1. The Department of Health supports staff who publish attributed official digital content, where it can help deliver policy and communications objectives.
2. There has been a massive growth in the social web in recent years – people are using online channels to have conversations, collaborate, and co-create. Social media (eg blogs, social networks like Facebook or Doctors.net.uk, or media sharing sites like Youtube or Flickr) is now mainstream media.
3. Social media presents new challenges for governments and institutions because it tends to rely on relationships between named individuals. It is not possible to fully exploit the opportunities provided by social media without personal participation in digital conversations.
4. And as with any communications channel – whether interactive or not - comments from named experts can give credibility to a point of view in a way that anonymous statements cannot.
What do we mean by official attributed digital content?
5. By official attributed digital content we mean any digital content that is attributed to a particular individual. That might mean a one-off opinion piece on the DH website, an audio interview with named individual, a video message, a regular blog, or a contribution to an online conversation elsewhere.
Why should we publish official attributed content?
6. Official attributed content can help us to achieve our policy and communications objectives because it enables us to:
- add credibility to policy positions, through an expert voice
- add context to policy positions
- demystify complex policies, roles or processes
- engage the audience by speaking with a different tone of voice to our official statements
- tell a story from a different perspective
- engage with existing online interest groups and communities
- address niche issues, that are of interest to specific communities, in depth
- ask and answer questions.
What are the rules?
7. Where appropriate, it may be useful for staff to publish attributed official digital content under their own names. Communications Directorate ensures that DH does it well.
8. There are some rules:
- The civil service code gives clear permission for staff to participate online so long as they are credible, consistent and responsive. Anyone publishing content in an official attributed capacity should read the online participation guidance: Principles for participation online, see below
- Official attributed content is subject to all the same restrictions and legal requirements as any online media. Data protection, freedom of information, copyright, intellectual property and privacy requirements apply to all our online media.
- Staff should be clear that they are representing the Department of Health.
- Staff should only cover areas in which they are expert.
- Staff publishing official attributed content should only do so with the explicit permission of their line management chain. The Branch Head (or equivalent) must take responsibility for the content.
What are the risks?
9. There are risks to the Department in publishing official attributed content.
10. We need to be alert to the potential dangers of DH speaking in a proliferation of voices in an uncoordinated way.
11. Staff writing official attributed content online should bear in mind that what they write is:
- permanent – the web creates a permanent archive. Staff should avoid publishing content that they would be embarrassed to have read later
- official and publicly funded – as employees of the DH staff have a duty to take care that what they publish does not cause embarrassment to individuals or the Department. Staff should not include any classified information, or advertise products and events that are not DH-related.
12. Staff should also be aware that publishing inappropriate material could result in disciplinary action.
13. We mitigate these risks by
- commissioning appropriate people to publish attributed content
- providing briefing from digital experts on the culture of online participation, and on media risks, before staff publish content.
- agreeing suitable clearance processes for publishing content (on a case by case basis)
- providing ongoing support and management from Communications Division
- agreeing clear lines of accountability.
14. Our policy for publishing official attributed digital content is in line with our policy for personal participation in other media. In practice, online publishing is a managed process, and should therefore be far less risky than many of the other things DH experts already do (eg live interviews, speaking at conferences and meetings).
15. Communications Division can help manage and promote content, and will provide expert coaching and advice.
What is the process for getting started?
16. Staff considering publishing official attributed digital content should contact Stephen Hale.