Go to top of page

Circular 2009/6: Protocols for online media participation (social media)

The purpose of this circular, which has been prepared in conjunction with the Australian Government Information Management Office, is to advise agencies:

  • of new guidance for APS employees participating in online media that encourages involvement in robust policy conversations in a professional and respectful manner; and
  • that the interim protocols released with Circular 2008/08 are no longer current and that circular has been withdrawn.


2. Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation was released in December 2008 to assist agencies that were using, or planning to use, online media to engage with clients. The circular flagged that final guidelines would take account of feedback received and be developed when agency trials then in train were finalised.

3. On 22 June 2009, the Government launched its Government 2.0 Taskforce to investigate how the Australian Government can use the new Web 2.0 approaches to expand the uses of Commonwealth information and improve the way government consults and engages citizens.

New guidance

4. The Australian Public Service Commission has developed new guidance for APS employees participating in online media that encourages involvement in robust, professional conversations online in a practical yet flexible way. That guidance is at Attachment A. In developing the guidance, the Commission has taken account of the experience of the agency trials, feedback received on the protocols from agencies, including through the Ethics Contact Officer network, and discussion with the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

5. The guidance has been incorporated into chapters 3 and 15 of APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice:  A guide for APS employees and Agency Heads. This publication assists APS employees to understand the practical application of the APS Values and Code of Conduct in both common and unusual circumstances. It also provides advice for agency heads in establishing policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and ensure compliance with the Code. A revised edition of the publication is now available on the Commission’s website.

6. APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice is regularly updated to reflect current advice on ethical issues affecting the APS.

7. Circular 2008/08 is no longer current and has been cancelled.

8. Following the Government’s consideration of the recommendations of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, further guidance on protocols for agencies on the management of online media, including ways of engaging with clients, will be released by the Australian Government Information Management Office.

Further information

9. Further information on the matters raised in this circular can be obtained from the Commission’s Ethics Advisory Service—by phone on (02) 6202 3737 or email ethics [at] apsc.gov.au.

Karin Fisher

Group Manager

Ethics Group

18 November 2009

Attachment A

Participating online

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.

Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches. Employees should also consider carefully whether they should identify themselves as either an APS employee or an employee of their agency.

There are some ground rules. The APS Values and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1, apply to working with online media in the same way as when participating in any other public forum. The requirements include:

  • being apolitical, impartial and professional
  • behaving with respect and courtesy, and without harassment
  • dealing appropriately with information, recognising that some information needs to remain confidential
  • delivering services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public
  • being sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public
  • taking reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interest
  • making proper use of Commonwealth resources
  • upholding the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS.

APS employees need to ensure that they fully understand the APS Values and Code of Conduct and how they apply to official or personal communications. If in doubt, they should stop and think about whether to comment and what to say1, refer to the Code of Conduct, consult their agency’s policies, seek advice from someone in authority in their agency, or consult the Ethics Advisory Service in the Australian Public Service Commission.

Agencies may find it helpful to provide guidance and training to employees in using ICT resources, including personal use, the use of social media, and any rules or policies about representing their agency online. It would be particularly helpful to workshop scenarios around some of the more complex or ‘grey’ issues that arise for employees in deciding whether and how to participate online, in the performance of their duties or otherwise, consistent with the above principles.

1. The Commission’s decision making tool REFLECT provides a framework for APS employees to work through ethical issues.
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018