Report

Blogs as Public Forums for Agency Policymaking

Julianne Mahler and Priscilla M. Regan

Executive Summary

Though government agencies are increasing their online presence, it might be expected that their main uses would be for public relations purposes. To investigate this expectation, we examine agency-sponsored blog sites (referred to as agency-based blogs) created by top officials in five federal agencies – The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of State, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – and corresponding to each of these, two non-agency sponsored blogs (referred to as agency-related blogs.) The ways these blogs are used, the differences in uses between the agency-based blogs and the agency-related blogs, and the links and interactions among them offer clues as to how the blogosphere links citizens and governmental officials.

Based on analysis of postings and comments during the two months of October 2007 and March 2008, we find that agency-based blogs elicit more controversy than expected. Moderator roles and comment policies for the two types of blogs do not differ appreciably. Agency-related blogs have more posts and comments, and lengthier posts than agency-based blogs, but agency-based blogs often have a larger number of people authoring posts. We find some evidence of mutual interests in overlapping topics and cross-references to public issues in each of the five policy realms. Finally, we conclude that agency-based blogs exhibit some of the characteristics associated with Habermas’ conception of an independent and pluralistic public sphere with genuine exchanges about important policy issues.