Citizen Impact — Communication and Policy Intersection

The recent report released by Samara has some fascinating insights about those who are politically disengaged from our democracy. Without touching on the political aspects of it, it is interesting to look at the parts that deal with the bureaucracy – indeed, our performance as bureaucrats plays a role in how engaged people are with the political system and how empowered they feel. While there are some powerful stories in the report on citizen interaction with the bureaucracy, it is succinctly captured here:

Some became outsiders after seeking assistance from elected representatives and civil servants in government, but ultimately receiving little help.

This brings to the forefront an interesting discussion about our role in upholding the public trust. While when I wrote that initial post I was looking at the institutional level, but this report makes clear that the individual level is just as important when looking at how institutions maintain trust and, along with that, engagement.

Essentially, remember this: Our interaction with citizens matter. Public servants are one of the facets through which people engage with the Government of Canada, and how we are perceived has an impact not just on that one instant of service provision, but can have a deep impact on how that citizen engages with the Government (and political institutions) in the future. Of course, we see this as one of the values that we need to uphold in the Values and Ethics Code:

Public servants shall act at all times in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny; an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law. 

With this idea of engagement comes the idea how we manage communication. In Nick’s recent post, he met with a communicator who rightly pointed out that communication is a function of policy. When communicating with the public, including in engagement exercises, we have a duty as public servants to make sure that citizens actually are engaged in the process, and that hopefully their experience is positive. How big of an impact these consultations have is, of course, up to the political level, our duty is to make sure that the public trust is upheld through the process and provide advice as to how they may be used on the outcomes.

Which makes me wonder: Where do communicators fit in within the policy-program continuum? I’m glad that there has been some talk lately on that continuum and how important it is to policy development, but it seems that a crucial player may be left out.


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