Sunday, August 12, 2012

Federal Communicators: 5 Highly Effective, Low-Hassle Ways To Find Out What People Are Asking About Your Agency

Posted by Dannielle Blumenthal, Chair, FCN

If you're a Federal communicator, you've probably run into the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 at some point. Basically, if you want to do survey research, it has to be reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) first. 

Although there is of course lots of guidance out there (here's a great FAQ from HHS) this process is still somewhat daunting for the average person. If you're just looking to take the pulse of the public, for example, here are 5 ways to do so fairly simply:

  1. Use a search engine to search your agency and use the "Search Tools" feature on the left-hand navigation of the screen to restrict the time frame of the search to "past 24 hours," "past week," or a custom date range. You can also search all mentioned, blog mentions only, or even discussion board mentions only.
  2. Search social media and websites developed interactively by the public - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia. Use the name of your agency, a leader, or a keyword representing an issue of interest. You can also use free tools like Addictomatic ( to get a quick at-a-glance view.
  3. Visit Quora, the publicly available Q&A board, and see the Board specifically set aside for the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal government (here), or simply type keywords into the search box.
  4. Use a free tool like, which searches Twitter for questions around specific subjects, to see what people are asking. It may take time to come up with the right keywords.  
  5. A simple, low-tech solution: Take the time to engage employees in conversations to learn what they are thinking about, and how current issues involving the agency are affecting them.
While there are many times a regular survey is needed, there are others when it's not.

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