Her Excellency The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
Originally uploaded by good morning stradivari.
I got to speak for the first time on the subject of government blogs in Canada last week, a subject that is of increasing interest to me and is likely to be covered in Global Conversations, my next book.
Yesterday morning the increasingly steady activity in this area was amplified when I received a note from Peter Auger, city manager of Davidson, Michigan, who maintains what seems to me to be a blog useful to his community.
While I was in Canada last week, Michaelle Jean, Canada’s governor general started to blog. The Governor Counsel is a largely ceremonial job and traditionally the office holder spends his or her time representing the Queen at ribbon cutting ceremonies. Washington DC Mayor Anthony Williams' blog is closing in on its first birthday and the content continues to improve in terms of candor.
With the possible exception of lawyers, government officals may be the one group who incite greater suspicion and anger than large corporate officials. Why on Earth would they want to blog? Why on earth would the decision makers allow those who report to them blog.
The simple answer is to be closer with their constituents. Call me naive, but in the end, those in office are their to serve the rest of us. The chasm that may exist is because the rest of us suspects that is not what they are doing. There's abundant evidence of abuse of office almost everywhere and generally speaking people are mad as Hell about it.
Yet, there is also abundant evidence--frequently overlooked by traditional media that government is filled with perfectly decent and honest folk who really do want to serve people. Most of them do not participate in the malfeasance and are in fact the victims of it in a great many ways.
I base this on first-hand experience. Years ago, I worked in government, back in Massachusetts. While some of my co-workers, aged under 30, were already ticking off the minutes until they retired, they were the minority. The remainder of us were real people trying hard to do good jobs for constituencies of people who depended upon government for a wide variety of essential services.
After three years, I got discouraged and left. But others stayed on. I fear their dedication eroded over time as they were smothered in the mountains of process that slows the responsiveness of large organizations. Still, their job was to serve people and they spent years doing the best they could.
Nadia Temple reminded me of this. Nadia preceded me in addressing a group of Ontario communications officers in Toronto last week. She was one of them. I was the outside observer. Speaking in the dry tones of a mid-level government professional, she still managed to demonstrate her passion and commitment to handicapped people. Her talk moved me.
I scrapped my prepared presentation and just talked spontaneously of why i thought the people in this rom could better serve people if they blogged. From email I've received, I know I moved some of them. From the slightly sharp comments in the room from the Ontario attorney general's representative, I know it will be hard to move the needle forward in the near future. The AG rep was clearly afraid of losing control, not of what the people in the room might say, but what constituents might say back. In my view, she is fearful of hearing the voices of the people she is paid to serve, but I'll save that fight for another day.
I don't know if she actually wants to, but I wish Nadia would be encouraged to blog. She has the passion and authority for it. Her constituents will see a real person, struggling to serve them well, doing the best she can with the limited resources she has.
In Ottawa, the preceding day, I had another taste of government fear and loathing of blogging. I was seated at an event next to a very powerful and conservative government communications officer, who ranted about his distaste for blogging “You can be talking to anyone. Anyone at all,” he said to me with great concern.
It's funny. "Anyone. Anyone at all" just might be a constituent. Anyone at all gets to vote and sometimes actually does.
While the Nadias of the world may have to wait, there is a growing number of candidates and office holders who blog. Some, like the president of Iran may have unseen controls on what people say but he has the guts and wisdom to use his blog, as he has stated, to at least apparently hear the voices of his people.
The Iranian president’s views are not all that different than David Miliband, the young and promising blogging cabinet secretary in the UK’s Blair Administration, who wrote that his blog is his “attempt to help bridge the gap - the growing and potentially dangerous gap - between politicians and the public. It will show some of what I'm doing, what I'm thinking about, and what I've read, heard or seen for myself which has sparked interest or influenced my ideas. My focus will be on my ministerial priorities and I will be sticking to the ministerial rules about collective responsibility. I will read and, as often as I can, respond to people's comments on my posts. So please use this site as a notice board for new thought.”
In government, it may be starting from the top down, but it is starting. I think it will be most valuable, when the middle of government services—people like Nadia—start to blog, but some like Miliband are demonstrating that a blog is like an old fashioned town meeting, where impassioned community members get to stand up and speak and be heard in front of the elected officials who are entrusted to serve them.
Finally, there is another reason why government will be joining the conversation. Citizen groups are blogging and in some cases starting to gain the same influence as local lobbying groups. More about that later.