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Chapter Eleven: Communicating with the Media, Stakeholders, and the Public Chapt
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Chapter Eleven: Communicating with the Media, Stakeholders, and the Public
Effective public managers must communicate with and respond to the world outside their agency as those external stakeholders influence the resources that managers have available to do work and set priorities. Public reporting is considered post hoc communication by a public agency about its activities to the public at large. Agencies can also make an effort to increase citizen participation and include public hearings, forums, or surveys. A third form of public information seeks to improve public service to the citizen as a customer.
Governments are increasingly using the Internet and social media to deliver all three forms of communication. E-government can include the delivery of services, including building permit applications, reserving campsites in a state park, applying for driver’s license renewals, and apps that allow you to track statistics or city services. Access to this information does not equate to more citizen participation and does not entirely replace person-to-person formats.
Dealing effectively with the media is critical to organizational survival. The best way to stay out of trouble is to take an activist approach to media relations in order to have more control over the coverage, generate public interest in an issue, or even influence public behavior. Unfortunately, bad news seems to be more marketable than good news.
Framing a story effectively increases the chances that the public will pay attention to your message or issues. The increasing demand for news further complicates an agency’s relationship with the media, as these types of communication are often biased, fast-paced, attention-grabbing (that is, dramatic), and negative.
Maintain close communication with your media contacts. Give the media the information they need in good form. Follow up on any written submissions to the media with a phone call. Be aware of the media’s schedule. Make yourself available at a press conference or at a specific time in your office to talk with media representatives. Be well informed about the issues. Be circumspect when you release information and speak to the press. Try to anticipate the reaction your information will elicit from your boss, key interest groups, legislators, and the public. The most important trick of the trade is to be clear and honest when communicating through the media.
Legislatures, overhead or oversight agencies, and interest groups are organized groups that, though external to the public manager’s organization, can nevertheless have great influence on its daily operations. They may have legal authority over your agency, but your agency has the knowledge and capacity to deliver goods and services to the public. Interest groups represent public interests in specific areas, and they are often divided in terms of single-issue interests, industry and economic interests, citizens’ organizations, and professional associations. If interest groups oppose what you are doing, they can make it very difficult for you to implement your programs efficiently. Legislators generally want to get reelected. To do this, they seek to ensure that public services important to their constituents are delivered and that they get credit for that delivery in the local and national press. Some legislators also have political or ideological principles and wish to influence policy.
In an hearing or investigation, do not volunteer damaging evidence, but be prepared to speak when asked. Investigative hearings are not an opportunity to educate the public or to present a substantive defense; they are an opportunity to try to calm and satisfy the public and to reinforce the credibility of your organization. For instance, when agencies effectively work with stakeholder groups, those groups are less likely to lodge complaints against the agency with legislatures and therefore the agencies are less likely to be targeted by legislatures for investigation.
The public has a right to know what government is doing, and it has a right to be heard in the decision-making process. Demographics often play an important role in the community organization. For example, neighborhoods may represent a certain ethnic or religious background. Civic organizations and community groups have a wide range of concerns—from business interest in economic development, to services such as education, health care, and public safety, to problems such as homelessness, crime, or drug trafficking.
You often cannot avoid conflict, but identifying probable causes of conflict can help you develop a strategy for mitigating its worst effects. One of the common causes of conflicts with community groups is the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome. NIMBY syndrome or “NIMBYism” often emerges when government attempts to find a place to locate necessary services or facilities that have undesirable or unpleasant characteristics, such as prisons, hazardous waste facilities, or even affordable housing. NIMBYism also affects public organizations responsible for permitting and regulating private industries that are seen as having adverse health, environmental, visual, or noise impacts.
It is important to keep in mind that the public are your main customers, so they need to play a role in crafting and revising your organization’s performance standards, linking administrative goals with citizen goals. Your customers help define your criteria for success. Part of the answer simply requires you to refocus your public participation processes to ask citizens what they expect, what they think about your performance, and what suggestions they can offer for doing better.
Chapter Twelve: Surviving and Thriving in Public Service
In this second decade of the twenty-first century, government continues to undergo fundamental change. As society faces ever more complex problems—from the global economy to environmental sustainability—the need for highly educated, flexible, and imaginative managers continues to grow.
Several structural features of public organizations can make public management very frustrating. In the public sector, unproductive organizations that manage to obtain the financial resources needed to survive can remain in existence long after their productive lives are over. Society has a less-than-positive image of the government, and managers of competent organizations may not be recognized for the excellent work they are doing.
Despite these problems, the best and the brightest people are still attracted to the public sector. People believe that the missions of public organizations are important, and they want to deal with and find solutions for the vital problems of the day. Because of the salary caps in public organizations, senior staff members frequently leave government in order to earn a higher salary. This creates opportunities for talented young people to assume greater responsibility sooner than they would in the private sector.
The importance and scope of government’s tasks give employees a sense of mission. Public managers can come up with incredibly diverse, creative, and innovative solutions to society’s most vexing and complex problems while contributing to the common good.
Some accept the argument that public sector careers are worth pursuing but reject the argument favoring public entrepreneurship. The argument for public entrepreneurship is that the issues faced by public organizations are growing in scope and complexity and therefore must be addressed by creative, agile managers and organizations. It is not possible to be goal-oriented in the public sector without taking some chances. However, risk taking should not be confused with recklessness. The risks a public manager takes should be calculated and part of a realistic organizational strategy.
New ideas and creative environmental adaptations will usually be killed by naysayers, so someone must actively push and force the issues in order to prevent organizational inertia from acting like a gravitational force, causing the new initiative to crash to the ground. The only way to defy gravity is to take initiative and take risks. However, public entrepreneurship must fit within the essentially incremental context of public policy formulation and implementation. Public entrepreneurship is subject to the complex constraints of law, politics, the media, and public opinion. Despite this, entrepreneurial risk taking is an appropriate value for the public sector. Organizational structures must be developed to provide the capacity to make changes.
Government programs are born out of conflict, and their purpose is to deal with problems that cannot be addressed through the capitalist market. Though the American economy and government are facing challenges today, the past success of this country and its government cannot be denied. Despite this, the federal government is generally associated with failure because media attention to failed programs is enormous, but successful programs never attract much attention. This enforces the myth that government cannot accomplish anything. Government must wrestle with difficult problems in a media fishbowl until solutions become routine; then, after getting little recognition for these solutions, it must tackle a whole new set of problems.
There is a tendency in government to avoid evaluating or acknowledging program failures, due to fears that a negative written assessment of a program may be leaked to the media or that the organization will be identified with its mistakes instead of its efforts to identify and fix its mistakes. Nevertheless, it is impossible to develop a realistic organizational strategy without evaluating an organization’s capability and accomplishments.
Success in the public sector depends on external relations, program design and organizational capacity, and leadership and attitude. External factors contributing to program success include the support of the political elite (principally elected officials), the support of the socioeconomic elite, a positive image in the mass media, and a relative absence of significant opposition among members of the general public. Programs must be designed to be feasible, and the organization responsible for the program must have the capacity to deliver it. The role of leadership in ensuring program success is to obtain resources and deploy them to motivate staff members to perform. A successful program will come from a public organization with a can-do attitude, as such an organization will be able to deal with the obstacles it faces.
Public service professionals have an obligation to build strong social services and to improve the lives of less-fortunate members of our society. Because government does not always perform its tasks efficiently or effectively, there is a need for a new type of effective public manager: a more innovative public manager.
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