Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Transparency: Responsibilities of Federal Communicators

Posted by: David B. Grinberg, Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications at a federal agency, and former agency spokesman
Photo of David B. Grinberg

As a federal communicator, are you able share as much information with the public as appropriate and possible?

Or, on the flip side, do you run into antiquated bureaucratic stonewalls when you try to foster greater transparency to build public trust in government?

Photo of a large group of press cameramen and women
Photo courtesy Flickr user US Mission Geneva, CC BY-ND 2.0

Get Advance Approval From Your Leadership So You Can Be Responsive

Meaningful transparency will only succeed if and when all federal communicators are empowered from the top-down by agency leadership. In today’s fast evolving digital-mobile world, our jobs require us to have seamless access to all necessary and relevant information. And beyond access, we also must have advance approval to share certain kinds of information in certain kinds of situations.

We need to keep up with the breakneck speed of breaking news and crisis communication in the hyper-paced information age. When a damaging social media item goes viral, for instance, 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.

Social Media Cartoon - Social Media Kneejerk
Image courtesy Flickr user seanrnicholson, CC BY-ND 2.0
Put simply, federal communicators need more access to data and information to effectively do our jobs. Talk to your boss about difficult situations that might arise, and agree on a response. If one of those situations arises, you can implement the agreed upon response, rather than waiting for review and approval. This is true whether you work as a public affairs specialist, a social media manager, or oversee internal communications.

Transparency = Public Trust

Transparency is what builds and repairs public trust in government. This is critically important in today’s insidious climate of fed bashing and demonization of government.

How can any democratic form of government work best for the people when the people don’t trust or respect it? Today it appears we are treading on dangerous ground.

Federal Communicators: Be Part Of The Solution

Federal communicators should not have to face internal obstacles -- political, bureaucratic or otherwise -- in obtaining the information necessary to foster greater transparency and help improve the dismally low public approval of government.

This means having access to internal agency information, and if that access is not complete and open, then there should be good reasons why. Access enables communicators to effectively, efficiently and expeditiously do our jobs. Without it, then public trust in government will remain fleeting as real transparency remains nothing more than a buzzword.

But how many agencies purposely and unnecessarily withhold helpful information and data from the public for unnecessary reasons? We need to ask ourselves what these specific reasons are and how we can topple such entrenched bureaucratic walls.

We need to ask ourselves, as federal communicators, if we are part of the solution or part of the problem in promoting real transparency. In essence, restoring public trust in government hangs in the balance.


This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out 3 Keys to Successful Media Relations for Federal Communicators. Note: All views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author only, not his current or future employers.

1 comment:

  1. FYI - NextGov.com reports:
    "White House Expands Guuidance on Promoting Open Data"
    http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2013/08/white-house-expands-guidance-promoting-open-data/68918/

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