Monday 26 July 2010

Missing policy expert Eurobloggers: Motivation and rewards?

Sometimes we go over board when we try to explain things through clear contrasts. I did, when I described “business as usual” blogging on the European Union as petty, limited and low road, despite my intention to explore the need for subject specialists blogging on EU policies in later posts.

Online communications specialist Mathew Lowry had painted the existing Euroblogosphere as a tiny hyperspecialised bubble, talking about EU arcana no one else understands.

In a comment to my previous blog post, Lowry accepted that EU specialists and policy specialists are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

Despite appearances, Lowry and I seem to agree on the absence of subject specialists focused on EU policies.

The influential policy blogger

Mathew Lowry referred to the description of an influential policy blogger put forward by Steffen on Public Affairs 2.0:

An influential policy blogger is an authority on a policy area who has a professional interest in it. They represent an organisation – be it a single issue pressure group or a global corporation – that is one of many stakeholders on a set of policy areas and present that organisation’s positions in blog format. The level of expertise and relevance of the blog is such that it is read by all or at least most other relevant stakeholders including policy makers and key influencers. At this point, the blog can arguably be called an “influential policy blog” ...

In my view Steffen’s description is a good starting point, but too narrow. Advocacy organisations should use the opportunity to engage openly and long term on the battlefields of EU policy debate, but expert academics, journalists or citizens without the need to toe the corporate line are not to be forgotten as potential influentials.

Building bridges?

According to Lowry, it is up to the Brussels Bubble to build bridges outwards if we want to create a European online public space, but specialists blogging intelligently about specific subjects are still notable by their absence.

In a way, I think, bridges have already been built, although it is less clear if the builders can be described as (part of) the Brussels Bubble. EurActiv has created the blog platform Blogactiv, which is open for new bloggers on EU affairs. Citizen bloggers have launched, which already aggregates the posts of 630 blogs related to EU affairs (Euroblogs).

You can offer a policy expert a bridge, but you can’t make him cross it.


Lowry was right to open the discussion on the motivation for a specialist to blog.

Corporations and associations may open their eyes to the opportunities in terms of advocacy goals. Some citizen Eurobloggers may steer from EU institutional coverage towards policy and issue expertise. The growth of the Euroblogosphere leads to more issues being covered, but something still seems to be missing for a major breakthrough.

Expert knowledge and blogging require hard work. Is it a question of motivation and rewards?

Where are the missing links?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Multilingual comment policy: For easier interaction in the Euroblogosphere, feel free to comment in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.


  1. Absolutely, you're right in pointing out that there are influentials beyond those with a professional vested interest. As ever, it's the quality and relevance of the input that matters beyond who is producing it.

    Re. your point on motivation, I'd say the clincher - at least for specialists within organisations - is perceived value. Online engagement is too often seen as an add-on rather than a (potentially) fully integrated part of all advocacy activity. In other words, the fact that multiple elements of advocacy - intelligence, providing information, awareness-raising, positioning, relationship-building - could be improved through blogging and engagement is still not widely appreciated. Instead, it's seen as "just another channel.”

  2. Steffen,

    Today I had to admit that I had missed a sense of proportion with regard to policy bloggers (since the rumoured one million correcting errors on the web did not appear to do it for me).

    I believe that discussion tends to clarify matters, revealing imagined and narrowing down real differences of opinion.

    I share the point you make about the potential value of blogging as a communication tool.

  3. Really interesting discussion. The lack of specialist blogs was one of the main points about the WE survey. We suggested that they had to emerge sooner or later – real “destination” blogs that are required reading for all the policy community, blogs that people have to return to if they want to stay on top of their sector. Alongside those with a clear professional interest, what Brussels still needs are the specialist independent eurobloggers, who are passionate about a subject enough to want to fill an expertise gap. Such a person could be motivated by the satisfaction of keeping all the policy stakeholders (corporate, institutional and the rest) on their toes, and of bringing technocratric and technical discussions alive to a wider audience. To my mind such a specialist and independent blogger would be influential because of, rather than despite, his or her narrow expertise. Because they "build bridges" in Mathew Lowry's terms.

  4. joliffej,

    As highlighted by the Waggener Edstrom survey, there seems to be a consensus that there are too few (influential) subject specialist bloggers on individual EU policies or issues.

    They will emerge sometimes, I believe, but there are still major obstacles.

    Given the tens of thousands of people affected: EU (institutions and agencies), national, regional and local level public officials, politicians, businesses, NGOs, journalists, researchers, teachers and students plus citizens affected by EU policies, only a minuscule proportion seem to write or even read blogs.

    My feeling is that readership numbers for serious policy blogs or posts are "microscopic", even smaller than for so called self-referential entries on the "Brussels Bubble".

    How do you motivate and reward the time and effort needed for policy blogging outstanding enough to turn the tide of almost total lack of interest?

    In addition, the opaque nature of much EU policy making does little to breed insightful policy blogging, since the real choices are made in stretches of dark tunnel.

    The need is there, but so are the hindrances.


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