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Civil service guidelines urge unblocking access to social media

The workplace of the future will have to be less rigid, less hierarchical and a lot more flexible. So says Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service.  More that that, he goes to say

Participating in social media is good way to learn how a modern workforce engages and communicates and I hope that more and more of our staff will embrace these new ways of working.

This comes from a welcome set of guidelines on social media for civil servants published last month by the Home Office.  Civil servants are urged to ‘communicate where your citizens are’, build relationships both online and offline and and avoid ‘channel shifting citizens backwards (move from email to telephone for example)’.

The guidelines are aimed not only at civil servants but also, and maybe more importantly, at ICT managers and those responsible for policies that impose technical restrictions on access to services such as streaming media (video), the potential business benefits of which for purposes such as training and development have increased in recent years.

While acknowledging security and other concerns, the guidelines are quite clear that restrictions put in place to prevent misuse or time wasting also hinder legitimate business use of social media and could be relaxed ‘if staff were better educated on the proper use of the internet and social media’.  It could not be clearer:

Most staff can be trusted to use these technologies appropriately if they are aware of the constraints and the risks. And appropriate line management intervention may, in some cases, be a better solution than tighter technical controls that hinder business use.

The problems of out of date browsers are also tackled head on.  As a minimum it is recommended that departments provide staff with access to a modern browser.  If there is a need to retain IE6 to access legacy systems, a second browser should be provided and IE6 should be prevented from accessing the internet.

This report is welcome and timely.  Although intended for civil servants it offers invaluable and well reasoned advice for any kind of organisation.  Only today we have been told by a social worker in a large local authority that she is blocked from viewing a video we have just released about desistance from crime. This video (a seminal work in criminal justice) is hosted on a cost effective streaming media service of the kind the cited in the guidelines. In this case access will be granted on request but this creates an unnecessary barrier.

Let’s hope the guidelines help pave the the way to developing a culture the encourages rather than hinders access to this kind of learning material.

Social media guidance for civil servants.  Government Digital Service / Home Office, 2012