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What Accountable Government Communication Looks Like

The environment in which we work is ever-changing, so it is impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all guidebook that will stand the test of time and work in every agency. That said, we can definitely adopt a framework that will support a truly human engagement with rules and standards.

  • I suggest that the first leg of such a framework would involve continuous training. For example, if we take a standard involving responses to correspondence, what is a “comprehensive” response? We can either spend a lot of time talking about the word “comprehensive,” or we can do live events with interactive conversations around examples. At the end of such trainings, which should be free and easily accessible over the Internet, a typical employee should understand the meaning of the term.
  • The second leg of such a framework would involve transparency, accountability and governance. How did we come up with the standard in the first place? What are the laws, regulations, policies, executive orders involved? You can look, for example, at the term “plain language” and focus on the strict meaning of the term, which is obvious, or you can step back and look through the window of time at the historical context and actual struggles that led to a statutory triumph of understandable English over jargon. That same window would empower the communicator to understand the institutions, associated roles, and networks which define and refine the use of that term so that meaningful conversation can circulate around the standard. For example, how do we apply “plain language” with multilingual audiences? How do we ensure that people with disabilities can understand the information we are sharing? And so on. The implementation of communication standards is inherently a negotiation, and the public is better served when actual communicators both understand and have a say in the process (as well as a place to go when disagreements arise).
  • The third leg is obviously a pipeline to best practices and continuous improvement. Standards do not exist in a vacuum. It makes no sense to “just wait” for the communication environment to change and then respond to it. It also makes no sense to demand of each individual communicator that they “go out there and figure out” the best way to reach people. The best practices pipeline could take the form of a council which meets on a regular basis specifically to consider new or unusual ideas that have breakthrough potential.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.

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