Blog post

Canadian Government Web 2.0 Guidelines Are Disappointing

By Andrea Di Maio | November 23, 2011 | 3 Comments

web 2.0 in government

While I was traveling in Australia I saw some Twitter traffic about the long-expected release of the Guidelines for External Use of Web 2.0 by the Canadian federal government. I had the pleasure of discussing this topic with officials at the Treasury Board and in other agencies quite a few times over the last couple of years. The last time was in late spring when I had a conversation about the different components of their Gov 2.0 (or web 2.0) activity. These guidelines were meant to be complemented by other documents providing guidance for departments on consistent employee access to external Web 2.0 tools, and guidance for employees on the internal and external use of web 2.0 tools. I have not seen those documents yet, and I am not sure about whether and when they will be released.

Assuming that this document is the only one that departments and employees will have to deal with when using web 2.0 for external purposes, I have to confess that I am rather disappointed.

There is a good reading of the guidelines by David Eaves, and I share most of his points. The problem with the guidelines is that they try to address different uses (and that’s why maybe we should not expect any further guideline on this topic), and in doing so they miss almost entirely the main value of web 2.0 tools, which comes from their use by individual employees and not by organizations.

Very early on the (rather long) document states very clearly the need for governance and oversight:

Departments should designate a senior official accountable and responsible for the coordination of all Web 2.0 activities as well as an appropriate governance structure. It is recommended that the Head of Communications be the designated official. This designate should collaborate with departmental personnel who have expertise in using and executing Web 2.0 initiatives, as well as with representatives from the following fields in their governance structure: information management, information technology, communications, official languages, the Federal Identity Program, legal services, access to information and privacy, security, values and ethics, programs and services, human resources, the user community, as well as the Senior Departmental Official as established by the Standard on Web Accessibility

and it continues dealing with the communication policy aspects of web 2.0, covering planning and design, rules of engagement with the public (e.g. comment moderation), evaluation and measurement (aptly focused on outcomes, but not really providing much guidance as how to create the connection between web 2.0 and outcomes).

Only after this, the document touches upon the use by employees, making the important distinction between official, professional and personal use.

The official use is nothing else than what the previous part of the guidelines is about. Things become interesting with the “professional networking and personal” use. Pulling them together makes a lot of sense, because the distinction between the two is quite thin and – more importantly – is controlled by the individual and not by the organization. Advice in this part of the guidelines is quite appropriate, reminding staff that the ethical code always applies, suggesting not to use official email address for personal use, and more.

However, the guidelines do not say anything about how employees may be leveraging web 2.0 tools to be more effective and efficient at doing their job. In fact, while the guidelines state at the very beginning that

Government of Canada departments are encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools and services as an efficient and effective additional channel to interact with the public.

they do not say whether individual employees are encouraged to do the same. Further, still in the section on individual use, the guidelines recite

Departments are encouraged to provide training to assist personnel in understanding their obligations when using Web 2.0 tools and services in any capacity, under both the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service as a term and condition of employment, as well as the rights and legal obligations for personnel subject to Part 7 (political activities) of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA).

Fulfillment of these obligations is expected at all times as follows:

  • Public servants owe a duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada;
  • Do no harm to the reputation of your employer;
  • Maintain integrity and impartiality; and
  • Uphold the tradition of political neutrality of the Public Service.

An explanation of what, if any, employment consequences exist when contravening these obligations should be explicitly provided.

So it is all about obligations and risks, and there is nothing about how to encourage, assess, reward the use of web 2.0 tool to improve individual contributions to department’s outcomes.

Finally, back to the departmental use, the document suggests that

An overall departmental strategy (and policies, where required) for using Web 2.0 tools and services should be developed

Whereas developing policies makes sense (possibly rebalancing the risk and the benefit side of the equation, since these guidelines are certainly skewed toward the former), a web 2.0 strategy is a fallacy for the vast majority of government organizations. These tools can be used tactically to deal with unexpected events, or as tools supporting a business strategy or a communication strategy. But they remain means to an end and not an end in themselves.

I suspect that the change in orientation has to do with change of leadership. Marj Akerley, the innovative IT executive who led one of the earliest and most successful wiki deployments in the history of government when she was CIO at Natural Resources Canada, and then appointed to lead the web 2.0 activities at the Treasury Board, left this summer to become CIO of the Ministry of Justice. It appears that since then, web 2.0 have been characterized by the urge for centralization and control that characterized the ambitious plan to centralize IT services across the Canadian federal government.

There is a clear and present danger that this wind of centralization and control will turn the Canadian government from a leader to a follower in IT-driven transformation. The jury is still out on whether this will be eventually compensated by the expected efficiency gains.

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Comments are closed


  • I agree with your last point: Centralization and control will turn the government from a leader to a follower.

    Policies and guidelines are only valuable if they are implemented to keep people thinking about what is right and what is wrong. Once policies put the power into the hands of only a few, in turn controlling an employee’s ability to make their own decisions, innovation dies.

    Leadership starts with giving people opportunity. It ends with giving them more opportunity.

  • Ryan Androsoff says:


    Thank you for your interest and thoughts on this issue. We think it’s great that the Guideline is generating discussion on how the Government of Canada can take advantage of social media and collaborative tools to engage with Canadians.

    On behalf of the Treasury Board Secretariat, I would like to offer three clarifications related to the new Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0.

    First, the Guideline is intended for use by departments. It was not designed as a handbook for each employee.

    Second, the Guideline does not create any new burdens on departments or public servants. The Appendix of the Guideline simply provides a social media lens to help departments apply existing obligations when engaging with Canadians using Web 2.0 tools and services.

    Third, the publication of the Guideline is a starting point, not the end of the process. The Guideline will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis to reflect the evolution of the use of these tools, and will be bolstered by the guidance that Departments and Agencies develop to assist their employees.

    Your insights, as well as feedback from public servants gathered through our internal wiki, will help inform the process going forward. All comments are welcome.

    Ryan Androsoff
    Senior Policy Advisor, Web 2.0
    Community and Collaboration Division
    Chief Information Officer Branch
    Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

  • Ryan, thanks for your clarifications. I was indeed asking myself about the other pieces of the policy – as referred in my post – and the lack of any further reference to those in the published policy suggested they are not going to be published.
    The section on personal and professional use, however, addresses employees and the overall balance of the policy – as focused on departments – seems to be skewed toward the communication rather than the operational side.
    It is great to hear that this is not the end, but a start. However, as a start, it may be erring too much on the side of caution