Is the CivicSurf project useful?

We need to submit a final report to the Ministry of Justice in the very near future and we want to include a snapshot of what you the people who have accessed the project think of it.

You’ll see a very short three question survey below.  Please take two minutes to complete it.  Thank you.

Jargon Buster

When I was part of the launch of Computeractive magazine we discovered that explaining computer jargon to novice PC users was very important.  Despite strenuous attempts to avoid jargon it simply wasn’t possible.  We then developed a JargonBuster box-out which appeared by all articles with the relevant jargon explained.

As part of a forthcoming revamp of this site and the CivicSurf offering we’ve put the Glossary from the CivicSurf booklet online and we are going to build upon the small start to provide some simple plain english explanations of the terms that might not be clear to novice bloggers.

We’ve also included a form on the page to allow novices to ask for explanations and for experts to submit or improve explanations. I hope those experts out there can start to contribute – perhaps a succinct explanation of Trackbacks would be a good starter for ten.

You can find the Glossary here or by following the link in the menu above.

Poetry in Posting

It’s not because she’s young.

It’s not that she’s seriously ill

It’s not that I don’t know what it is that’s made her helpless.

It’s not that the only reason that she is standing is because her husband is struggling to hold her up.

It’s not when she goes into a seizure and becomes incontinent.

It’s not me being covered in her urine as I help her husband lower her to the floor on the crowded landing.

It’s not the possibility that she could die from this illness or be permanently disabled.

It’s not the way she looks at me with utter terror in her eyes.

None of those things kept me awake tonight.

It’s the sound of her four young children behind me, wailing in fear as they realise that their mother isn’t playing a game.

Tom Reynolds blogs at Random Acts of Reality.  He writes authoritatively and authentically about life as an Emergency Medical Technician (Ambulance paramedic type).  Today’s post goes straight for the tear ducts.

Why leaders should blog – part 3

Last week I was at the Science Museum where I met Tom Reynolds who blogs at Random Acts of RealityJeremy Gould (Whitehall Webby) was also there are had posted some very good notes which I hope he doesn’t mind me reposting here:

  • Bloggers are enthusiasts who care about their jobs and do it in their own time because they have a genuine desire to improve the organisations they work for.
  • Individuals are generally considered to be more trustworthy than faceless organisations and readers of blogs invest in the writers. The personal neature of the relationships that develop as a result of this bypass the corporate PR ‘filter’.
  • The value of blogging about your job for the public is that Individuals can tell great stories that humanise faceless organisations (who shouldn’t worry about bloggers on their workforce, their passion for the job is itself generally enough to prevent them saying things that would bring the organisation into disrepute).
  • The value of blogging about your job for the organisation is that they can find out way more about what employees think than annual staff surveys (Tom told an excellent anecdote about ambulance workers whinging on an unofficial forum a few years back during a heatwave about not having time to stop to buy drinks when on shift. Two days later the management delivered pallets of bottles of water to the depot. The impact on staff morale was immediate because management had listened, and demonstrated that they had listened).
  • The value to an organisation of senior managers blogging is that they can easily and quickly debunk rumours from the top of the organisation right to the bottom without layers of chinese whispers.
  • Work blogging is the ultimate in transparency and openness, it needs to be embraced by more organisations. Bloggers are the best advocates and advertisements for their employers. They are evangelisers for their employers. Their reputation is their currency and bloggers will generally fact check each other.

Ex-Minister Tom Harris on blogging

Caricature of Tom Harris MP
Tom Harris MP

Tom Harris until very recently was the Rail Minister at the Department for Transport.  He was and is also one the most engaging political bloggers currently writing.  His style is informal and personal, yet he manages to be very political and informative about the workings of government.

He wrote an article about getting sacked as a minister and addressed the obvious question of whether his blog had contributed to it.  He isn’t exactly unequivocal, but interestingly uses his blog to point the finger subtlely at what he believes is the real reason.  Surprisingly out of the 27 comments so far only one person picked up on it, but the support for his blog is unsurprisingly unanimous.

Blog Action Day – October 15th

One week until Blog Action Day, the day in the year where bloggers are encouraged to post about a specific subject.  This year the theme is poverty.

The Blog Action Day site helpfully gives some examples of what various types of blog might post about.  Strangely enough it doesn’t mention Civic Leader blogs so here is some advice for blogging councillors about what to write on Blog Action Day – Poverty.

  1. Highlight the work that has been done /needs to be done to alleviate poverty in your area.  Even the richest boroughs of London such as Kensington and Chelsea have very deprived areas.  The ranking of neighbourhoods on the DCLG Deprivation indices varies from the 1390th most deprived neighbourhood to the 32440th (out of 32,482).  I’m told the difference in life expectancy between parts of K&C vary by ten years.
  2. Tell a story of local residents who have escaped poverty.  The Big Issue introduce some of their vendors. Write about someone local to you.
  3. Write about and link to a charity you support that helps people in poverty either in the UK or abroad
  4. Write about work you do as a school governor or member of council to help school help children from poor households
  5. Write about your experience working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You’ll have your ideas so please register at the Blog Action Day site and use your blog to help highlight what can be done about poverty.

Legal Guidance for Councillor Blogs

As part of the training for the project Victoria McNeil put together a 2 page document providing some legal guidance for the blogging members.  It is mostly fairly obvious, but necessary, stuff such as observing the Members’ Code of Conduct and avoiding being libellous or obscene.  However the section on Bias and Pre-determination may help you avoid causing problems in later committees.

We’ve reproduced the text below and included the PDF for printing hard copies: Legal Guidance on Member Blogs

Legal guidance on Member Blogs

The following guidance is put together for members who have chosen to set up and run their own personal blogs. There is clear distinction between member information published by the County Council, such as the member pages on the Council’s website, and member blogs which are the sole responsibility of the individual member.

There are important reasons for this distinction. Material published by the Authority is, for obvious reasons, restricted in terms of content. It must not contain party political material and, in relation to other material, should not persuade the public to a particular view, promote the personal image of a particular Councillor, promote an individual Councillor’s proposals, decisions or recommendations, or personalise issues. Nor should the Council assist in the publication of any material that does any of the above.

Nonetheless the County Council takes the view that member blogs can make a positive contribution to improving community engagement and leadership. And for this reason members have accessed external blog specialists to help them set up their own blogs.

The following is a brief guide to some of the legal pitfalls for members in establishing their own personal blogs. Almost all of these can be avoided if the content of your blog is objective, balanced, informative and accurate.

Members’ Code of Conduct

Aspects of the Members’ Code of Conduct will apply to blogs. Members should comply with the general principles of the Code in what they publish (and what they allow others to publish).

Blogging members need to be particularly aware of the following provisions:

  • treat others with respect. Avoid personal attacks and disrespectful or rude or offensive comments
  • comply with equality laws. Avoid publishing anything that might be considered sexist, racist, ageist, homophobic or anti-faith
  • refrain from publishing anything you have received in confidence
  • ensure you don’t bring the Council, or you Councillor role, into disrepute.

Members of the public (or other members or officers) may make a complaint about you if you offend the Code of Conduct and that complaint, and the sanctions that may be imposed, will be considered by the Standards Committee.


If you publish an untrue statement about a person which is damaging to their reputation they may take a libel action against you. This will also apply if you allow someone else to publish something libellous on your website if you know about it and don’t take prompt action to remove it. A successful libel claim against you will result in an award of damages against you.


Placing images or text on your site from a copyrighted source (e.g. extracts from publications, photos etc) without permission is likely to breach copyright. Avoid publishing anything you are unsure about or seek permission in advance. Breach of copyright may result in an award of damages against you.

Data Protection

Avoid publishing the personal data of individuals unless you have their express written permission.

Bias and Pre-determination

If you are involved in determining planning or licensing application or other quasi-judicial decisions, avoid publishing anything on your blog that might suggest you don’t have an open mind about a matter you may be involved in determining. If not, the decision runs the risk of being invalidated.

Obscene material

It goes without saying that you should avoid publishing anything in your blog that people would consider obscene. Publication of obscene material is a criminal offence.

This guidance is aimed at giving a general overview of the legal issues to be aware of in publishing your own blog. Further explanation can be obtained from the Head of Law/Monitoring Officer but Councillors should be aware that the content of their blogs is their own responsibility. If the content is objective, balanced, informative and accurate, and you maintain and demonstrate an open mind on any matters on which you may be called upon as a member to make a decision, you substantially reduce the possibility of a successful legal challenge to the content being made.

Victoria McNeill

Head of Law and Monitoring Officer