Evolution of the federal communication community – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

Business
January 9, 2013

Evolution of the federal communication community

Depending on how you count, 10-20 percent of all Canadian public relations/communication (PR/C) professionals work for the federal government and its various arm’s length agencies. Yet, even within the ranks of the corner offices in the federal government, its evolution as a community remains virtually unknown.

Overall, this community is larger than that in any other public, private or non-profit organization and larger than the memberships of the two biggest public relations/communication associations: the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) and the International Association of Business Communicators.

We realized that the community’s broad history had not been researched and told. Our subsequent study, presented this past summer at an academic conference at the University of Bournemouth and soon to be published, focused on three of the factors that influenced the reasons why the community evolved the way it did. We should note that all three authors had been involved in the federal government’s communication community for most of the last 25 years, either as leaders within the community or as management consultants to community leaders. We each had made our own contributions to the community’s history.

First, we examined the introduction of two government of Canada (GoC) Communication Policies, one in 1988 and the second in 2002, and the roles played by the community in the development of the content of these policies and in their subsequent approval and introduction.

Second, the paper looked at two central government agencies, the Privy Council Office (PCO) and the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), as the loci of community leadership and the roles they played in fostering a sense of community.

Third, we considered infrastructures built by community members themselves to improve management practices across the community and to provide programs for community development.

Each of these became a separate research stream. In each stream, we analysed contributions to the strategic and professional evolution of the community. We defined strategic as two-fold: (1) managing the communication function strategically; and (2) the communication function being part of the strategic management of the government department. Then we defined professionalism as the communication community achieving legitimization as a specialized functional community through external recognition of unique knowledge, set of skills and common standards.

In conducting our study, we identified and gathered documents dating back to the 1960s. We held interviews with former communication professionals who were actively involved in the community and we conducted an online survey open to current but long-serving as well as retired communication executives and managers. Our method, therefore, was narration both written and verbal, with documentation shared voluntarily by participants.

We also should note that this study covered a period of time that saw different cycles of investment and disinvestment in the public service. PR/C budgets and the absolute numbers of employees grew in the 1980s. Extensive downsizing in the 1990s, to be followed again by significant growth in the size of government and in communication demand in the 2000s, followed this. By the end of 2010, the federal government was entering another period of sizable cuts to PR/C budgets and employees. When we wrote this paper in the spring of 2012, the communication community had been affected by significant resource cuts, with more planned.

What did we find out about the strategic and professional evolution of the community?

First, we concluded that the two GoC Communications Policies did contribute to the strategic evolution of the community, particularly for managing the communication branch strategically. Heads of communication now had a set of formal standards by which to integrate the department’s communication function and to manage it holistically. The policies described the roles and responsibilities for which they were accountable. While it took the community two attempts at formulating and promoting policy before formal regulations were approved, the strategic acceptance of the community has become dependent on the enactment of these policy requirements. On the other hand, the Policy, in itself, did not contribute greatly to the professionalization of the community.

Second, we concluded that, with the exception of brief periods where the Privy Council Office advocated for more strategic insights from communication branches, neither PCO nor TBS contributed greatly to the strategic evolution of the community. PCO and TBS provided little support to help a given communication branch manage strategically or be immersed in the strategic management of the department. And, although PCO and TBS had their hearts in the right places, they, ultimately, did not have the resources (especially in the disinvestment period of the 1990s) or influence to achieve the critical mass of training and professional development activities needed to professionalize the community in any great way. While they offered, or partnered with others to offer, courses, their efforts were typically one-off and not part of an overall program.

Finally, we concluded that, while leaders of the various associations the community fostered, such as the Federal Communications Council (FCC) and the Information Services Institute (ISI), played roles in the strategic evolution of the community, these associations of practitioners themselves did not have the resources to sustain such a role. Although certain leaders were strong advocates, they did not have the influence with their peers – or their peers’ departments – to ensure that 100 percent of federal government communication branches were managed strategically. The current association incarnation, the Communications Community Office (CCO), does not perform such a role.

But, we also concluded that these associations – most important the CCO – have fostered the professional evolution of the communication community. Their presence was of special importance in times following periods of disinvestment, when the average age and years of experience of staff members dipped. The community faced a challenge in the 2000s when a shortage of qualified Information Services staff meant that officers with limited experience and knowledge rose quickly through the ranks, without proper training in government communication.

It is our contention, then, that it was the two government of Canada communication policies, but primarily the second, and the professional development driven by the community, primarily from the CCO, which were the main factors driving the positive strategic and professional evolution of the community. PCO and TBS, vitally important for the strategic and professional evolution of the federal communication community in the 1980s and early 1990s, acted as initial interlocutors and mechanisms for integrating community initiatives but their influence waned from the mid 1990s onward. Likewise, the community bodies in place before the establishment of the Communication Community Office had a similar positive influence on community development, but they never had the level of resources needed to sustain their efforts year to year.

The greater PR/communication community in Canada can learn from the two factors that positively influenced the strategic and professional evolution of the federal government’s communications community. First, a detailed and sophisticated policy is crucial to a community’s strategic advancement. Second, professional acceptance is dependent on the community’s own efforts. It should be noted that it was the federal government’s PR/C community that self-funded its own professional development. Community legitimization through external recognition will only occur if the community itself sets high standards for its own profession.  

Fraser Likely is president and managing partner of Likely Communication Strategies. Margaret Rudolf is principal of MRudolf Associates and formerly a senior communication policy advisor in PCO and TBS. Jean Valin is principal with Valin Strategic Communications and held senior executive positions in the federal communication community.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Business
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) and CATAAlliance , Canada’s one voice for...
 
Water is essential to sustain all forms of life and more...
 
Security professionals have an obligation to communicate risks and recommendations to...
 
During the past decade, the international university-level student population in Canada...
 
Professionals, managers, and executives in the cost estimation industry can gain...
 
Canadian Government Executive kicked off its CGE Leadership Series for 2017...
 
A new study from the Conference Board of Canada gives our...
 
As the 5th largest agricultural exporter on the planet, Canada plays...
 
In this episode, hear more about how Canada is a prime...
 
In the recent June issue, we published a captivating piece by...
 
The October issue of Canadian Government Executive on Focusing on Customer...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Executive compensation is considered to be a central component of corporate...
 
Open source was established around the ethos of sharing and collaboration....
 
In December last year, a privately owned aerial drone crashed into...
 
By Gregory Richards A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests...
 
Last week the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reported that...
 
Written by Donald Farmer Too often, we base Business Intelligence today...
 
Written By Chris Brown To deliver results that senior executives value,...
 
Written By Jason McNaught Contrary to what you may have heard,...
 
Written by  Gail Vallance Barrington Anyone who has commissioned a program...
 
“Public institutions are the cornerstone of our democratic system” is the...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
A neuromarketing study examines exactly how much life direct mail continues...
 
As one of the U.S. Defense Department’s largest acquisition organizations, Program...
 
Many people say that managing projects is all about managing people...
 
Some of us can only dream of being 20 years old...
 
“With SMARTnership, we have to look into communication, being trustworthy, convincing...
 
Wreaths are placed at the naming ceremony for the new Canadian...
 
Barry Shepherd, the principal surveyor and client support manager for Central...
 
In 2012, the province of Prince Edward Island held a business...
 
The challenges city leaders now face require creativity and innovation. Many...
 
Depending on how you count, 10-20 percent of all Canadian public...
 
In a 2011 white paper published by the Internal Federation of...
 
For the last few years, governments around the world have been...
 
Compensation is often raised as a key tool that can either...
 
The Canadian mining industry is responsible for over 4.5 percent of...
 
Governments throughout Canada are facing a number of challenges, from reducing...
 
Since its founding, Canada has looked either east to Europe or...
 
It is a good management practice to review programs and activities...
 
Few things catalyze infrastructure faster than a major international sporting event....
 
What can you say about the future of long range public...
 
In Canada, it seems like any discussion of copyright quickly turns...
 
We live in a time when physical and digital infrastructures built...
 
How are leaders responding to a competitive and economic environment unlike...
 
We live in times of significant demographic and technological transition across...
 
Public-private partnerships (P3s) have become increasingly important in Canada at both...
 
Les citoyens souhaitent expliquer aux politiciens et aux décideurs ce qu’ils...
 
The need for better accountability has led Treasury Board to enforce...
 
It begs the question: Are federal real property professionals ready to...
 
With an annual deficit of $36.2 billion, the federal government is...
 
It now appears that Canada will emerge earlier than expected from...
 
Strong portfolio management is increasingly important in today’s interconnected world....
 
Early in 2011, the National Quality Institute (NQI) board of governors...
 
The Public Service Modernization Act, which came into force in 2005,...
 
In the current economic climate, the finance function role in the...
 
We live in exciting times: an unprecedented level of innovation is...
 
Saskatchewan’s oil and gas sector is booming, and the amount of...
 
The Economic Action Plan showed how much can be achieved when...
 
Public Works and Government Services Canada has a new and innovative...
 
Citizens may not always look forward to applying and paying for...
 
Maintaining and investing in water and waste water treatment facilities, roads,...
 
Stakeholders and media are currently focusing substantial attention on executive compensation....
 
The spectre of wrongdoing within a department can send chills down...
 
Il n’y a pas si longtemps, les Beatles chantaient : «...
 
The Beatles once sang, “You say you want a revolution? Well,...
 
An idea – that’s where it all starts. Entrepreneurs travel a...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Quote of the week politicians provide the energy generated by ideology,...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.