Update on Social Media Policies in the Canadian Government

A while back I wrote a blog post about a special social-media task force set-up by Government of Canada CIO Ken Cochrane. The task force was set-up to examine social media best practices and develop government-wide policies on its usage accordingly. In a recent interview with InterGovWorld.com Ken Cochrane talks about the latest progress:

The CIO branch is expanding acceptable use policies for the Internet to cover off social media and other Web 2.0 technologies. “This policy work isn’t finished yet, but as we develop the rules more fully, we’ll share them across departments so they can adopt them.”

There are many aspects to sort out such as privacy, accessibility, and a code of conduct. Bilingual requirements are also a concern for this emerging area. “To encourage people to offer their ideas when using blogs, they must be allowed to do it quickly in their language of choice in order to make effective use of this medium. Instead of making it mandatory to translate everything, we summarize it all in both languages on a weekly basis. This seems to satisfy bilingual requirements.”

Cochrane also talks about the government exploring the use of Web 2.0 tools to engage citizens, and about a recently completed online survey to get Canadians’ views on the issues that garnered about 2,500 responses.

“They see Web 2.0 as interesting, but there was also cautionary feedback. They don’t want the government to use the technology just because it’s cool – they want such decisions to be based on solid business requirements,” he says. “Canadians expect the government to be serious.”

This is an interesting point, but I think it came out because there is a general misconception amongst the public about what exactly is Web 2.0 and social media. I would have liked to have seen the survey questions as well, to see if they were formulated properly. Too many people now think of Web 2.0 as a buzzword representing cool viral videos on YouTube, chatting on Facebook and catchy one word application names (tumblr, plaxo, flickr, twitter, jaiko, etc…). It’s not about being flashy and having all the latest tech gadgets, applications and tools, but rather about accepting the democratization of the web and about the fact that one-way, stagnant communication with taxpayers is no longer acceptable (in terms of government).

However, it’s good to see progress and discussion like this about Social Media going on internally in the government. I think this will help renew the outdated Treasury Board communication policies that currently exist, which significantly limit effective 2-way dialog and collaborative “citizen-2-government employee” engagement. Not only that, as Ken mentioned, Social Media and Web 2.0 tools and applications can be extremely beneficial for streamlining internal business processes and collaboration between work groups, which is something the government desperately needs.