The Treasury Board’s formal guidelines governing social media use have only been out for about a week, and they’ve already been scrutinized as impenetrable

The Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada has released its Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0, an over-arching set of rules that the Treasury Board hopes will both promote social media use while also making it abundantly clear what is and isn’t allowed.

David Eaves, a technology analyst, blogged about the guidelines and possibly why they missed the mark. He believes that the document is too long and too dense to allow the average employee to feel empowered to use social media. “The guidelines should be clear and promote use,” he said. “I don’t think we should let people off the hook for creating guidelines that are fairly onerous.”

Eaves, who made it clear that he doesn’t believe the intention of the document was to obfuscate the government’s stance on social media or worse yet, keep government employees from feel comfortable using it, said that it contains too much info. “There’s not even much you need to change,” he said. “Once you take everything out that applies to the individual, you could get the thing down to just over two pages. I think it’s 31.”

Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, said that the guidelines, in their current form, are just a starting point for departments to build its own policies. “The guidelines as introduced recently are meant to provide an overarching framework for individual departments to come up with appropriate policies that suit their personnel and operational needs,” he said. “What these new guidelines do is to establish first and most importantly that our government is continuing to increase accessibility and transparency between Canadians and the government.”

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Clement said that the needs of the varying and diverse sections of government require there to be a document of this kind. “For example, the needs of the RCMP might be vastly different than those of Sport Canada,” he said. “Simpler guidelines may not provide the adequate consideration for protection of sensitive information and in turn may discourage the use of new social media tools.”

Eaves isn’t sure about that. He used the open data agreement as an example. It too started as an unwieldy document, and one that contained language that would guarantee to dissuade any form of use. After several revisions, it is becoming more and more useful as a tool, he said.

Eaves also said social media use is actually blocked in a lot of government departments at present. He hoped that the creation of the guidelines might allow IT teams to ease off and open up access. Clement said the guidelines were not designed to push either way. “These guidelines are set out to establish that each government department can and should proceed in developing policies that will allow them to use the Web 2.0 tools most appropriate for them.” This includes, he said, choosing to allow their use or not, though he also said this is part of his push for more transparency and accessibility across all government departments.

Eaves wasn’t entirely critical of the document. He said it’s a good thing that it was created, particularly since it includes some very positive encouragement as well. “What is interesting is, the document does explicitly say, ‘We encourage government departments to use social media,’” he said. “There’s this very positive message right off the bat and then I believe it kind of gets lost.”

How exactly the Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 will effect day-to-day use of social media in the Canadian government will not be an easy metric to calculate yet. It will take some time to see if departments create its own policies, but both Eaves and Clement at least appear to have the same goal: to increase the accessibility to and transparency of the Government of Canada.

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