Thursday, June 12, 2014

Commitment and professionalism will drive you everywhere

 
a special guest post by Vincenzo Le Voci, Secretary-General of the European Union's Club of Venice
 

On the special occasion of the kickstart of its 2014 Communication School, I wish the best of luck to all friends and colleagues of the National Association of US Government Communicators! This is not only an important step in your professional development, but a crucial opportunity to share and experience how you will be increasingly required to cope with the growing challenges in todays information and communication world.

As Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the informal network of the communications directors of EU Member States, EU institutions, and EU candidate countries and bodies, I want first to reflect on the immensity of the task facing civil servants in this role.

Let us first consider the profession, with its twin-track duty of loyalty towards the institutions and towards citizens.  Across the ocean, the European Union is experiencing a very delicate phase in its history with decreasing support from its population; disappearance of the former generation of visionary politicians; a struggle to foster recovery from a devastating financial and economic crisis, and a rise of in nationalist resentment and demands for protectionism.  In this atmosphere, investing in public communication is unlikely to be painless. The golden age of expectations fuelled by great hopes and flourishing economic trends has faded away.  Communicators must now have the capability of explaining to citizens that times have changed and recovery can only be achieved through the efforts of everyone together.

Communication is at a crossroads.  In the midst of this challenging environment, it is essential to dispel any vestige of the taint of propaganda. The European elections a couple of weeks ago again identified a deficit in the engagement of citizens, even though there were a few genuinely interactive public events. And yet again, many analysts have pointed out that communication was embedded in the political debate too late.

In Europe, public service communication more than ever needs standards, both regulatory (public communication legislation, ethical framework) and professional (professional status, training, recruitment policy, profiles structure).  Only a sustainable, comprehensive framework can guarantee the public communicator's role of critical interface between the authorities and citizens. Communication professionals cannot be expected to deliver without structured involvement, the opportunity for effective analysis and evaluation, and the space to build concrete development plans.

Therefore, when focusing on government communication, we need to adopt a multi-faceted approach.  We should look forward in several directions:
  • increasing the effectiveness of services for citizens;
  • optimising resources in public communication;
  • accepting the challenges of modern technology while not forgetting the needs of audiences unable to cope with the new media landscape;
  • seeking the improvement of a two-way communication;
  • and ensuring public authorities' engagement in the social media.

Nor must we forget the education dimension in communication; several Member States are ready to re-invest in the integration of educational services about the EU and cross-border cooperation.

The Club of Venice stays closely engaged in this exercise. We were founded in November 1986 when communication directors from twelve EU Member States decided to reinforce their ties with greater exchanges of best practice, to build trans-national synergies for more effective communication strategies.

Venice, where it all started, is a metaphor for this work, a crossroads of history, culture, and arts, always inclined to broaden horizons, share experiences, instill and export new cultural models; and all with a view to improving the living standards of its citizens and investing in growth.

Throughout the years, as effective communication has become a crucial activity for many governments, the Club family has expanded in tandem with successive waves of European integration. Today, it includes heads of government communication from 28 Member States, five candidate countries, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Central Bank.

The draft agenda of the two plenary sessions organised every year by the Club has two standing components: government and public communication projects and plans ontopics of trans-national interest; and communication on EU issues.

As the Club President Professor Stefano Rolando indicated, the Club does not meet to focus on constraints, uncertainties and diverging practices.  These are clearly understood, and we explore them within the network between plenary meetings.  We come but together to try to find a common approach to communicator’s profession, for the benefit of our governments and our citizens. This informal approach makes the difference, and facilitates constructive and inspiring dialogue.

The last plenary meeting of the Club took place in Riga, Latvia, on 5/6 June, immediately after the European Parliament elections which were marked by the clash of pro and anti European integration philosophies.  We have good reason to talk about issues with singular technical and political influence, the latter particularly influenced by current democratic trends. This is why it is crucial for the Club of Venice to seek and consolidate synergies with other international organisations.

In this context, during the last decade the Club has established relations with a number of international bodies and held joint meetings with the Information network of EU Member States from the Baltic Area, as well as international conferences such as EuroPCom (organised by the Committee of the Regions), university meetings (Milano IULM, Lille Science Po) and SEECOM, the Association of Southern-Eastern Government Communicators which has operated since its inception in 2012 in Montenegro.

The SEECOM Declaration, signed in Budva in September 2012, and strongly endorsed by John Verrico on behalf of NAGC, contains key orientations with regard to inclusiveness, transparency and participation.  These are also fully reflected in the Club's constitutional principles:
  • accountability, work for citizens, promotion of networking, dialogue and peer support for professional development of government communicators and advancement of government communication profession in general;
  • development of the top contemporary professional standards which are clearly possible through comprehensive training programmes to consolidate our profession (see for instance the respective, enormous investments planned by the UK and The Netherlands);
  • the search for new ways to strengthen communication between governments, including cross-border training opportunities;
  • and encouragement of citizen participation in government policy making, and public interest in government work.

The Club of Venice's twinning with SEECOM, which is continually strengthened, clearly indicates the right approach: sharing good values in outreach to citizens, and tabling new ideas to improve communication. The Club was invited to attend the 1st and 2nd SEECOM conferences held in Montenegro and we were proud to engage pro-actively within the respective programmes, by delivering speeches, making presentations and moderating panels. Collaboration has grown up with our great satisfaction and we are proud to have our Club Coordinator Mike Granatt as an Honorary Member of SEECOM. By the way, NAGC’s John Verrico is also an Honorary Member.

We look forward to continuing pooling forces in view of our two future important events: the 3rd SEECOM conference foreseen in Croatia in late September and the autumn meeting of the Club of Venice in Rome in mid-November.

Communication, dear Colleagues, remains a crucial component of every government’s duty.  Thinking about the economic crisis that has hit in particular South-East Europe, communication has become ever more important.  It is imperative for governments to be connected constantly with their citizens in order to explain what is being done to overcome the present difficulties and foster recovery.

We need to be as informative and transparent as possible towards the public - and only a two-way partnership can help build trust between government and citizens. Hence, the most important role of communication professionals is to foster interaction with citizens, inform them objectively and encourage their engagement in policy-making.  (This is, after all, the only way to ensure that policies fully reflect their needs and interests).

Lets continue to work hard, reinforce know-how and competencies, increase focus on core issues, stay connected, improve internal communication and coordination and seek together excellence.

Quoting from Christian Spahr, Konrad Adenauer Foundation representative and one of the Steering Group members of SEECOM.  He pointed out that for political communication, "good resources and structures are required. But even more important is the professional attitude of PR managers in politics". And this applies to all of us.

-- Vincenzo Le Voci, 12 June 2014



 
Vincenzo Le Voci has worked on information policy, communication strategies and transparency issues since 2001 and is currently coordinating the agenda of the EU Council’s Working Party on Information (Members States’ press and information officers). In 2011 he was appointed Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the network of the communication directors from EU member states, candidate countries and institutions. Before joining the EU in 1992, he worked for NATO as Housing Manager for the United States Air Forces in Europe (1985-1991).
 
This guest blog post is part of NAGC's continuing partnership with our international counterparts. NAGC is dedicated to bringing together and learning from the best minds in government communications around the globe.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kerri Richardson named NAGC Communicator of the Year

The National Association of Government Communicators selected Kerri Richardson, Director of Communications at the Kentucky Governor’s Office, as the NAGC 2014 Communicator of the Year.

Richardson was selected for the award by a panel of NAGC judges for her ability to communicate Kentucky’s decision to expand Medicaid and launch their own, state-based Affordable Care Act Health Benefits Exchange – both highly complex and often contentious programs.  The panel was impressed by Richardson’s ability to communicate the Kentucky experience across a broad spectrum of audiences – from local to national, including major media. 

“NAGC is proud to honor the Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s Office Director of Communications Kerri Richardson,” said NAGC President Glen Thomas.  “She is a communicator who combined subject matter expertise with the right communication tools to gain statewide support for Kentucky’s Affordable Care Act implementation, and elevate Kentucky’s approach as a national model for states to use in implementing the Affordable Care Act.”

The NAGC Communicator of the Year Award is given annually to a government communicator who has helped instill public trust by effectively presenting accurate, timely and meaningful information, sometimes under exceptional circumstances.


Richardson will receive her award during the NAGC’s 2014 Awards Banquet, scheduled for June 12, at the National Press Club, Washington DC.  The Banquet coincides with the 2014 NAGC Communications School, scheduled for June 12-13, at the FHI 360 Conference Center, Washington DC.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Last chance to participate in the NAGC Trends and Salary Survey!

How do your job responsibilities, pay and benefits compare with colleagues across the country? 

NAGC’s Trends and Salary Survey will help you answer these questions and seeks to provide an overview of government communications professions in 2014. 

Your participation in this online survey will provide critical data that will allow you to gauge and benchmark your professional and career status with your colleagues across the nation. 

We estimate it will take about 15 minutes to complete the survey. Please set aside 15 minutes at your earliest convenience and weigh in on the challenging issues facing federal, state and local government communicators today. 

The survey deadline has been extended to March 7, 2014.  Know a government communicator?  Pass the survey link on to them!

Click here to take the survey or go to 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014 Communications School Call for Speakers

NAGC announces its “Call for Speakers” for the 2014 Communications School, Government Communicators: Harnessing the Power to Inform and Engage Citizens, in Washington, DC June 12-13, 2014 (pre-conference session on June 11).  We are looking for half-day pre-conference training workshops, plenary speakers and 60-minute breakout session presentations.

Topic areas of interest:


National Association of Government Communicators 2014 Communications School logo*    Internal Communications within Agencies
*    The Move toward E-Government
*    Measuring ROI in Social Media Communications
*    Engaging the Public for Volunteer Service
*    Establishing a Social Media Toolkit
*    Managing Up to Engage Leadership
*    Plain Language
*    Strategic Communications
*    Communicating on Sensitive Topics
*    Contingency Plans & Preparing for Disaster
*    Emerging Technologies
*    508 Compliance
*    In-House Photography & Video Production
*    Advances in Social Media
*    And more...




If you have any questions feel free to contact us at info@nagconline.org.

Know a great speaker? If you have heard a great speaker on one or more of these topic areas of interest let us know at info@nagconline.org.  Please try and provide as much contact information as possible with your speaker recommendation.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Communicating Europe through the inter-agency approach:


How to navigate the swamps and paradoxes


 


a special guest post by Vincenzo Le Voci, Secretary-General of the European Union's Club of Venice


Europe’s great project was founded in the aftermath of two global conflicts to achieve one great ambition: a better Europe, enshrined with democratic rights and values to be enjoyed by every one of its citizens. To the surprise of nobody, it has proven to be a long process. It has required clear views, much good will and common sense, clever and experienced diplomacy, and the collective effort of very able and forward-looking statesmen.
 
Nor has it been easy. It has taken nearly three generations to grow from a group of six countries, struggling to shrug off the aftermath of horrible war, to a family of 28 Member States committed to consolidate friendship and cooperation. Each has its own peculiarities, culture, history and national pride. And each of them has a strong, individual role in delivering this extraordinary partnership which transcends old resentments, jealousies, and misunderstandings.
 
Europe’s great achievement is rightly described as “unity in diversity.”
 
Nevertheless, on the eve of a crucial moment - the European Parliamentary elections in May 2014 - Europe is enmeshed in a framework of paradoxes:
  • Europe hesitates to instil democratic values when consolidating solidarity and cohesion within its borders; it promotes them loudly outside EU borders; whilst looking on as people protest and die for those same European values in countries like Ukraine
  • Europe fosters sustainable recovery whilst national governments fail to sustain internal coalitions (even those with strong majorities)
 
In the field of communication,
  • Despite the imperative to communicate using local methods and values, Europe struggles to promote this approach and hesitates to decentralise communication management and planning
  • Europe wants to invest in innovative interactive tools, but often penalises the most effective traditional media methods - and overlooks important sectors of the audience
  • EU institutions fight to enhance and reinforce work in partnership, whilst behind the scenes they dismantle the most effective partnership models without any explanation and despite positive evaluations
  • Worst of all, Europe wants its public communicators to find common targets and speak to citizens about common growth and social welfare. However, nothing stems the “blame game” – in every country, the great enemy to national progress is Eurocrats and bureaucracy, but any credit for a welcome new law goes to national negotiators. There is never acknowledgement of the EU’s capacity to facilitate dialogue and negotiation.
There are other examples of this schizophrenic approach. Europe's founding fathers - generations of men of cultural talent like Albert Camus who fought for Europe's ideals - would turn in their grave. (Camus said: “The European civilization is first and foremost a pluralistic civilization. I want to say that it is the diversity of ideals, of opposites, contrasting values ​​and dialectic without synthesis. The dialectic of living in Europe is the one that does not lead to a kind of ideology at the same time totalitarian and orthodox.")
 
How can public communicators survive in this maëlström? It is difficult to describe how difficult it can be to seek synergies, to speak coherently to citizens in an atmosphere of global crisis, or how difficult it can be to convey clear messages from the political establishment to citizens.
 
Is it realistic to speak about an “inter-agency” formula for public communication in Europe? Is it conceivable to describe elaborate strategies for passing messages from national to regional to local level and the other way around? Is it possible to believe that while politicians in the grand European coalition don't talk to each other, public communicators can find a way to talk, to trust each other and share best practice, and maybe try to build trans-national projects?
 
Actually, everything can happen, provided that we can capitalize from successful examples, safeguard know-how and grant and treasure continuity. There is always a way to design communication localised to meet citizens’ expectations (“what’s in it for me?”) and to respect our wide variety of languages, and cultures. We must fight the prejudicial stereotype that everything bad flows from the centre of Europe, and all good comes from local governments.
 
Finding synergies in our "old continent" to "go local" with one voice remains the biggest challenge, not least because global crisis tends to drive us apart. Nevertheless, while this remains a situation that will not be improved easily or soon, it is of great note that several governments and EU institutions have developed a culture of inter-agency cooperation. They include the “Be relevant” approach in the Dutch government, the “MindLab” inter-ministerial platform set up in Denmark, the coordination put in place within the UK Government Communication services, the newly established German Ministry of Digital Infrastructure. These are just a few concrete examples of a determination to connect key elements of ministries and agencies. The ultimate goal remains to reach out to citizens, optimize public services and gain citizens’ trust. We need to use every platform available for broad and pro-active consultation, and strive to give everyone pride in playing an important part in the process. 
 
It is obvious that connections among national, regional and local authorities; and between them and civil society (all non governmental organisations); and between them and EU institutions and bodies and international organizations are crucial. But making these connections must be guided by a vision. A clear understanding of the mission, its values and objectives, allows well-motivated communicators to act with professionalism. This is why today’s efforts to invest in and promote communication training ethics and transparency will pay off in Europe and elsewhere.
 
In his Politics and the English Language, George Orwell highlighted that political communication can be “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”  This danger remains; and so we should remain vigilant, while building a safer and better future. We must continue to learn from history, drawing on solid social-cultural roots and good principles.

It is was no accident that Altiero Spinelli, one of the founding fathers of Europe, believed that European integration needed to draw inspiration from the founding principles of the Constitution of the United States of America.


 
Vincenzo Le Voci has worked on information policy, communication strategies and transparency issues since 2001 and is currently coordinating the agenda of the EU Council’s Working Party on Information (Members States’ press and information officers). In 2011 he was appointed Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the network of the communication directors from EU member states, candidate countries and institutions. Before joining the EU in 1992, he worked for NATO as Housing Manager for the United States Air Forces in Europe (1985-1991).
 
This guest blog post is part of NAGC's continuing partnership with our international counterparts. NAGC is dedicated to bringing together and learning from the best minds in government communications around the globe.