Confidentiality and blogging as reflective practice?

Reflective PracticeLast year I wrote a blog post on ‘7 Reasons Why Youth Workers Should Blog’. Since then a few blogs from statutory sector youth workers have made it onto the web, but not all that many.

One of the strongest argument I can see for encouraging more youth blog blogging is the central role that ‘reflective practice’ should play in youth and community development work. In my own work I’ve found blogging to a key tool for my own reflective learning – with the added benefit of making it into shared learning – where I can benefit from the insights of others who read and comment on posts, either via blog comments, or face-to-face.

However, a recent e-mail from a youth worker about the ‘7 reasons why youth workers should blog’ post raised questions about what to do when online reflective practice runs up against issues of confidentiality:

[Blogging] is something we have thought about, for the reasons you listed, but have always come up against the concern over confidentiality. I don’t mean the obvious concern of revealing identities or specific case details, but the general concern of talking about real life young people without being able to check the content is OK with them, or even just simply running the risk that they may recognise themselves in what is being said and feel violated or unhappy about being talked about.

…one of the young people who sits on our advisory board made the point that someone thinking of coming to us, who went onto our website and saw us talking about the work done with other young people could be put off as they would think ‘they could talk about me or my case if i use this service’.

As most of the work I do is with groups, and not relating to very sensitive issues, this isn’t an issue I’ve often run up against directly in work with young people – but challenges of reflective learning and confidentiality are certainly something I’ve come up against as an independent consultant. Here are some of the principles I’ve tried to use:

Share general points of learning, not specifics
Whilst I often try and use a particular story to give context to a blog post, part of my reflective blogging is about drawing out general point from the experience. If I start writing a narrative blog post, and it strays into content which could be confidential, or which I’m not sure should be immediately public, then I’ll often change the headline to one more general, and rewrite the post to draw out the point of learning – rather than the origin of that learning.

No allusions
With a few exceptions (and only for organisations) I’m either writing explicitly about someone or something, confident that I either have consent or that I am happy for the subject to know about and read the blog post in question.

Allusions to people or situations so that people could work out what something is about with enough background information are out.

Wait a while

Sometimes even a general learning point can be problematic if people involved will be able to work out the situation it is drawn from – and if this reveals information that people involved may wish is not shared widely.

In these cases, sometimes a blog post may end up in the draft folder for a while, either for the point of learning to be combined in with another post, or to be posted in the future – when sharing it isn’t such a sensitive issue.

Some things stay in the drafts
There are some posts which it is useful to write for purposes of reflective learning. But which it is not right to share (in most cases on this blog because they’re just not interesting enough…!)

Respect & constructive comment
I try not to blog anything which I wouldn’t be happy discussing with the people involved in the blog post – and to blog on the spirit of constructive comment rather than ranting or criticism.

In the particular case of setting up a blog for a youth service – it may be worth asking whether an organisational public blog is the right platform for all the reflective learning of practitioners. There are of course, 6 other reasons at least for youth work blogging

How do you deal with the tensions between blogging on sensitive topics – and benefit from the shared learning potential of reflective blogging?

(Here endeth my blog post about blogging for 2009)

6 thoughts on “Confidentiality and blogging as reflective practice?”

  1. Another way to go is mark the blog as private and only share access internally with the department or team. Obviously you wouldn’t be part of the wide ‘blogosphere’ although if it’s just for reflective practice then it still acts as a dynamic space and the ‘readers’ would still be able to offer comments/insights etc.

  2. I think the main issue here relates to purpose. If the main purpose is for reflection then the option DK suggests could work, although one possible issue I could see is if people actually write more freely given the assumption of confidentiality but perhaps don’t give proper consideration to where and how that information is actually stored, so some thought needs to be given to the tools used.

    If the purpose is to promote the service then it needs to be promotional content appealing to the relevant audience.

    If its to try and share good practice then some thought needs to go into how best to do so without risking personal confidentialities (which really shouldn’t be that difficult)

    If its more of a personal blog type thing then why not make it completely anonymous? (both authorship & content), albeit again this has the risk of letting your guard slip & accidentally revealing something so again needs caution.

    Overall I think its not too difficult to focus on the aspects that can be easily shared – broad issues, methods & approaches, general frustrations and ambitions etc. etc. Of all these things its the sharing of practice & resources that I think has the potential for most value and I can’t see much argument for not sharing them.

  3. Forgot to add – another tip we give is to check out the huge raft of teachers who are blogging and explore their practices (as obviously they face exactly the same issues).

    Ray Fleming, from Microsoft UK Schools has some good guidance here : 🙂

  4. Reflection was the main reason I started blogging some years ago. By writing up my thoughts for others to read, it enabled me to better understand my own actions.
    I do post stories from my practice and I know that some young people read the blog, but as you said in your tips above, I try to be respectful and constructive without giving away any specifics.

  5. I generally try to cover broad issues and subjects however I also agree with Jon that both young people and colleagues know that I blog and sometimes read and follow what I write. I always keep both colleagues and young people identities anonymous unless it is something that they are aware I’m blogging about (ie specific projects also using social media).

    I think as mentioned, that a lot is dependent on what you’re blogging for.

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