The Context

Last week CETIS’s Mark Power started off a brief Twitter debate when he askedIs the use of project blogs becoming too formalised by JISC? Still strikes me that many set one up simply because they feel they *should*“.

Amber Thomas, a JISC Programme manager, responded by informing the Twitter community that she was “interested in what you all think about project blogs. for lightweight projects we like the idea of enforced transparencyconcluding this request with “… thats easier said than done. we don’t expect every project blog frequently but it does provide the chance to aggregate easily“.

The Tweet Debate

The responses received over the next few hours included:

Brian Kelly: @MarkPower I disagree. Project blogs mean words get written, content is public and content is syndicable. let’s encourage such openness!

Sheila McNeil: @briankelly but how much really gets written in project blogs? I think still an onerous task for many

Owen Stephens: @ambrouk don’t necessarily think you shouldn’t mandate, but keep in mind you are mandating a tech/platform not attitude. What to achieve?

Andy Powell: @MarkPower blogging is an attitude not a technology, so simply “setting one up” doesn’t necessarily lead to results anyway

Amber Thomas: project blogging: so … noone says make it mandatory, some say strongly encourage, some say don’t. good blogging good, bad blogging bad. ok

Brian Kelly: @ambrouk bad blogging ok as part of learning proces. Allow mistakes please

Amber Thomas: @markpower scoping a Call as we speak where we want to make it mandatory to use a blog or wiki

Paul Walk: @MarkPower not sure that JISC is culpable – but there are definitely examples of project blogs where you wish they hadn’t felt the need

Amber Thomas: @sheilmcn i guess community engagement and collaboration are one thing, reflection is another, transparency of progress is another again???

Andy Powell: @MarkPower blogging is an attitude not a technology, so simply “setting one up” doesn’t necessarily lead to results anyway

Mark Power: @andypowe11 Exactly right…that’s why they won’t always work for a project and why the use of them shouldn’t be mandatory…not that they

Paul Walk: @ambrouk the attitude of ‘publish early, publish often’ is worth cultivating. But team blogs are often terrible. Encourage – don’t mandate

Amber Thomas: ..but is the issue that they create extra “noise” that makes it hard to spot the real voices amongst the dutiful posts?

Brian Kelly: @ambrouk Project managers should encourage ‘noise’ and use good filtering tools . Noise is better than silence!

Paul Walk@ambrouk @briankelly ‘noise is better than silence’ just doesn’t work for lots of ppl – especially researchers. It’s not appropriate for all

Now as Paul Walk’s last tweet was preceded by@andyramsden nah – that one wasn’t James’s fault surely. The Calamity will come in the second half. The dropped ball came close though” we can see that this discussion was taking place at around 10pm, while people were also watching the Spain vs England match live on the TV. I think from this dialogue we can see that a useful discussion can take place using Twitter, and that JISC are getting their money’s worth from their investment in UKOLN and CETIS, with us (together with a number of others) being on call on Wednesday evenings, even when we are in the pub watching England, once again being beaten!

My Thoughts

But what of the discussion itself? Should projects be required to have blogs? I think the Twitter debate brought out many of the important issues, but as Mark Power commentedtwitter [is] not the best for such an in-depth discussion really“. However I do think it is worth exploring these issues in more depth.

I would very much agree with Amber’s comment on the need for transparency for JISC-funded project work and, as a couple of people commented, blogs can provide a simple lightweight way in which projects can make visible what they are doing, what they are thinking and what they are planning – and feedback can be easily obtained using blog comments.

However concerns were raised regarding the time and effort in may take to write blog posts, the associated (writing) skills needed and the dangers of too much information being published. There are also the dangers that blog posts will be written for their own sake, so that contractual requirements or expectations will be achieved to little concrete benefit.

But surely skills in writing useful blog posts will only be gained through experience? And we should remember that blog posts can be useful for a variety of purposes: not only should project managers find blog posts useful in seeing how project work is progressing and seeing how the project is engaging with its user community but benefits can be gained by other project partners (through open sharing)  and by the intended user community. There can also be a public record which might prove useful if project staff leave.

The benefits of syndication of blog posts, which allow the content to be easily viewed on various devices as well as on a range of RSS readers should also be considered. And this is where filtering capabilities and other visualisation tools (e.g. Wordle) may help programme managers and other interested parties to have access in ways which are appropriate to their specific interests.

Having said that, I’d still avoid a formal contractual requirement for project blogging, preferring, instead, an expectation that the benefits of  open engagement with the key stakeholders and ease of use and reuse of the content would be provided. I would hope then that the bidding process would see projects which fulfilled such requirements would be funded. This approach, it should be noted, should also be future-proofed, allowing  new technologies (Podcasting, micro-blogging or whatever)  to be included in the range of options.

So for me, project blogging would be a strong should rather than a must. But how do we ensure that blogs are useful? We all have come across the good, informative and perhaps opinionated blog with a clear voice and a passion which engages our interests – and this is no doubt something we would like to see more of. But how do we get there? And what about the dangers that we’ll end up with bland team blogs? Are such blogs an inevitable part of a learning process and better than no blog at all? Or are counter-productive?

What’s are your view of blogs to support project work?