In 2015, an inter-ministerial working group was formed under the Prime Minister’s Office, comprised of communication advisors from Norwegian ministries, in order to coordinate and stimulate increased usage of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter at the ministry-level as "Digit".
Aims and goals
Social media represents a novel platform for disseminating information and it allows government bureaucracies to engage with citizens in a more direct manner. Accordingly, government bureaucracies increasingly make use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, also in Norway. However, social media activities were for a long time piecemeal and not linked to any overall coordinating strategy. As a response, a group of communication advisors from different sector-ministries initiated Digit as an informal platform aimed at providing coordinating tools for social media usage among Norwegian ministries. The responsibility for implementing the standards developed in Digit rests with (the communications departments in) the different sector-ministries and the output of Digit remains nominally voluntary.
Key ICT features
The significance of Digit in an ICT perspective is first and foremost related to its overall objective, which is to assist and facilitate the increased usage of social media as a supplement to traditional channels for official communications. Digit is primarily involved in creating standards for how the communication departments in resort ministries employ social media outlets in order to inform and engage with citizens and stakeholders. It does so by producing and disseminating standards and recommendations for communication and graphical profiles. It also provides a platform for exchange of ideas and best practices between communications departments in the ministries. Via so-called “Digit-projects”, moreover, it has also provided input to targeted social media campaigns across various ministries related to specific topics.
Implications and (un)intended effects
A key motivation for ministries’ use of social media outlets is the wish to be present in an arena used on a daily basis by a growing majority of citizens, whose expectations for the immediacy and availability of information has changed in line with the advent of new communication technologies. Digit’s efforts can thus contribute positively to the democratic legitimacy of public administration. Public information regarding the activities, and even the basic structure, of this working group is however virtually non-existent, which paradoxically contradicts a key democratic principle underpinning official state communication policy. In practice, therefore, there is a mismatch between the administrative logic underpinning the framework – i.e. a tool for internal use, which implies limited external transparency – and the positive connotations surrounding the policy-objectives surrounding its creation.
2. Efficiency and Effectiveness
Via its work on formulating and disseminating standards for communicating via social media, Digit has contributed to a coordinated approach to social media at the ministry-level in Norway. As the lack of such standards, combined with the novelty of the format, has been noted as a key reason for why the format has been scantly used in the past, the activities of Digit has thus contributed positively to Norwegian ministries’ presence on social media arenas. The ideas and standards developed within Digit have also fed into official guidelines communicated to the central bureaucracy as a whole, published by the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI). Two of the (at present) six participants in Digit provided input to these guidelines, illustrating a potentially beneficial spill-over effect of the accumulation of specialized and practice-oriented expertise on social media usage in Norwegian ministries.
3. Politics-Administration Dichotomy
As official social media usage increases, the functions performed by Digit become correspondingly central to the ministries’ everyday operations. In this respect, it is interesting to note that it has not come about as part of any grand plan initiated from above. Rather, Digit was initiated from the bottom up by a group of communication advisors with a special interest in increasing the use of social media in Norwegian ministries. The working group thus has as its main constituency the communication departments in Norwegian ministries and is led from within the communications unit at the Prime Minister’s Office (as this is the formal hub for all activities pertaining to state communication policy). In practice, however, it operates as a rather flat network-like structure. Seen in light of the increased importance attached to the functions this working-group fulfil, these features also suggest that Digit heightens the inter-institutional importance of communication advisors as an administrative profession.
The following sources provide a good overview of social media policy in Norway, which forms the backdrop for Digit:
- Veiledning i sosiale medier for offentlig forvaltning (Guidelines for social media in public administration). Guidelines issued by DIFI (Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment). Available here.
- Sosiale medier i forvaltningen (Social media in the central government). Evaluation report. Available here.
- Central Government Communication Policy. Policy-document. Available here.
- Regjeringens bruk av sosiale medier: veien til mer demokrati i Norge? (The government’s use of social media: a road towards more democracy in Norway?). Report and recommendations from an inter-ministerial working group established to contemplate increased use of social media in central government. Available here.
About the Author
Ole Andreas Danielsen, University of Bergen