The word “context” means “to frame the narrative.” This is the essence of messaging.
The question here is–
–Is messaging inherently spin? (misleading, propaganda)
–Is it possible to provide facts without messaging?
–Can there be a question absent context? (Consider the title of this post – it is really a statement not a question – it brings its own context to the person providing a response.)
–What about “high context” vs. “low context” questions:
* A high context question means that I “get” the underlying question even though the words don’t reveal it. For example: “How pervasive is low morale in the federal workforce?” The superficial question is for data. The underlying question is really an accusatory statement – “morale is low, admit it, tell us how bad it is or defend yourself.”
* A low context question is as simple as the words themselves – “where did I leave the keys?”
The war over “spin” is really a war over “who gets to provide the context.”
The reason people don’t trust PR folks is precisely because they try to provide context, and it sounds completely phony.
Government is not about PR – it’s about “just the facts, ma’am” – but at the same time, loaded questions require a thoughtful response that takes the entire communication into account.
To go back to the morale question, it seems appropriate to me to simply release survey responses as a data set and let the public parse them out (like the Partnership for Public Service does with the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey). Better than that – a data set that includes a summary analysis.
Bureau of Labor Statistics news release is a good example: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm