As a federal communicator, are you able to share as much information and data with the public as needed, or is real transparency just the latest buzzword?
If so, this is likely problematic not only for your own agency but also for the overall public perception of the federal government -- which remains dismally low.
Advance Approval & Access
Meaningful transparency will only succeed if and when all federal communicators are empowered from the top-down by agency executive leadership.
In today’s fast evolving digital/mobile world, our jobs require us to have seamless access to all necessary and relevant information and data.
And beyond access, we also must have advance approval to share certain kinds of information in certain kinds of situations in an expeditious manner. We need to keep up with the breakneck speed of the 24/7 breaking news cycle and crisis communication in the hyper-paced information age.
For example, when a damaging social media item goes viral there really is no time to spare in responding. Every minute lost is another minute in which hundreds or thousands of people potentially consume the negative information and pass it on via Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Put simply, front-line federal communicators need more access to key data and information to bolster agency transparency and citizen engagement.
- Talk to your manager/supervisor about challenging communications situations that might arise, and agree on a response in advance.
Then, if and when one of those situations occur, you can implement the agreed upon response(s) rather than waiting for extra bureaucratic layers of review and approval. This is true whether you work as a public affairs specialist, a social media manager, or oversee internal communications.
Transparency Begets Public Trust
In short, transparency is what builds and repairs public trust in government -- and today we need more of it than ever.
This is critically important considering the ongoing insidious climate of fed bashing and the demonization of government for partisan political reasons.
How can any democratic form of government work best for the people when the people don’t trust or respect it?
Unfortunately, today it appears we are treading on dangerous ground.
Gov Communicators are Part of the Solution
Agency heads and executive leadership throughout government need to recognize -- if they have not already -- that government communicators are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
However, we need the powers-that-be to "help us help you" by putting transparency principles into more widespread practice. We need to eliminate and move beyond ingrained institutional obstacles to obtain and strategically disseminate information, while also engaging the public/stakeholders in an open dialogue.
Again, talk to your manager/supervisor about streamlining cumbersome and outdated internal procedures to obtain faster clearance and approval when it counts.
Try getting ahead of the curve by being less reactive and more proactive, both internally and externally. Don't sit around waiting for a potential communications crisis before you take action.
- Have proactive communications plans and strategies in place to address hot-button issues before they rise to the crisis level.
If federal communicators don't have open access on the inside, how can we foster greater transparency and open government on the outside?
If requested information is not forthcoming internally there should be good reasons why, such as national security, statutory confidentiality provisions, etc.
- Talk to your manager/supervisor in advance about what kinds of typically (or rarely) requested information may not be disclosed, and how such requests should be handled (short of the tedious FOIA process which should be a last resort).
In essence, granting federal communicators more access from the inside-out results in greater transparency and open government. It also allows us to work more effectively, efficiently and expeditiously with "win-win" outcomes for the agency and the public it serves.
It's important to reiterate that real transparency goes beyond words or principles. It must be systematically put into practice from the top-down and permeate all levels of communications policies and practices.
If not, then public trust in government will remain fleeting.
A similar version of this post first appeared in the Federal Communicators Network Blog
* All views and opinions are those of the author only.