Let’s say you are a government communications type who’s keen on bringing social media into government. Maybe you think you have some ideas on how to make it work, but you can’t figure out why your executives don’t “get it.”
Maybe you’re thinking that social media can shake up the merry-go-round of government announcements. Maybe you think that your organization is not connecting effectively with its audiences online. Maybe you go so far as to think that your organization needs to get on the Cluetrain. After all, control, fear and paranoia get pretty tiresome pretty fast.
Well, the fact of the matter is that your reality is miles away from that of your senior executives — if you’ve ever wondered why their eyes glaze over when you start talking about digital engagement and the participatory web, it’s because this is what you’re up against:
Political management activities are conducted mainly out of ministerial offices by ministerial staff. However, in the overlapping and intersecting worlds of politics and administration in government, it is increasingly expected that the public service at the senior levels will be more involved than in the past with the design and execution of strategies of agenda management. A sign of this trend is the fact that senior public servants are increasingly being “put out front” to explain and even defend government thinking and to negotiate with outside interests.
In communications terms, the notion of separate outside and inside environments is becoming more artificial. The political, parliamentary, pressure group, and media processes serve to make government highly porous to outside influences and create a requirement for ministers and public servants to lead and manage from the “outside in” rather than following the historical pattern, which was more “inside-out.” Ministers and public servants spend an increasing amount of time gathering intelligence about developments outside of government and managing ongoing external relationships with groups within the various policy fields. The result is that communications networks in these fields span organizational boundaries, raising issues of information sharing, confidentiality, risk management, and accountability when government is only one, and not always the lead, actor on an initiative that becomes troubled and controversial.
Political and administrative cultures in government overlap. Ministers want error-free government with no high-profile mistakes. They don’t like surprises. To avoid negative stories and damage to their reputations, they want government communications specialists to practise, as much as possible, “information control” and “news management.”
Source: Who Is Getting the Message? Communications at the Centre of Government, a research paper commissioned as part of the Oliphant Commission.