Public Sector use of twitter is sluggish and does not match the rhetoric of greater dialogue, study says.
Oxford researcher Amanda Clarke is writing her dissertation on digital government-citizen interaction. In a recent paper, she has focused on Canada’s use of social media, and specifically Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s strategy (click here for a pdf).
What she found was that social media often moves very slowly through a department before reaching the public. According to Ms. Clarke, at times “upwards of nine people – including the minister – must approve a tweet before it is issued.” A communications team, the program director, the linguistic services (for translation), the minister’s office, and potentially more all need to be involved before a tweet can be posted, a source of “daily frustration” for some public servants interviewed.
We have recently looked at the debilitating slow nature of web 2.0 technology in the public sector and how the bureaucracies that they are enmeshed in run counter to the immediacy of social media.
Ms. Clarke notes that the news is not all bleak. During her research she found that those in HRSDC are innovating the best they can given constraints imposed on them as public servants. What might seem a long process for approvals often has good reasons behind it, namely risk reduction and the protection of sensitive information.
However, there is disconnection between the rhetoric used to describe social media and its actual use by public servants. While social media is touted by government officials to increase conversation between the public service and citizens, Clarke states that “it appears the civil service has largely avoided Twitter’s capacity as a forum for citizen engagement, and instead views the tool as a traditional publishing platform.”
In her sample of data, 91% of government of Canada tweets were informational – they promoted departments or data – and just 3% were participatory.
While it does seem unlikely that a tweet that requires nine levels of appraisal will be sent out carelessly, this process is also stifling towards dialogue.
In all, Clarke found that the Canadian public service’s practices impede the immediacy, and interactivity, of social media.
What do you think about Clarke’s findings? What challenges does the public service face with social media? Tell us in the comments, or tweet us (if you are able) @CGExec.