On participating in debates in society
Facts are the core business of many institutes of public administration that carry out regulations. Facts that are simultaneously a quantité négligeable in the development of public opinion. Anyone who thinks that he or she can convince the public with facts overestimates the power of facts. Opinions are not based on facts, but on the meaning being given to reality. How is the public to know, the work of the administration is too complex.
Where the legitimacy of the source used to be indispensable, with our current crisis of authority this legitimacy is being questioned. Reliability of the source is conditional, but not conclusive. It is also rather busy there: media and audiences tend to take self appointed experts and gurus equally serious as scientists or other well informed sources.
Our service: Issues management is a discipline of giving meaning to the facts around us. Issues management demands close cooperation between the policy department and communication professionals, working on acceptance and recognition in society. An issues management program consists of four phases (perception, analysis, vision, policy- and syntheses). In all of these phases issues- and linguistic research is being conducted, internal meeting and workshops being held to master the issues concerned, and the media policy is being carried out as far as possible. At the end of the program, different scenarios are being drawn and turned into ‘management games’, in which ‘reality conform’ (manyfold) information is being imported in the exercise, the ‘lessons learned’ of past issues or even crises are being trained, including lessons learned of past success stories.
Issues management: the process within a public administration institution
Perception phase: how do people perceive issues
Issues management makes an inventory of the facts that public opinion is based on, as well as on the facts that will make it till the end of the opinion development process. Then, research is being conducted and attention paid to the question which frame or adagium lies behind the selection and meaning. Issues management aims at being in the front line of opinion development and being in the drivers seat when it comes to the contribution of meaning to a certain set of facts.
Analysis phase: from reactive to proactive: better be safe than sorry
With respect to the position institutes of public administration have on public domains as well as their relation to domestic politics, the institutes also have their own independent responsibility. When in public opinion ‘something’ is considered to be true, it rarely ever helps to simply that ‘something’. Especially when this concerns something concrete and emotional. For example: 161.000 users of the Diana-35 pill x 25 year = 4 million cases in which everything was perfectly fine. Do these figures help, the moment it appears that some young girls have died because they didn’t tell the doctor they were using that pill when they were hit by a lung pulmonary embolism? No. Does it help to hand over mortality ratios? No. Humans in general are pretty lousy statisticians. And then again: it just doesn’t feel good. Apart from this, there are many stakeholders in issues like this, so even when it would have been exactly clear whose fault it was the girls died, one doesn’t go about accusing all kinds of organizations that one deals with on a daily basis. A precious position, especially for public administration institutes that we draw up in the analysis.
Vision phase: development of a vision on issues in society
The vision can be developed on the basis of the research and the monitoring system, the matrix of priorities and reports on the first two phases. Vision is developed on single issues and issues belonging to certain frames, which linguistic apparatus to use and what stakeholders are being looked for to join in debates, communities and (scientific) platforms.
Policy- and syntheses phase: what different solutions are available
Depending on the results of the previous phases, this phase explores different solutions. One has to realize that not everything that the public administration thinks to be a blessing for society is experienced in the same way by that same society. Think of gen technology with resulting embargos on modified food as a result, think of strikes, protest voters, activist movements and so on. In this phase the organization has to decide who is to be the spokesperson and who participates in communities and platforms.
Our service extends to writing different scenarios, and transforming them into ‘management games’, in which new information keeps coming in, new stakeholders and the media are gradually joining the debate, as well as all kinds of people on social media. The experiences with monitoring via social media and ‘lessons learned’ of previous issues or even crises, as well as lessons learned that went well, will be trained and practiced.
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