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Roles and Communication Practices

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Communicating in the Policy Process:
Roles and Communication Practices

Communications are presented in forms conventionally used to achieve a role’s purposes. For example, elected and appointed legislative officials use bills and resolutions. Administrative officials use executive orders, statutes, legal codifications, standards and rules of enforcement, manuals, and press releases. (You can learn more about legislative and administrative communications in Knowing the Record, which provides information on government records research, where you are referred to respected sources such as the Library of Congress’s database Thomas that includes glossaries of government document types.) Advocates use position papers, research reports, action alerts, press releases, witness testimony.

To suggest the range of practical policy communications, a listing that sorts actors by role and associated communication practices is provided, next.

Professionals Inside Government

Within government, career or consulting professionals generate most of the working information of a policy process. They communicate in roles as, for example, legislative aides to members of a legislature; experts on the staffs of legislative committees; legal counsels to legislative committees and agencies; executive agency administrators; policy analysts and technical specialists attached to many offices. To carry out their responsibilities, they might use any of the following document types:

  • One-pagers (summaries of fact or perspective, limited to one page)
  • Memos (more developed summaries of varying length)
  • White papers (extensive reportage or analysis including evidence)
  • Legislative concept proposals (outlines of model or idea or strategy for policy, without details)
  • Legislative histories (reports of government action or inaction, based on government records)
  • Committee reports (synthesis of committee decision and his­tory of action on a topic)
  • Speeches (to be delivered by elected or appointed officials)
  • Testimonies (to be delivered by executives or professionals)

For some inside professionals, communication is the entire job. The communications director in the state budgeting case (ADD LINK) is an example. A communications director is a generalist who:

  • Writes and produces internal documents of many kinds
  • Writes external public announcements of many kinds
  • Produces kits of information for news media use

Other professional communicators in government are specialists. They include:

  • Speechwriters who draft talks for officials to deliver
  • Legislation writers who draft bills for deliberation and formulate laws for codification
  • Debate reporters who produce stenographic transcripts and the published records of deliberation and debate
  • Webmasters who maintain government web sites

Professionals Outside Government

Significant amounts of information used in policy making come from outside government. Experts of many kinds in universities, industries, policy institutes, nonprofit organizations, and businesses write or contribute to white papers, reports of many kinds, and testimonies. Because they are not constrained as government employees are from engaging public debate, they may write opinion in print or online publications.

The expert’s blog in the milk labeling regulation example in the introduction exemplifies this practice. In addition, professionals and managers in publicly regulated industries and businesses might provide needed information.

For some outside professionals, communication for public policy purposes is the main focus of their job. Lobbyists are an example. They are experts in a subject and are employed by organizations to ensure that policy makers have information about the subject that is germane to the interests of the employing organizations and to en­sure that policy makers are exposed to the full range of arguments on a given issue.

Lobbyists might brief legislators and their staffs, or they might draft legislation for consideration. Policy analysts are a different example. They may be either inside or outside government. They are experts in using quantitative and qualitative methods to examine problems and options for solving problems. Analysts might advise policy makers on the choice of policy instruments or provide research results to aid the formulation of policy.

Active Citizens

Ordinary people in daily life inform and influence public policy making when they:

  • Write or e-mail officials
  • Provide formal written remarks on their experience relevant to a problem or a policy in response to a call for comment
  • Testify about effects of a problem or a policy on their life or their livelihood
  • Conduct letter-writing campaigns, create e-mail lists, and use phone trees
  • Form a coalition to cooperate in solving a problem
  • Create a mechanism such as a lawsuit or a boycott to force response by institutional authorities
  • Lobby as a representative of civic organizations, trade associations, professional associations, communities of interest, or constituencies

The milk labeling case in the introduction illustrates citizen participation in several of these ways.

Learn about the general method of developing communications.