The Government response to the report of the Government 2.0 taskforce was released on 10 May. It is for the purposes of those employed by the federal government almost revolutionary.
It is a clear statement by government that public servants are to be able to move away from enforced public anonymity and take an active part in the online community.
online engagement by public servants, involving robust professional discussion as part of their duties or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged.
It is incumbent on the senior APS leadership to ensure that top-down change is enabled in agencies, and that APS employees are genuinely encouraged and empowered to engage online within their agency-specific context.
The default position in agencies should be that employees are encouraged and enabled to engage online. Agencies should support employee enablement by providing access to tools and addressing internal technical and policy barriers.
When using social media in the workplace and if engaging online as a public servant, staff should of course always be aware of the APS Values and Code of Conduct. In particular there is a new section (in Chapter 3) added late last year, which is worth noting.
Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.
Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches. Employees should also consider carefully whether they should identify themselves as either an APS employee or an employee of their agency.
There are some ground rules. The APS Values and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1, apply to working with online media in the same way as when participating in any other public forum. The requirements include:
•being apolitical, impartial and professional
•behaving with respect and courtesy, and without harassment
•dealing appropriately with information, recognising that some information needs to remain confidential
•delivering services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public
•being sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public
•taking reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interest
•making proper use of Commonwealth resources
•upholding the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS.
APS employees need to ensure that they fully understand the APS Values and Code of Conduct and how they apply to official or personal communications. If in doubt, they should stop and think about whether to comment and what to say, consult their agency’s policies, seek advice from someone in authority in their agency, or consult the Ethics Advisory Service in the Australian Public Service Commission.
The UK guidelines for online engagement, although they are of course not applicable, are worth noting and give clearer advice.
◦Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
◦Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
◦When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
◦Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
5.Be a civil servant
◦Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.
Government 2.0 is ultimately about what individual agencies, and yes, individual public servants do to make it happen. Before them lies a vast field of promise, but one that is still new. It won’t always be easy to work out ways of being more open, more candid, more participatory at the same time as being just as professional and apolitical as public servants have always been expected to be.
You may also want to see Senator Kate Lundy’s comments.