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i
Advancing Federal Government Communications:
The Case for Professional Standards of Practice
The Federal Communicators N...
i
About This Document
This report is a product of the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) Professional Standards Working
G...
ii
Acknowledgments
The individuals listed below dedicated considerable time and expertise to the development of this
docum...
iii
Introductory Message
Effective federal communications is essential to the effective operations of the government. It h...
iv
Table of Contents
About This Document ....................................................................................
1
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this research paper is to recommend that industry-wide best standards serve as a poi...
2
4) Lack of recognition: Communication is not considered a “mission-critical” occupation by the
Office of Personnel Manag...
3
Federal communication requires attention to standards government-wide. This is particularly true when
one considers that...
4
I. A Complex Environment
Legal Ambiguity
Both law and executive order clearly specify that communication is essential to...
5
However, GAO has noted the following:
“Even the casual viewer of commercial television will note that the government is ...
6
However, these specific duties don’t necessarily correlate with a set of mission-related and strategic
communications go...
7
Parallel Workforces
Normally a work environment is divided both operationally (by organizational area) and functionally ...
8
II. Supporting Data
Secondary Evidence
While there are undoubtedly many bright spots within individual agencies, overall...
9
Lack of internal communication: Only about half of federal employees responding to the 2015
FEVS (51%) felt that “manage...
10
Further Elaboration
The responses below indicate strong agreement, as evidenced by choosing “a great deal” as the
respo...
11
• Communication is primarily a reactive function, with 61% of respondents doing their jobs
primarily on the basis of cu...
12
III. The Need for Communication Management
Based on best practice research conducted by the working group, we conclude ...
13
UK Government Communication Service (GCS) Professional Standards
Skills: The GCS competency framework sets the standard...
14
As one reviews comparative information, it is key to remember there is neither a “one size fits all”
approach to commun...
15
IV. Recommendations and Next Steps
This section provides a detailed view into the recommendations and next steps envisi...
16
Theme 2: Institutionalization
Recommendation 1: Create a permanent task force or council on federal communications stan...
17
V. Conclusion
Despite today’s atmosphere of “information overload,” federally issued words still matter. And they
must ...
18
References
5 U.S.C. 54, “Employment of Publicity Experts; Restrictions”
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title...
19
United States Government Accountability Office, "Standards for Internal Control in the Federal
Government" (2014)
http:...
20
Appendix A: Quantitative Data
To support the development of its report on federal communications, the FCN PSWG determin...
21
Question 1: “What do most of your customers see as the ultimate purpose of the
communication function in your agency?”
...
22
Question 3: “Which is the main driver of your work?”
(N=164, 13 comments)
Question 4: “Resources”
Note: This question c...
23
Question 5: “Professional Standards for Government Communicators”
Note: This question contained eight sub-questions; se...
24
Question 6: “Environment”
Note: This question contained five sub-questions; see text below.
(N=152-153, 7 comments)
25
Question 7: “Reviewing the major themes we’ve covered in this survey, how important is it
for your agency to make impro...
26
Question 8: “Which of the following is your primary role? (If you have several roles, add
others to the comment box).”
...
27
Appendix B: Qualitative Data
In the fall of 2015, an email was circulated to the FCN listserv that called attention to ...
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FCN White Paper: Advancing Federal Government Communications: The Case for Professional Standards of Practice ​- by the FCN Professional Standards Working Group

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The Federal Communicators Network (FCN) has released "Advancing Federal Communications," a research paper that makes the case for clear and consistent quality standards for U.S. federal government communication.

The result of a grassroots, volunteer study among an interagency group of government communicators, the paper incorporates extensive primary and secondary research and includes a set of concrete recommendations for improvement.

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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FCN White Paper: Advancing Federal Government Communications: The Case for Professional Standards of Practice ​- by the FCN Professional Standards Working Group

  1. 1. i Advancing Federal Government Communications: The Case for Professional Standards of Practice The Federal Communicators Network Professional Standards Working Group August 2016
  2. 2. i About This Document This report is a product of the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) Professional Standards Working Group (PSWG). Established in 1995, FCN is a professional community of federal employees offering free volunteer training, networking, and other developmental opportunities for federal government communicators. For more information about FCN, visit http://fedcommnetwork.org/. Disclaimer FCN is a grassroots professional network of federal employees and contractors with a .gov or .mil email address. It is not affiliated with, nor does it necessarily represent, the views of the federal government neither as a whole nor any specific agency within the government. Along these lines, all points of view expressed in this document are those of the authors alone. Where names of federal agencies appear, the purpose is only to provide biographical information. Copyright Information This work (“Advancing Federal Government Communications: The Case for Professional Standards of Practice”) is free of known copyright restrictions.
  3. 3. ii Acknowledgments The individuals listed below dedicated considerable time and expertise to the development of this document. No endorsement by or representation of any federal agency is expressed or implied. For more information, see the Disclaimer (page i). 2016 FCN Board Aubrey McMahan, Geological Survey (Chair) Ethan Alpern, Department of Energy (Vice Chair) Tamara Blount, Department of Homeland Security Lisa Chesnel, Department of Agriculture John Donovan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Moniqua Roberts, National Institutes of Health Christine Stevenson, Department of Health and Human Services FCN Professional Standards Working Group Steering Committee Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., Department of Veterans Affairs Jeff Brooke, MITRE Corporation (Special Advisor) Joseph “Cos” Coslett, Defense Information School Dave Hebert; Geological Survey John Verrico, Department of Homeland Security Jackye Zimmermann, Department of Education Writing Team Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., Department of Veterans Affairs (Principal Writer) Jeff Brooke, MITRE (Principal Writer) Lisa Chesnel, Department of Agriculture Donna Ledbetter, Department of Justice Jacque Mason, Department of Commerce Sharon Mitri, National Institutes of Health Saudia Muwwakkil, General Services Administration Special thanks to Maria Acker for her feedback on draft versions of this document. Volunteers There are dozens of professionals who deserve recognition for their contributions to this effort: event organizers, meeting attendees, researchers, reviewers, editors, designers and more. It is impossible to name each one, and some prefer their anonymity. This space is dedicated to their selfless and tireless efforts.
  4. 4. iii Introductory Message Effective federal communications is essential to the effective operations of the government. It has long been recognized in statute as a critical tool to demonstrate public accountability. Yet according to the federal communicators surveyed in February 2016 by the Federal Communicators Network (FCN), professional standards would make a significant positive difference in the operations of this function. A working group commissioned by the FCN compiled these research findings and more into this report. It highlights the ways in which a lack of standardization creates challenges for federal communicators, and offers specific suggestions that can help pave the way forward. To support the recommendations outlined here, the FCN Leadership Team is establishing a permanent working group to explore methods for institutionalizing communication best practices in the federal government. This effort will parallel other successful initiatives by the federal government in the realms of information technology, accounting and financial controls, cybersecurity, web design, and management. Our independent volunteer-led group of government communications professionals has a long and proud tradition of “Reinventing Government,” ever since our establishment in 1995 by then-Vice President Al Gore. We believe, as did the Vice President, that public service can be nimble—and not just a noble endeavor. To that end, we will continue to pursue excellence, and facilitate best practice training events and professional networking for our independent grassroots network of communicators. If the United States is to remain a vital, thriving democracy, the federal government cannot afford to demand anything less than excellence from its communicators.
  5. 5. iv Table of Contents About This Document .................................................................................................................i Disclaimer ...................................................................................................................................i Copyright Information ................................................................................................................i Acknowledgments......................................................................................................................ii Introductory Message...............................................................................................................iii Statement of Purpose.............................................................................................................................1 I. A Complex Environment ......................................................................................................................4 Legal Ambiguity..........................................................................................................................4 Organizational Dilemmas...........................................................................................................5 Parallel Workforces....................................................................................................................7 II. Supporting Data ..................................................................................................................................8 Secondary Evidence...................................................................................................................8 Key Findings ...............................................................................................................................9 Further Elaboration..................................................................................................................10 III. The Need for Communication Management...................................................................................12 IV. Recommendations and Next Steps..................................................................................................15 V. Conclusion.........................................................................................................................................17 References ...............................................................................................................................18 Appendix A: Quantitative Data................................................................................................20
  6. 6. 1 Statement of Purpose The purpose of this research paper is to recommend that industry-wide best standards serve as a point of reference for a thoughtful and proactive approach to developing a U.S. federal government communication framework. This framework should have a body of consistent principles related to best practices, practice guidelines, competency, and so on, while at the same time balancing autonomy and integration needs. There is, of course, no “one size fits all” approach to communication. Nor are the authors suggesting there is a perfect model for the federal government; many communication management models can work. What matters – at least for the purpose of meeting statutory requirements and implementing adequate associated internal controls – is the aim for consistent definitions of quality across the board. The paper began with an email sent in the fall of 2015, questioning the future of federal communications as a profession. As a result of many months of research, in-person brainstorming sessions, and a poll of federal communicators themselves, the authors find significant issues. All of them result from a lack of quality standards and are associated with poor perceptions of the federal government and its programs, as well as demoralized personnel and gaps in professional competency. Supporting data: 1) Trust scores: Trust is a key indicator of communication effectiveness, and while the public generally trusts federal workers as individuals, trust in the institution as a whole has dropped progressively over the years. It is now at the lowest level ever recorded. 2) Perceptions of impenetrability: From a customer service point of view, a recent report (March) published by the government digital service group 18F showed that Americans view the government as a kind of impenetrable “black box.” 3) Standards gaps: There is also the matter of the gap between existing best practice standards and performance. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit standards highlight communication as critical to program success, and yet half of their recent studies identified internal and stakeholder communication problems contributing to operational shortcomings (8 of 17 studies, May 1-20). Further, two of the nine factors GAO describes as necessary for successful organizational transformation (Report GAO-03-669) are communication and engagement. Yet agencies have no authoritative source for finding solutions to the problems GAO finds—no repository of evidence-based practices and practitioners across government. Consequently, agencies consume significant time and funds (contract or staff) reinventing solutions that already exist.
  7. 7. 2 4) Lack of recognition: Communication is not considered a “mission-critical” occupation by the Office of Personnel Management: On the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) Results, this listing includes only economists, auditors, human resources specialists, contract specialists, and information technology specialists. 5) Lack of internal communication: Only about half of federal employees responding to the 2015 FEVS (51%) felt that “managers promote communication among different work units,” and less than three-fifths (59%) said that “managers communicate the goals and priorities of the organization.” FCN’s own 2016 survey of 169 (self-selected) federal communicators supported the available data. A key finding: expectations are neither clear nor consistent. Based on best practice research conducted by the working group, the root cause for poor communication in the federal government is the ad hoc nature of its governance (Many fields of expertise, such as quality and software development, employ maturity models as a way to assess capabilities. Most models employ five levels of maturity, from (1) least, which is Ad hoc, to (5) most mature.) Put simply, there are no basic professional standards that outline requirements for performance. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Similar issues have appeared elsewhere in government in recent decades—and they have been at least partly addressed by the inter-agency cooperation provided by government-wide Executive Councils such as the CIO, CFO and IG Councils. However, a government- wide Executive Council could effectively address the need for communication standards as well, just as other councils have. FCN recognizes the impractical nature of waiting for others to act. Therefore, the group will adopt the recommendations of the working group, shown in the graphic below, to “kick start” the formal adoption of a government wide communications standards body.
  8. 8. 3 Federal communication requires attention to standards government-wide. This is particularly true when one considers that the overwhelming majority, 85%, of federal employees are located in the field. As President Obama noted in his Presidential Proclamation for Public Service Recognition Week 2016: “Throughout this week, we recognize the tireless efforts of the women and men who strive to make sure ours is a government that stays true to its founding ideals. With 85 percent of Federal Government jobs located outside of the Washington, D.C. area, our Federal workers, together with leaders and advocates from State and local levels, play key roles in ensuring the voices of the American people are heard.” - https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press- office/2016/04/29/presidential-proclamation-public-service-recognition-week-2016 Establishing common standards will promote trust in government and will assist communicators in fulfilling their roles as stewards of public accountability as well as providers of essential information. Federal Communicators Network Recommendations for Establishing Professional Standards of Practice Focus Area # 1: Create a Standard for Federal Communications • Recommendation 1: Establish a framework of standards for federal communication • Recommendation 2: Help facilitate a qualified pipeline of talent Focus Area #2: Create an Institutional Framework for Federal Communications • Recommendation 1: Create a permanent task force or council on federal communications standards within the FCN • Recommendation 2: Find a “home” for federal communications • Recommendation 3: Draft a Recommended National Federal Communication Policy Framework Focus Area #3: Create a Formal Partnership for Federal Communications • Recommendation 1: Formalize the FCN approach to partnerships • Recommendation 2: Conduct outreach broadly and openly
  9. 9. 4 I. A Complex Environment Legal Ambiguity Both law and executive order clearly specify that communication is essential to the effective operations of government. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is directly applicable, as is The President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government of 2009. There are also requirements for effective writing associated with the Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act of 1982, better known as FMFIA, which requires agencies to establish effective internal controls on accounting and administrative activities. With regard to the latter, the General Accountability Office (GAO) places “information and communication” among an agency’s primary internal controls. There is another side to federal communication, however. It’s typically called “outreach,” “engagement,” “public awareness,” or even “marketing.” While these activities are explicitly permitted at times, their practice is viewed with suspicion by Congress, and thus the language around their performance is rife with prohibitions rather than affirmative requirements. (In other words, we learn what not to do rather than what is desired.) Agencies experience confusion between perfectly acceptable communication activities, and those that are questionable and even illegal. For instance, there is much ambiguity around communication activities that more closely resemble the marketing communications practices of the private sector. The lines have been drawn, generally speaking, in the manner that appropriated funds may not be used for publicity (promotional activities), propaganda (manipulation of public opinion), or lobbying. Since 1913, agencies have been prohibited from hiring “publicity experts” unless they were specifically authorized to do so by Congress. To that effect, appropriations language always contains this clause: “No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred…shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat the enactment of legislation before the Congress or any State or local legislature or legislative body, except in presentation to the Congress or any State or local legislature itself, or designed to support or defeat any proposed or pending regulation, administrative action, or order issued by the executive branch of any State or local government, except in presentation to the executive branch of any State or local government itself.”
  10. 10. 5 However, GAO has noted the following: “Even the casual viewer of commercial television will note that the government is heavily ‘into’ advertising, as there are many occasions when an agency has an affirmative duty to do so: for example to recruit people into the military; to inform the public about government services available to them; and to educate them about avoiding socially destructive behaviors, like dropping a lit match in the woods.” While it may seem like the line between informative, legitimate communication and propaganda is not difficult to draw, the Congressional Research Service highlights many examples of agency activities that generated controversy even though they may not have technically been ruled illegal. As they note, Congress itself has experienced difficulty at times drawing the line between legitimate communications and communications that cross the line. “Congressional oversight of agency public communications activities…has occurred frequently since at least the beginning of the 20th century….(but) enforcing these restrictions has been challenging…statutory prohibitions do not well clarify licit from illicit public communications.” In short, when does “outreach” or “education” become “propaganda?” On a day-to-day level, it is readily apparent how the communication waters can be difficult to navigate. At times, federal communicators answer to civil servants and at times they answer to political employees, who may have different levels of understanding of the legal framework that defines the communications function in their environment. Organizational Dilemmas Last-Minute Engagement Federal communicators are often excluded from early planning discussions, and as a result are asked to work on documents that they have had no say in developing. This can create difficulties down the road when messages supporting the documents must be produced. Related to lack of high-level planning, federal communicators frequently express that they act as “firefighters,” responding to preventable crises and essentially serving as amiable “cogs in the wheel.” Too often their expertise goes ignored. Prioritization of Activities vs. Goals Federal communicators are typically charged with a set of duties that can be broken down into individual processes, e.g., edit a report, post a blog post, call back a customer, or send out a tweet.
  11. 11. 6 However, these specific duties don’t necessarily correlate with a set of mission-related and strategic communications goals, making it difficult for them to exercise judgment when challenges arise. To illustrate this, below is a job advertisement from USAJobs.gov (accessed May 16, 2016) from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, seeking a Director of Global Communications and Public Affairs. This was a Senior Executive Service position: The incumbent is responsible for developing and directing all BBG communications and external relations strategies and activities, protecting and promoting the image and reputation of the BBG in partnership with agency leadership, and identifying and leveraging macro trends to inform and position appropriate agency narratives. The vagueness associated with desired goals can tend to lead federal communicators to emphasize methods and technique (outputs) over results (outcomes). For example, few would argue that that it is important to check for accuracy, obtain supervisory approval, and polish spelling and grammar. Lack of Quality Standards When asked what constitutes “good communication,” supervisors frequently indicate something like this: “I know it when I see it.” However, the absence of clear professional standards or outcome-based requirements easily creates inefficiency, demoralization, and even finger-pointing. At times communicators receive the seemingly simple imperative to “use approved language.” However, this is frequently difficult to follow, if only because there is disagreement about who should approve what; which information is considered “fully approved for release”; and sensitivity to controversy. The collection of complications around these issues tends to create delays in approving documents, and thus an overreliance on previously released wording – even if it is less than engaging. A common industry practice to address these issues is to have a “style guide,” but individual supervisors may or may not adhere to it. Similarly, federal law tells communicators to write plainly, but they may find that technical experts insist that accuracy requires a dense, complex style of writing only they are qualified to assess. The “Digital Divide” Further, since the federal communications function itself does not have a clear definition or set of quality standards, artificial divisions and false hierarchies tend to arise between professionals whose specializations or office designations differ. In particular, there is a growing “digital divide” between communication professionals whose work intersects with technology (e.g. web developers); those with technical skills in the area of graphic design; and those who “only” do writing. It is common nowadays to see federal communications job descriptions written to include extensive technical requirements, in effect, excluding those whose focus is on words.
  12. 12. 7 Parallel Workforces Normally a work environment is divided both operationally (by organizational area) and functionally (by type of job). Within that scheme, one might expect to find one dedicated group for each type of mission support professional -- accountants, contracting officers, training professionals, and so on. Yet in the case of federal communicators, multiple service providers are doing the same thing: ● Contractors ● Interagency Shared Services Providers ● Centralized Providers Within The Agency ● A Formal Communications Office ● Satellite/Sub-Agency Communications Offices Parallel communications offices can be appropriate if there is clear overarching guidance on how communication planning and activities should be executed based on best practices. However, it is unclear whether federal agencies communicate the need, scope and boundaries of their communication workforces internally to federal communicators.
  13. 13. 8 II. Supporting Data Secondary Evidence While there are undoubtedly many bright spots within individual agencies, overall federal communication suffers from a lack of standardization as well as multiple environmental conflicts that detract from the formation of clear and consistent expectations about quality. The results: competency gaps, demoralized personnel and underperforming programs. Here is an overview of the supporting data: 1) Trust scores: Trust is a key indicator of communication effectiveness, and while the public generally trusts federal workers as individuals, trust in the institution as a whole has dropped progressively over the years. It is now at the lowest level ever recorded. 2) Perceptions of impenetrability: From a customer service point of view, a recent report (March 2016) published by the government digital service group 18F showed that Americans view the government as a kind of impenetrable “black box.” In their words: “Members of the public want to be able to ‘see’ the process theyre undergoing when theyre interacting with federal agencies and programs. This includes knowing when their information has been received and reviewed, understanding all steps in the process from start to finish, and having greater overall clarity into why the process takes as long as it does. People expect to wait, but the reasons why and the causes for delay continue to be a mystery — and continue to erode peoples trust in the government.” 3) Standards gaps: There is also the matter of the gap between existing best practice standards and performance. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit standards highlight communication as critical to program success, and yet half of their recent studies identified internal and stakeholder communication problems contributing to operational shortcomings (8 of 17 studies, May 1-20 2016). Further, two of the nine factors GAO describes as necessary for successful organizational transformation (Report GAO-03-669) are communication and engagement. Yet agencies have no authoritative source for finding solutions to the problems GAO finds—no repository of evidence-based practices and practitioners across government. Consequently, agencies consume significant time and funds (contract or staff) reinventing solutions that already exist. 4) Lack of recognition: Communication is not considered a “mission-critical” occupation by the Office of Personnel Management: On the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) Results, this listing includes only economists, auditors, human resources specialists, contract specialists, and information technology specialists.
  14. 14. 9 Lack of internal communication: Only about half of federal employees responding to the 2015 FEVS (51%) felt that “managers promote communication among different work units,” and less than three-fifths (59%) said that “managers communicate the goals and priorities of the organization.” A Key Finding In February 2016, the working group conducted what we believe to be the first-ever survey of federal communicators by federal communicators. The 169 respondents, representing a wide spectrum of communications roles, highlighted a number of gaps in professional practice. The survey covered a great deal of ground. One key finding was that communicators severely lack a clear set of professional standards to follow at the interagency level—although most clearly know what to do in their own jobs. In between, the availability of clear standards, expectations, metrics, tools and other standards varies. FCN 2016 Survey - How Clear and Consistent are Expectations of Federal Communicators? (% Agreeing “A Great Deal” or “Somewhat”) Note that for all tables displayed, percentages are rounded. “Agree” means agree either “a great deal” or “somewhat.” The total number of responses to the survey was 169, but responses per question vary. These percentages are based on the number of responses per question. See https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-BL2FH28W/ for the full survey results online. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% Individual performance expectations are clear Individual performance expectations reflect proper roles Political appointees have different expectations Communicators have useful tools & standards Metrics used to assess & guide work Career paths clear Roles & expectations generally consistent across gov
  15. 15. 10 Further Elaboration The responses below indicate strong agreement, as evidenced by choosing “a great deal” as the response choice. They are provided to clarify some of the areas where communicators indicated more extreme feelings about a response choice. Lack of Standards • 1% agreed “a great deal” that “communication professionals’ roles and expectations are generally consistent across government.” • 10% agreed “a great deal” that “communication offices use metrics to assess and guide our work.” • 18% agreed “a great deal” that “individual performance expectations for communication professionals are clear.” • About 8%, or less than 1 in 10, agreed “a great deal” that “career paths for communication professionals are clear.” Contradictory Expectations • 11% agreed “a great deal” that they “have a voice in important agency decisions,” while 53% called it “critically important” that communicators transition to “a more proactive role (such as planning and having a voice in key agency decisions).” • 29% agreed “a great deal” that their customers “expect you to innovate with new approaches to communication and engagement,” but 40% agreed to the same extent that federal agencies are “risk-averse about trying new ways to communicate” and 67% agreed strongly that “government processes make it difficult to take advantage of new technologies.” Lack of Awareness • Given a forced choice between “communication products” and “influencing stakeholders” as the purpose of their jobs, respondents were divided, with 43% choosing the first and 57% the second. Several provided comments to the effect that “it is a combination of the two.” One simply stated: “I don’t know.” • A few alluded to their customers’ ignorance about what communication is, and thus an inability to know what to ask for in the first place: “Not being communicators themselves, they do not necessarily understand how the communications office has a role in influencing stakeholders.” • Some commenters referred to the perception that communication is simply not an important function at their agency. There were those who thought their customers saw it as “a necessary evil” or “’nice to have’ but not an essential function.” • Another comment referred to unrealistic expectations on the part of customers who bring the communicators in too late to have an impact, but expect them to deliver significant results anyway: “Most people see the ultimate purpose of communication is to create a miracle because it’s often the final thought despite repeated efforts to educate the(m) otherwise.”
  16. 16. 11 • Communication is primarily a reactive function, with 61% of respondents doing their jobs primarily on the basis of customer requests for work, as opposed to communicators directing the function by proactively engaging in planning. • Even when communicators respond to requirements, the customer may not know what is wanted. One respondent noted: “We are 90% reactive to customer requests, but we don’t produce a product until we sit the customer down to get an understanding of what they want to accomplish. This usually changes their request and results in more planning.” Added another: “Hard to steer a ship that lost its rudder.” Apart from the survey, FCN held five meetings to brainstorm the important theme areas for federal communicators and how a shared effort to express these might best be articulated.
  17. 17. 12 III. The Need for Communication Management Based on best practice research conducted by the working group, we conclude that the root cause for poor communication in the federal government is the ad hoc nature of its governance. Many fields of expertise, such as quality and software development, employ maturity models as a way to assess capabilities. (Most models employ five levels of maturity, from (1) least, which is Ad hoc, to (5) most mature.) Put simply, there are no basic professional standards that outline requirements for performance. For the most part, the same problems were faced by other domains in government in recent decades— problems that have been partly addressed by the inter-agency cooperation provided by government- wide Executive Councils such as the CIO, CFO and IG Councils. FCN would like to address this issue but its lack of a formal designation constrains further progress. However, a government-wide Executive Council could effectively address the need for standards, just as other councils have. Absent this, communication professionals are stuck “reinventing the wheel” – a costly activity that limits performance on basic, rather than advanced, practices. In serving as a vital function faced with contradictory demands and competing priorities, federal communications is no different than any other requiring a proactive approach to management. Briefly, this means assigning clear roles and responsibilities to communication professionals at various levels of the enterprise in the context of managing the function across the organization. All initiatives, programs, processes, and personnel engaged in communication are integrated to collaborate, cooperate, and coalesce to complete the agency mission. Additionally, rather than being stovepiped throughout the organization, communication is viewed from this perspective as a single “job” from the top level of the organization. Accordingly, it is assigned a senior officer, reporting directly to the head of the agency. A communication management strategy would establish that communication is a singular profession regardless of the environment within which it is practiced for the purposes of managing communication across the federal government. It would also create certain expectations about the communication function, regardless of at which agency one practices this function. For example, a typical expectation would be that there exists a chief communication officer whose position level is equivalent to that of the chief information officer or chief financial officer. Other developed nations, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have already established government-wide communication bodies with a similar intent. The U.K. government publishes an annual Communication Plan that explicitly sets forth the communication framework through which the government operates. As an example of a best practice, see its professional communications standards, published online May 17, 2016. (See graphic on page 10.)
  18. 18. 13 UK Government Communication Service (GCS) Professional Standards Skills: The GCS competency framework sets the standard for individual proficiency, by grade. Communicators should demonstrate their ability to frame campaigns using insight, apply creative ideas, and swiftly implement and assess the impact of their work. The framework is used in appraisals, professional development and recruitment. Working model: All GCS communications teams should adapt to meet the needs of a fast-changing audience environment by following the Modern Communications Operating Model principles and demonstrating their skills in the full range of disciplines: strategic communication planning; strategic engagement; internal communications; and media and campaigns; engagement; internal communications; and media and campaigns. Campaigns: The implementation of effective campaigns is at the heart of our work. For rigorous and systematic campaign development, GCS staff follow the OASIS campaigns framework, and make selective use of other GCS campaign planning tools where required. Evaluation: GCS professionals use the GCS Evaluation Framework for every campaign, to improve performance and to take responsibility for the outputs, outtakes and outcomes of their work. Teams should summarize and exhibit these results in an evaluation hub. Digital: The GCS digital vision is that government communicators should be confident in using digital technology and methods to: gain insight into audiences; develop the best ideas; implement plans; and provide maximum impact. Staff engagement: A modern internal communications function acts as a strategic partner to enable change and support engagement. GCS standards are set out in Internal Communications Excellence, including the Standard Operating Model and the Job Description Principles for internal communicators. Leadership: The GCS aims to develop confident, inspiring and empowering leaders. GCS staff should exemplify the Civil Service Leadership Statement in their work. Ethics: GCS professionals will seek to achieve the highest standards of behavior, as well as professional practice and leadership. This means, at minimum, they will abide by the Civil Service Code and observe its values of integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. They will also uphold and actively promote the Civil Service diversity and inclusion policies and the GCS Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. Professional Development: As communications develops, all communicators should continually work to improve their skills, completing and sharing with their colleagues at least four pieces of professional development each year. They should pay particular attention to the conclusions of the Future of Public Service Communication report which says that communicators must master the skills of social marketing, content creation, building alliances and handling data. Directors of Communications and Heads of Communications are accountable to the Executive Director for Government Communications for their departments’ and ALBs’ adherence to these standards. They will obtain regular feedback from senior stakeholders to assess client satisfaction with Department/ALB and government communications. This will assist the GCS in its work to assess the adoption and impact of these standards and to keep them under review.
  19. 19. 14 As one reviews comparative information, it is key to remember there is neither a “one size fits all” approach to communication, nor are the authors suggesting there is a perfect model for the federal government. Rather, the point of sharing such information is to recommend that industry-wide best standards serve as a point of reference for a thoughtful and proactive approach to developing a U.S. federal government communication framework. This framework should have a body of consistent principles related to best practices, practice guidelines, competency, and so on, while at the same time balancing autonomy and integration needs. In the end, many communication management models can work. What matters – at least for the purpose of meeting statutory requirements and implementing adequate associated internal controls – is that the government thoughtfully and proactively engages in developing one communication management model and using it consistently over time.
  20. 20. 15 IV. Recommendations and Next Steps This section provides a detailed view into the recommendations and next steps envisioned by the FCN based on the findings in this research paper. Theme 1: Standardization Recommendation 1: Establish a framework of standards for federal communication • Action 1: Develop a customizable federal communication management model • Action 2: Develop performance management standards that are both activity- and outcome- based • Action 3: Draft competency standards at the entry, midlevel, and senior executive level Recommendation 2: Help facilitate a qualified pipeline of talent • Action 1: Develop a recommended general federal communications curriculum at the B.A., M.A., and non-credit certification levels • Action 2: Define the major specialization tracks associated with federal communications and establish associated curricular recommendations for educational modules associated with those specializations • Action 3: Explore partnerships with appropriate educational providers, including academic institutions and federal government-supported entities • Action 4: Leverage opportunities to improve the image of federal communications in support of talent recruitment efforts Standards Establish framework of standards Facilitate qualified talent pipeline Location FCN permanent task force/council Executive Branch recognition/home National Federal Communication Policy Framework Partnerships Formalize FCN approach to partnerships Conduct outreach broadly and openly
  21. 21. 16 Theme 2: Institutionalization Recommendation 1: Create a permanent task force or council on federal communications standards within the FCN • Action 1: Name the task force • Action 2: Solicit members from within and outside of FCN • Action 3: Establish a governance structure for the task force or council Recommendation 2: Find a “home” for federal communications • Action 1: Explore options for housing communication oversight within a federal agency • Action 2: Explore cross-agency options for communication oversight • Action 3: Explore non-agency options for federal communication oversight, including partnership and hybrid options Recommendation 3: Draft a Recommended National Federal Communication Policy Framework • Action 1: Assemble team of FCN members, other volunteers and partners • Action 2: Conduct primary and secondary research, including interviews with representatives of federal agencies and subject matter experts, to craft contents of policy framework • Action 3: Draft a national policy framework to be used as an informal, unofficial resource for federal communicators (similar to the FCN Communicators Guide [2000]) Theme 3: Partnership Recommendation 1: Formalize the FCN Approach to Partnerships • Action 1: Update the FCN charter to further clarify its interest in and authority to partner broadly and qualifications for eligible partners, and its nonpromotional nature • Action 2: Establish a Partnership Committee within the permanent FCN Working Group to meet formally with potential partners • Action 3: Communicate on the FCN website the policy regarding partnerships and list of FCN partners Recommendation 2: Conduct Outreach Broadly and Openly • Action 1: Host events to introduce FCN members to current and potential partners, with a focus on establishing standards as recommended above • Action 2: Communicate broadly to share FCN research findings and encourage related efforts on an open networking basis
  22. 22. 17 V. Conclusion Despite today’s atmosphere of “information overload,” federally issued words still matter. And they must be more than true and transparent. For hundreds of millions of people in the United States, as well as those looking at us from other nations, depend on our words. Employees, members of Congress, partners, journalists and government watchdog groups, researchers – both formal and informal, and of course the general public – all are acutely aware of the import of even the smallest turn of a phrase. In short, federal communication must be compelling, convincing, consistent, and clear – to engage the public’s trust and guide it toward the products and services to which it is entitled. Given the urgency of the need, FCN will attend to the priorities vital to federal communications at this time. However, such initiative can only go so far. It is the hope of this working group that the findings offered here will eventually be institutionalized formally within the government. Like all public servants, federal communicators are acutely aware of the responsibility they hold. Regardless of circumstance, they will continue to serve – doing the best they can, with the tools they have. The FCN will continue to support them along the way.
  23. 23. 18 References 5 U.S.C. 54, “Employment of Publicity Experts; Restrictions” https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title5/pdf/USCODE-2011-title5-partIII-subpartB-chap31- subchapI-sec3107.pdf 18 U.S.C. 1913, “Lobbying with Appropriated Moneys” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1913 18F, “Transparency Within Government Helps Build Public Trust” (2016) https://18f.gsa.gov/2016/03/07/the-need-for-transparency-in-government/ Center for Plain Language, “Federal Plain Language Report Card” (2015) http://centerforplainlanguage.org/report-cards/ Congressional Research Service, “Advertising by The Federal Government: An Overview” (2014) https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41681.pdf Congressional Research Service, “Congressional Oversight of Agency Public Communications” (2012) https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42406.pdf Congressional Research Service, “Public Relations and Propaganda: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities” (2005) http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/RL32750.pdf Federal Communicators Network – February 2016 Survey Results (2016) https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-BL2FH28W/ Office of Personnel Management - Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (2015) https://www.fedview.opm.gov/2015FILES/2015_FEVS_Gwide_Final_Report.PDF The Plain Writing Act (2010) https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ274/pdf/PLAW-111publ274.pdf The President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (2009) https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/memoranda_fy2009/m09-12.pdf The Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (1982) https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/financial_fmfia1982
  24. 24. 19 United States Government Accountability Office, "Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government" (2014) http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665712.pdf Partnership for Public Service, “2013 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® Analysis: Effective Leadership Communication” (2014) http://ourpublicservice.org/publications/viewcontentdetails.php?id=351 Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy, “Trust in Government: 1958-2015” (2015) https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/GCS-Professional-page_interactive-FINAL- 17-MAY.pdf Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition (2004) http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/3rdeditionvol1.pdf Transparency International “Corruption Perceptions Index 2015” (2016) http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015#results-table UK Government Communications Plan 2015/2016 (2015) https://communication.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/government-comms-plan/ UK Government Communication Service (GCS) Professional Standards (2016) https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/GCS-Professional-page_interactive-FINAL- 17-MAY.pdf
  25. 25. 20 Appendix A: Quantitative Data To support the development of its report on federal communications, the FCN PSWG determined it necessary to use current, primary research data if possible. FCN Special Advisor Jeff Brooke volunteered to create the survey. Key points about the survey methodology: • On February 15, 2016, FCN distributed the survey instrument to approximately 2,000 communicators via listserv. These included FCN members (~900 participants) and members of the GSA’s Social Media Community of Practice (~ 1000). • The survey remained open through February 25, 2016. • In all, the survey generated 169 responses. (The number of respondents to each specific question varied.) • Screenshots depicting the results appear below; they are also available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-BL2FH28W/. (For privacy reasons, written comments are not included.) The survey results are not elaborated upon here. Rather, the authors wish to make the raw data available in case others desire to study or analyze it further.
  26. 26. 21 Question 1: “What do most of your customers see as the ultimate purpose of the communication function in your agency?” (N=162, 19 comments) Question 2: “Other Expectations” Note: This question contained three sub-questions; see text below. (N=167/168, 6 comments)
  27. 27. 22 Question 3: “Which is the main driver of your work?” (N=164, 13 comments) Question 4: “Resources” Note: This question contained four sub-questions; see text below. (N=151-152, 8 comments)
  28. 28. 23 Question 5: “Professional Standards for Government Communicators” Note: This question contained eight sub-questions; see text below. (N=152-153, 10 comments)
  29. 29. 24 Question 6: “Environment” Note: This question contained five sub-questions; see text below. (N=152-153, 7 comments)
  30. 30. 25 Question 7: “Reviewing the major themes we’ve covered in this survey, how important is it for your agency to make improvements in each?” Note: This question contained five sub-questions; see text below. (N=148, 0 comments)
  31. 31. 26 Question 8: “Which of the following is your primary role? (If you have several roles, add others to the comment box).” (N=150, 0 comments)
  32. 32. 27 Appendix B: Qualitative Data In the fall of 2015, an email was circulated to the FCN listserv that called attention to the need for federal communicators to examine the state of the profession. The email generated sufficient interest that FCN members organized a meeting several weeks later to discuss. Between November 2015 and May 2016, five meetings were held to organize a research project addressing the issues raised in the email. The meetings were open to all interested parties; about 25 federal communicators attended each. (Note: attendees varied with each meeting.) Here is an overview of the timeline. • October 23, 2015 – initial email, “Federal Communication and the Future”; several days later, open-edit collaboration document shared with the FCN community • November 9, 2015 – initial meeting to define the problem and brainstorm approaches to it • December 8, 2015 – brainstorming session to further elaborate on the issues to be addressed • January 19, 2016 – “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” (SWOT) exercise • (February 15 – 25, 2016 – survey distributed to FCN members and members of the GSA’s Social Media Community of Practice) • February 26, 2016 – meeting to review survey findings and discuss problems and solutions • May 10, 2016 – meeting (closed-door, no notes) to discuss draft of working paper

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