Issues Management

Our service: a management monitor, workshops and interim management (The monitor contains an inventory of existing issues, ranging them in levels of urgency, agenda setting, preparing for crisis, recommendation and execution plan, calendar per issue and choice of wording).

Read more on issues and acceptance

The license to operate of an organization consists of three pillars: the political, the legal and the social license. The political license is provided by government and by and large the administration. Not within the reach of voters but nonetheless very influential are public servants. Influence also comes from former politicians that enter Boards of Governors or Boards of Commissioners. Many banks, insurance companies and auditing firms invite these politicians to their Boards precisely in order for them to bring in their network thus providing this special form of political legitimacy. Legal legitimacy comes from domestic and increasingly European and international law and is being taken care of by lawyers. Social license, the third pillar, is the addition sum of all those that make out ‘public opinion’, influenced by media, NGOs and other stakeholders like consumer movements, de labour unions, shareholders, employees and professionals. Social legitimacy is best cared for by issues management: if one is to communicate with society, one has to investigate who ventilates what opinion and where that happens, as well as analyse through which frame the judgment arises. The organization and the Board will have to use language and meaning that is understood by society, understood to mean what the Board wants it to mean. If this is not possible, probably one has to look for a change of policy. Social license is like an invisible foundation: as long as all is well one doesn’t notice it; when things go wrong they go tremendously wrong.

Question: can you manage a troublesome issue?

Like the Ground elder that one never seems to be able to eradicate, in some languages it’s even known as ‘gardeners despair’, the word is rapidly becoming rampant: everything is an ‘issue’. Mostly people mean ‘some kind of nuisance’. For a company what’s relevant is what public opinion can do for the organization or if and when it damages the organization. Public opinion has a moral component and so approves or disapproves. This type of opinion can be fortunate, but it can just as well get gruesome. It can damage your reputation which will influence the judgment and behavior of you investors, shareholders or financial (subsidy) suppliers; or the opinion of those living around your premises or your employees.

Answer: yes, one can manage an issue that touches upon the identity or reputation of your company. One should look at one’s own company from the external perspective and try to see and evaluate your behavior as others, non-members of the organization do. Usually a representative from outside the internal perspective can report that view. 

The organization and its Board shall have to put policy and reputation in place, meaning they have to choose the words that society associates with the issues and opinions concerned. Social  license is fundamental: invisible when one is accepted and respected and (sometimes horribly) visible when ones behavior is judged and rejected.

Whenever engaging in issues research, let’s first cast a warning: watch out for information and data overload. We can research just about anything and with ever increasing valid research methods. We can work with internet tools, cross checking databases, news clippings on the quantitative side, literature research, classical interviews or surveys on the qualitative side. However, an information overload is on the lure. What we do for the clients here is to take the linguistic approach. This doesn’t necessarily mean less information load, but it does guarantee you are researching in the discussions that your organization is part of. Even if this is nolens volens.

Our service: Choice of Wording

Word monitoring research means that we check the wording, in either traditional or social media, that is being used to discuss the organizations goals or behavior on certain issues. Issues in the public eye are not necessarily the issues the organization strives for: they are not marketing issues. The organization might need the external view of an outsider to observe the, sometimes unwanted, issues around the organization. In order to get an idea on the narrative (that what we have come to know as the frame), we also look at the context in which the words are being used. Words in context give an adequate indication of the opinions involved, as well as the focus on which issue is concerned. Europe faces a huge influx of refugees. Some of the politicians referred to the problems in the near future of the social housing they should need. This is a clear sign of her focus, which apparently is rather on migrants than on refugees. The wording chosen, given the context of fleeing people, makes clear where this politician wants the discussion to go, which is apparently not to Refugee Law, but to Immigrant Law.

From then onwards we can decide if it is useful to follow certain stakeholders who actually use the wording, to see what they discuss and how and where (in or on what medium). This is only worth the while if one has the intention of communicating with these stakeholders, else we only generate far too many data.

This research leads to a comprehensive policy of prioritizing the most important issues for your organization as regards your policies, your behavior and your reputation. We prioritize in a matrix that crosses ‘urgency for your organization’ and ‘attention in media and society’. This will result in some red alerts issues, meaning urgent action is required. Some orange issues in which a scandal yet to come is scheduled. And green issues meaning there is much room for policy and choice of frame. Your communication instruments will be based on the outcome of the research and the prioritization in your matrix.

Assignments that we would like to cooperate in consist of issues to come, preferably between 2015 and 2020.

Clients we supplied this service to:

Financial Institutions, Insurance Companies & Law Firms      Housing

Educational Institutes     Governments & Non Profit     Law Enforcement     Transport

Public Administration     Packaging Industry     Water     Health Care