The fact of the matter is that we live in a deeply divided, even incendiary political climate in which the news has become more of a weapon than a medium for conveying facts of importance to citizens.
In such an environment, it is literally dangerous to utter a single word, no matter how benign, lest it be twisted into something that the speaker never intended to say.
Nevertheless, the government must continue to communicate. In fact, it must overcommunicate, to ensure that the public has the information it wants, needs and is entitled to. By this I mean that communication happens on Department and agency websites as well as through social media.
Not only should all channels be used, but information should be made readily available to all parties — journalists, citizen bloggers, users of social media, as well as employees — and they should be encouraged to use it.
There are five areas, or themes, that ought to be prioritized in this process focus of attention:
- Crisis response: Right now all eyes are on Hurricane Irene as it barrels into South Florida. We hope and pray for the well-being of its residents. But as we do so, we need to know what is happening down there. Everything from how many people have lost power and where; to how many people have been rescued; to the moment-by-moment recovery effort must be documented in full.
- Controversy: The people inside an agency are well-positioned to understand the technicalities of an issue in ways that most members of the public simply do not have access to. It is therefore critically important that the government take extra steps to educate and inform people about the facts behind an issue, not in a partisan way, but in a way that sheds light on its complexity. For there is no controversy that lacks a very complex origin and history.
- Data: For obvious reasons, the government has a colossal amount of information on just about any subject under the sun. The communication task–I would argue, duty–is to make that information (documents, photos, videos, and so on) as easy as possible for the public to find. I have seen instances where data was held up out of fear that it wasn’t accurate enough, or that it would be misused. But if the information is public, the government should release it, and not in a dense way but in a manner that is easy to find and understand.
- Services: This much should be obvious, but the public should not have to buy books and access private services in order to understand the services that the government makes available, very often for free. Providing information about how the public can help themselves, using the services the government provides, should be a given.
- Requirements: Government is a bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy is incredibly hard to understand for all but the most educated and experienced technical experts. Telling people how to comply with laws, regulations, policies, rules and requirements–again, in a way that is accessible to the average, high-school educated person–is a basic communication duty.
Communicating well and often this is not only the right thing for the government to do. It also helps reverse the historically low level of trust that the public holds toward the government.
With the right communication, not to mention the right actions to support it, it is possible for the government to have credibility when it says: “We are here to help.”
By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain. Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images/29611 via Pixabay.
Leave a Reply