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)

Sharing learning from the Plings project…

[Summary: I’m going to be blogging for the Plings project – exploring new ways of collecting and sharing positive activity information for young people]

The Plings project has been one to watch for a while. Exploring new ways of collecting, processing and sharing information for on positive activities for young people.

Local authorities are under a duty to provide information on the out-of-school activities in a local area  young people can get involved with – but collecting and disseminating all that information is a big challenge.

Plings, built by research cooperative Substance, is an open source project that has been seeking to pilot and explore ways of semantically aggregating and then distributing that data, through XML feeds, iCal widgets and other mash-ups. Now that Substance has won the contract to lead the DCSF funded Information and Signposting Project, they’re going to be accelerating the development of the Plings project, and working with 20 local authorities to generate stacks of shared learning about collecting, processing and sharing positive activity information. This week has already seen the data from Plings made available via DigiTV, and I’m in the midst of scoping how positive activity information could be shared through Social Network Sites.

And if I can keep up with all the learning being generated, I’ll hopefully be blogging as much of it as possible over on the Plings blog.

So, if you’re interested in public sector mash-ups, promoting positive activities to young people, or just exploring new ways of innovating in the youth sector, please do subscribe to the Plings blog and throw in your thoughts and reflections to the comments there as the project moves forward…

(Disclosure: My blogging for the Plings project is part of a paid contract with Substance. I’m sharing news of it here as I think the learning from the ISP/Plings project will be of interest to a lot of readers of this blog.)