Leadership Dilemma 3 – Public Service and Web 2.0

In East Lothian we are expanding our edubuzz community at an exponential rate – with the intention of creating a place where people learn from each other by opening up an interface between users and providers and between the professionals at all levels in the organisation.

So at this stage in it’s development it might be worthwhile exploring a hypothetical leadership dilemma arising from the use of social media in the field of public service. 

Here’s the dilemma:

The local authority has set up blogging platform and parents are starting to use it to give an insight into their perspective on education.  A parent writes something about the teacher of their child and describes an incident that happened in class which their child had described over tea. Other parents leave comments about the blog post and share their concerns about the teacher and the fact that the same thing has happened for years and that the headteacher – despite complaints – has never done anything about it. 

You are the controller of the blogging platform. What do you do?

17 thoughts on “Leadership Dilemma 3 – Public Service and Web 2.0

  1. The Risks for the Local Authority can seem horrendous: Libel, slander, the Health and Safety at Work Act. Constructive dismissal. Grievance. Data Protection, Freedom of Information Act, European Convention on Human Rights. Child Protection. Vigilantism. A minefield. No wonder many are averse to openness.

    Some simple precautions, however, will provide all the defences needed: A simple and clear acceptable use policy. Identifiable contributors to public fora. Matters involving individual staff or children to be confined to closed correspondence. Moderated posts at all times. IP or user blocking for breach of AUP. Clear ownership of the channel.

    Why is it so difficult for the Public Sector to do things on simple principle?

  2. I use wordpress myself for my weee boy’s blog, and one of the posts tonight on the Dashboard shows a plugin that notifys the blog’s user of a new comment that’s been left. I know it would mean a heck of a lot of work, but why not moderate the comments? That way *****’ing out teachers name will allow anonimity but still get the commentors point across.

    Also, the T&C of using the site could ban use of teachers names, some code could no doubt be written to remove anything that follows ‘Mrs, Miss, Mr”

  3. Moderation would certainly seem the best plan to me – I do strongly believe, however, that you also have to allow anonymous/pseudonymous posts. Many people want to contribute to online debates of this form without identifying themselves – as long as you are moderating slanderous or offensive content, then I don’t see why contributors need to be identifiable.

    However, when you are moderating comments, you need to consider carefully what grounds you decline or delete comments on. If you start deleting comments simply because you do not like them – as has happened on more than one blog on EduBuzz – then you leave yourself open to looking like you are only inviting positive comments, or comments from your friends. Of course, there is nothing to say you can’t operate on that policy, but it would devalue the whole concept of EduBuzz somewhat, IMHO.

    Please don’t take this as being snide or snarky, because it most certainly is not – I have been genuinely frustrated in the past by this sort of thing, and it has usually led to me giving up on blogs for a period of time (and in one case, completely). I think this project is an excellent way of giving EL citizens a window onto how the Education department works, and hope it continues to develop.

  4. Great question, Don, and one which will come up regularly.

    Some sites block out names (and other inappropriate words) like Terry Brown suggests, though these can still be used by putting a space or similar symbol (e.g.: !) between some letters. Controlling it via a time delay might be the best way to take out the aspect of an immediate reply. If hundreds of parents write in then the controller would have a pretty interesting day.

    The problem may easily be taken out of the council’s hands since anyone can set up a social network to discuss such matters outwith the official channels.

  5. I may be naïve but this seems quite straightforward. The confusion appears to arise from a public space being virtual as opposed to real. This often encourages:

    (1) inappropriate informality – consider the contrast between personal email and formal, written correspondence
    (2) anonymity – would you be comfortable with the opinions of a masked stranger at a public meeting?
    (3) hastily constructed responses – often fuelled by apparently righteous indignation, which rarely encourages moderation
    (4) the expression of opinion, uncorroborated evidence and personal attack as fact
    (5) an ill-considered choice of forum – if there were no electronic means at our disposal would the correct forum for the discussion of allegations be a senior management office or a whole school assembly?

    In the hypothetical instance offered, there exists the additional misapprehension in the eyes of some users that the electronic platform, rather than being an extremely useful add-on to a public service, is a complete replacement for every aspect of it.

    I agree with Nick that an acceptable use policy and removal of anonymity would go a long way to reducing the incidence of such problems. If I were the manager I might also consider offering an alternative forum to concerned parents containing the advantages of electronic means (speed; searchability; the ability to contribute from home, on the move and outside school hours) but removing the unnecessarily injurious ingredient of trial by (possibly) anonymous media.

  6. I think our AUP is the most important element here. I wonder however if we should have some form of electronic acceptance of the policy when blogs are created?

  7. This could be a tricky one. I’ve tried quite hard with my blog not to put staff names in, but it can be difficult to avoid making an individual identifiable without making a post totally vacuous. I also don’t like posting, emailing or phoning as an angry response as words are so difficult to take back, so, with blog posts and responses to comments I will generally wait a few days before committing to publication. However, I can see already that with more parents posting about school matters there is a desire to empathise with generic situations! I would think that some sort of acceptance policy for seting up a blog might be a good idea, although this would only control posts, not comments. Bear in mind that most parents who are thinking about blogging won’t want to put their children in an awkward position at school.

    And, er, what’s an AUP?

  8. Thanks to all who have suggested a solution.

    I think we want to be as open as possible but an AUP (acceptable use policy) would be worth putting together – parents definitely have role here to shape this for their peers. I’m going to make some other posts on issues which have emerged from this dilemma.

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  10. The existing ‘guidelines’ that have been in place for a year have made sure that, contrary to ‘Reader’s’ thoughts, it hasn’t come up that often. However, we’ve also had more staff and students using the WPMU system who have already had the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) thrown at them 😉

    With parents, and I think Guineapig Mum’s “AUP?” question sums this up, we need to be very explicit and very simple. Acceptance needs made at the point of blog creation (as it is with every commercial blog platform) and then, as platform owner, it is down to ELC to respond within 48 hours to any potentially libelous (or, in the case of podcasts, slanderous) claims. That might mean editing the entry and sending an email to the blog owner, or it might be temporarily disabling the blog.

    From my point of view, for what it’s worth, I think ELC has all the elements in place, but now needs to make it an integral part of signing up to the system. The traditional AUP covers the main legal points, and the guidelines cover the more messy side of the social medium.

  11. I only started my parent blog last week – I guess I may be the newest user in this category. I have found everyone who has commented and who has emailed me to be unfailingly supportive and constructive, but I was surprised that I received no guidance on policy and general ‘netiquette’ for this community. I can’t think of another online community/yahoo group/whatever where this has not happened, and I’ve been in quite a few over the last eight years. I would hope it would be possible to produce something that felt positive – rather than just restrictive – for new users.

    But looking back to Don’s original post – the parents would not be posting as they are if they did not feel frustrated by their situation and thwarted in their attempts to deal with it. They don’t seem to have found a way to solve their problems through other channels. Dealing with the blog postings is the short-term solution. Where can they find a way towards a longer-term resolution?

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  14. Ewan

    You’re right – we have got things in place, we just need to make sure we implement them consistently.

    MS

    It’s great to have you as part of our community – you are having an influence. We are certainly trying to be positive rather than restrictive – hopefully that underpins everything we do on Edubuzz. We do, however, need to provide more guidance to users about our ‘netiquette’

    As regards the dilemma – there are some occasions, such as the hypothetical situation above, where certain things that might be being done by the school or the authority to improve a situation cannot be shared with parents due to rights of the employee for confidentiality. Nevertheless, we should be exploring as many ways as possible of making parents aware of our priorities and building the necessary trust that we will deal with situations in schools with sensitivity for the person involved, whilst not being prepared to sacrifice the quality of education that children are receiving. My hope here would be that no parent would feel it necessary, regardless of acceptable use policies, to post a comment about a teacher in desperation because nothing was apparently being about it by the school. This has to be our goal.

    Hopefully conversations such as this can help to build that shared understanding.

    I wonder how you feel about the question I posed in the next post about seeing parents as customers. Do you agree?

  15. Don – thanks for your answer – I’ll comment about your customer services thoughts up in those postings.

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