Online Communications #2
Part Two: Risks and Guiding Principles
As well as an incredible opportunity, digital participation is not without risk. Some of the risks include:
- A governor publishes something regrettable: the ease of publishing online means it is easy to write something that brings the school into disrepute
- Confidential information is released to the public: again, the fact that it is so easy to put information on the web means data security policy can be easily breached
- There is a danger of a governing body being split – those that are online, and those that are offline
The guiding principles for online participation really are no different from communicating in any other medium. The seven principles of public life (the Nolan principles) are a very good starting point:
- Selflessness: holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
- Integrity: holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
- Objectivity: in carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
- Accountability: holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
- Openness: holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands this.
- Honesty: holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
- Leadership: holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
To add some specific digital context, the Civil Service guidelines on online participation are very useful. They follow, with some minor edits to ensure relevance to the governor context:
- Disclose your position as a representative of your school unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a potential threat to personal security. Never give out personal details like home address and phone numbers.
- Always remember that participation online results in your comments being permanently available and open to being republished in other media. Stay within the legal framework and be aware that libel, defamation, copyright and data protection laws apply. This means that you should not disclose information, make commitments or engage in activities on behalf of the school unless you are authorised to do so. This authority may already be delegated or may be explicitly granted depending on your organisation.
- Also be aware that this may attract media interest in you as an individual, so proceed with care whether you are participating in an official or a personal capacity. If you have any doubts, take advice from a colleague.
- Be credible
- Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
- Be consistent
- Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.
- Be responsive
- When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
- Be integrated
- Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
- Be a governor
- Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your school.