening of government. The guidelines are not a strategic commitment to use social media as an engagement tool for citizen participation, but they do send a clear message to free up motivated civil servants to make use of social media in their work.
As a number of people have commented, ‘participation’ as had a relatively low profile in the UKs action plan, and yet the UK has a lot of examples of innovation in online participation to share and shout about, and some great foundations to build upon within an OGP process.