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Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 in the Government of Canada

After years of hearing  “it’ll be released next week” promises, I finally got to witness the official announcement this morning from Minister Tony Clement: The Treasury Board Secretariat’s Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0  is now public.

Here is an excerpt from Tony’s speech:

“Web 2.0 tools provide additional means of interactive communications between government institutions and Canadians. These tools are the modern-day equivalents of town halls. They can be used for various purposes including recruitment, emergency communications, and service delivery. They also help provide valuable information to the public, stakeholders, and act as tools for consultations.

The Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 is designed to provide specific guidance to public servants on the use of social media. It also includes practical advice to help departments make informed decisions about how to meet their existing legislative and policy requirements when using those tools. People all over the world are adapting to the pace of unprecedented technological change that impacts how they communicate, consult, collaborate, manage data and share information…This is about enhancing our productivity which, in turn, makes Canada more competitive in the global economy.”

Why is this a big deal?

I can tell you personally from the people I know were behind this, that this is the result of a lot of blood, sweat and tears. If you’re a public servant, please do not dismiss the effort that went into the development and subsequent release of this guideline.  It’s not perfect, it likely never will be, however I have been told that it will evolve over time. In the meantime I truly feel it represents a giant leap forward for the entire public service. There is simply no longer an excuse for not taking social media platforms seriously and thinking strategically about how best to leverage them as a public servant.  It should be noted that the guideline itself is not new. It’s based in large part on various guidelines created by departments and branches that refused to wait and took a chance by creating their own over the last few years. The latest draft has actually been sitting on GCpedia and thus has been accessible to every public servant for almost a year now. The issue however (aside from the fact that GCpedia is still an alien term to most public servants) was that most senior level public servants have been waiting for something “official” to come out. I’m saying this out of personal experience dealing with consulting clients on this topic from nearly every federal department over the last 6 years.

Will this guideline be criticized?

Of course it will. I can see a whole slew of negative comments already coming in:

  • it’s too long
  • it’s ambiguous
  • it doesn’t tell me exactly what to do
  • it’s overly polished
  • it’s too restrictive
If you’re thinking one of the above, please stop. Instead, think about how much more you can do to build a case for more empowerment and engagement now that these are out. If you experience a roadblock, find a nugget within the guideline that can help you get around it, it’s full of them. As a starting point before complaining, I would suggest reading the entire guideline from start to finish, as I just did. Yes, there are plenty of things that could be improved, ignore them for now and highlight the positives. Use these to inform your colleagues, your bosses and your staff. Build understanding of this guideline into employee training programs. Hold guideline lunch n’ learn orientation sessions…you get the point. There is obviously still plenty of work that needs to be done in terms of building “social” into the fabric of the public service culture, especially at the senior levels. I urge all public servants that have been involved in pushing concepts such as collaboration, community and engagement over the last decade to leverage this opportunity and shift into 2nd gear, if not 3rd (at high RPM’s). Finally, I’d like to extend my own personal congratulations to all of you that helped make this happen. You know who you are.
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  1. Well, you were the first to break this to me – via your Tweet, of course… it’s been an overwhelmingly busy time for me (family life and work!) but I will follow your advice and read it through…

    being one of the early adopters of new tech in the #goc….

    thanks for sharing,

  2. Steve Wynn

    Although I agree with you on this Mike, and hope to use it to my advantage here, I can see the naysayers point of view. There are certain areas which don’t dispel current roadblocks which people were hoping TBS would do. Hopefully its evergreen and evolves over time, but for now, its certainly better than the nothing we had for so long.

  3. Respectfully, saying “please stop” thinking negative things about a bad set of guideline has a lot in common with putting your hands over your ears and saying “lalalala!”

    These guidelines are bad for innovation, for government, and the public. I respect how much work and sweat and struggle it must have taken to get them to production, but that doesn’t make them good, or worthwhile, or a net positive for the public service.

    I went over the problems in more detail on my site here — — but in short, the guidelines are so heavy that it makes it impossible to experiment. The amount of work you need to do to open a Flickr Pro account is unreal. It’s enough work that you will need to spend time and money to figure out how much time and money it’ll take to do.

    The guidelines aren’t useful in communicating what social media is, how you should use it, or why. They’re useful only in adding so much process that everyone’s ass is covered in case it blows up.

  4. Thanks for sharing. So glad something has come to fruition. I’m just gearing up for my return from mat leave and will make reading this a priority before I get back. I’ll keep an open mind and curl up with a cup of tea to read it (doesn’t that sound awesome?) #marketingnerd

  5. Scottu487

    Mike – While I get that it’s nice to finally have something official recognizing that SM is here to stay and that we need to start getting on with moving forward, I don’t feel the new guidelines do us a service – it was pretty much what I’ve been expecting (dreading).

    Unless you’re a comms person they will not help. The new guidelines impliment such a rigourous set of approvals and unnecessary need for compliance that those of us who wish to use it at a program level will never convince our managers that it’s worthwhile to spend the time putting together these justification documents to proceed.

    These guidelines really only foster single, long term instances of departmental social media channels and completely ignore the flexibility that SM can provide for quickly connecting with a community over an issue at a program level. The kind of honest two way communication that social media fosters is killed by the heavy handed institutional approach these new guidelines establish.

  6. Ok so what if there was a giant FEEDBACK button at the bottom of the guideline. This is actually something I recommended to TBS early on. The intent would be too gather all these thoughts over the next 6-12 months, so that the document continually evolves.

    I should point out that the majority of my clients are in comms. For them, this is a step forward when compared to not having anything at all.

    Rolling out the concept of a”social organization” is the next step here. See my post on Social Media Governance:

  7. Okay, so they are a bit tricky to read and probably should be split into two docs – department and employees.

    If you take the employee part only it is only a couple of pages and seems pretty readable.

    I put it on my blog.

  8. Jairus, I fully see where you’re coming from however keep in mind that a significant amount of senior public servants have until recently (and many still do) thought of social media as something “their kids do”. Sadly, they don’t see the strategic legitimacy and seriousness of these tools until they hear a quote from the Clerk (PCO) , Clement (TBS) or see that TBS has actually taken the time to create a guideline. At the working level these guidelines may seem useless to you, however trust me that at the senior most levels, this will open up eyes and force some behaviour change. Those already involved in the #goc , #w2p, #gov20, etc.. communities are not the target audience here.

    Believe me when I say that I’m usually the first to criticize (see some of my earlier blog posts on various gov initiatives). In this case, after doing a quick cost/benefit of whether or not I should point out the flaws or focus on the positives, the latter came out strong. My desired end outcome is to see a more open, collaborative and engaged public service. I see this as a necessary step to get over with and move forward. Otherwise everyone would be waiting another 5 years for guidelines and waste even more time doing nothing.

  9. Ryan Androsoff


    Thank you for your interest and thoughts on this issue. We think it’s great that the Guideline is generating discussion on how the Government of Canada can take advantage of social media and collaborative tools to engage with Canadians.

    On behalf of the Treasury Board Secretariat, I would like to offer three clarifications related to the new Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0.

    First, the Guideline is intended for use by departments. It was not designed as a handbook for each employee.

    Second, the Guideline does not create any new burdens on departments or public servants. The Appendix of the Guideline simply provides a social media lens to help departments apply existing obligations when engaging with Canadians using Web 2.0 tools and services.

    Third, the publication of the Guideline is a starting point, not the end of the process. The Guideline will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis to reflect the evolution of the use of these tools, and will be bolstered by the guidance that Departments and Agencies develop to assist their employees.

    Your insights, as well as feedback from public servants gathered through our internal wiki, will help inform the process going forward. All comments are welcome.

    Ryan Androsoff
    Senior Policy Advisor, Web 2.0
    Community and Collaboration Division
    Chief Information Officer Branch
    Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

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