Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Art of Public Service Communication

Communication in the Public Service is never easy on any given day, but when the situation is made increasingly difficult by novice public servants, who are also politicians, we seem to feel that communicating Public Service issues means getting  in front of a television camera or a microphone and mouthing off  your best sound bytes, for the benefit of tribal supporters, regardless of relevance, accuracy or veracity of these statements.

There will be more written about accuracy and veracity later, but that’s not the purpose of today’s blog which aims to point out to the present Government how a solid and well defined Corporate Communication policy can d  focuses on how far off form communicating to the public also note that Public Service communication and by extension it, related science of Government Relations is not control of the media, nor is it  parading citizens who cannot do better in front of them for your benefit.

I have long maintained that the Public Service in the Caribbean, where I practice, and in particular Trinidad and Tobago, my home country, has long suffered from undefined Communication Policies pulled together by a batch of senior public servants, without any thought or design of what the concept of Corporate Communications within the Public service entails. It would appear that without understanding the term, Corporate Communications has come to represent within the public service, a group of officers, running themselves ragged and pandering to the needs and whims of novice or otherwise enamored Public Servants without question.

The discipline of Corporate Communications within the Public service is a conceptualized study of policy, actions and programmes, precisely planned and executed by series of formulae designed to protect politicians, john public and the intermediary public servants from the fall out of ill timed, ill advised pronouncements or programmes.

It is not media driven, but service oriented to the benefit of the citizens of the country or territory. While it may be endearing to the politicians (and some senior public servants) to be seen as media savvy and committed to the particular agenda, however there must be a balance  between public education and the application of programmes which can be misconstrued as encroaching on the privacy of recipients and individuals.

Too many of the current 'public relations initiatives', are coming to us disguised as 'public education campaigns' and are media driven, not service oriented and thus making a pappyshow of the Corporate Communication portfolio within the Public service.

Public servants must own and embrace the knowledge that they are at ‘work’ and therefore a Corporate Communication strategy has to be crafted to achieve that objective and create a healthy balance  between public education and the privacy of recipients and individuals.

The introduction of intangible strategic communication initiatives can sublimely but drastically change the emotional  environment, culture and image of the Public servant without costing an arm or a leg or the millions spent on print and broadcast advertising campaigns or human resource and training programmes. 

Public servants must know they are at work to work and must harness the fundamentals of an effective Corporate Communication policy to manage the image of the work of the Ministry they represent.

Therefore parading recipients of government goods and services in an ill-advised and poorly designed  ‘public education campaign’ obviously crafted to earn brownie points from an unimpressed public, does not augur well for public servants involved who profess to be Communicators. That is not corporate communications and will never be considered part of the discipline.

Therein lay the problem. When persons who profess to be Communicators involve themselves and person they advise into behavior such as this, it makes it difficult for ‘professional’ communicators to craft programmes that are meaningful and relevant to our emerging societies.

Public service Communication is a holistic profession performed by a team of communication professionals working as a unit to achieve public service. No one member of the team is more important than the other; and each member supports the other.

That synergy gives rise to a cadre of qualified, experienced professionals, articulate on any issue within the Public service.

What we have in operation however, are persons engaging in familiar behaviour and obtaining the same tired outcomes. 

Dare we to be different?

The Uninhibited Diplomat.


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LE NOIREAU- Prologue

There was chaos in Scotland Bay Village. Everywhere, everyone was busy; packing, unpacking, leaving burnt bare lands for the Americans.

Away from the noises and confusion the aquamarine Caribbean waves played a soft calypso rhythm, strumming, rippling, kissing bare toes, feet and ankles dug deep into the cold, clammy sand.

The air was laden, ready, thick with the rancid scent of seaweed, salt and smoke carried in the spray; pushed by angry, crashing, foaming waves against a stony coastline up and around the Bay’s end.

She was misted; creating an eerie appearance as she sat back hunched on a fallen tree trunk embedded in the sand; knees tucked under the wide folds of her skirt. Damp grainy sand and the sea waters rushed up; bubbling in between her fingers and feet. Gently she rested her chin on her knees and looked out at the fading horizon, watching the day in its brilliance and splendor of death at sunset. The fiery gold of the sun’s rays; fingering, shimmering on the aquamarine canopy of the sea, dazzling blinding and ever so slowly, churning to taunting, tangerine orange and saffron reds; cascading into purple, violets and royal blue of evening time with ballet like precision. And later as stars peeping first play hide and seek with the naked eye, streaks of charcoal gray strut into midnight black, shadowing the earth into illusions of peace-fullness, as twinkling jewels finally sparkle in the phosphorescent gleam of a splendid Caribbean moonlight.

The gulf steamer disregarding war time surveillance orders; tugged by, alerting Astral Le Noireau to the lateness of the hour. She sighed lifted tiny hands from the sand and stared as the grains quietly trickled back into their places on the seemingly un-rumpled shore. The signal light of the streamer as it passed by and answering flashed from the lighthouse, momentarily blinded her as she turned huge tear filled almond shaped golden eyes up and then out, taking in the silver-ness of the long familiar Scotland Bay coastline, now bathed in the beauty of a full Caribbean moonlight. The gentle breeze blew her blue black hair into her eyes and face, as one hand rose gracefully to whip the unruly strands back into place. Silently a figure standing in the shadows of a coconut palm tree observed her.

Astral stood crying silently, watching the village she so love fade into the night shadows as the steamer padded laboriously out into the first Boca. Every inch further way from Scotland Bay felt like a fist clenching around her lung, stifling her, killing her. She stood rooted until Chateau le Noireau was no longer visible as they rounded the bend at Delgada Point. Until tears of frustration overwhelmed her and she crumbled to the seat on the almost empty steamer. Astral Le Noireau and her precious possession were some of the last things to evacuate from her village.

The Marines had put her on the ferry.

(c) 2006 Cecly Ann Mitchell

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