Which Pro Should Go?

Been having an on-going chat with a colleague that you might find quite interesting. It’s about a ‘grey protocol’, meaning we both agree on an action but not who should lead the action.

The hypothetical scenario we are throwing around is a state of an emergency in the UK. It’s in an advanced stage; it’s dangerous out there. But don’t worry, we’ve anticipated this might happen and there’s been years of planning put in.

The web plays a major part in the government’s response [duh!] in getting information out there – good quality information, timely information and, crucially, well-placed information. Getting info into the [non-state sanctioned] places online that people are already using to monitor and discuss what’s going on is thus a top priority.

Herein lies a ‘grey protocol’: who goes in? A trained government official with communications or policy specialism, or a commercial contractor with an extensive social media portfolio?

Potential advantages in both camps, but I argue in favour of the government official for three core reasons:

  1. Chain of command… The official is accountable to a minister who in turn is accountable to Parliament, which in turn is accountable to the electorate.
  2. Time to market… The official has access to the key government information and its evolution; in turn, if they have access to key ‘public information’ as it evolves, then they can get that back to the powers that be as soon as possible.
  3. Where to turn… I know there is the whole ‘don’t trust the government’ thing going on, but we need to work at that and situations like that in our scenario are what that push is all about. Governments in parliamentary democracies are there to protect and serve the public as best they can.

From the other stance comes the argument that the private sector supplier has the years of experience and a handle on the latest market research and techniques. But that pre-supposes that the government doesn’t have the technical engagement skills in-house, which is wrong because since 2005 the
government has been recruiting and training to plug the gap.

That’s where I stand on the matter. But what do you think? Is there a sliding scale here? Are there examples from other sectors, institutions or countries that are analogous?

Keen to know.

2 thoughts on “Which Pro Should Go?

  1. “there is the whole ‘don’t trust the government’ thing going on, but we need to work at that ….”

    No way of knowing of course, but I think that – in situations like that, we’d see how shallowly a lot of ‘don’t trust the government’ convictions are held.

    Also, “…the government doesn’t have the technical engagement skills in-house, which is wrong because…”, I’d finish that sentance with a second reason – because the skill-levels needed are lower now than they were in 2005, the social spaces are more developed and are collaboratively filtering information more effectively anyway, and ‘government’ doesn’t *even* have to mean politicians+bureaucrats. There are now senior politicians who have read-write web experience.

    A good deal of bureaucratic energy has gone into slowing this process down, but it’s getting too late even for that now.

    A good thing, I think?

  2. Send in the government bloggers!

    Seriously: the civil servants in digital media teams and outside of them, who would be able to throw together a crisis communications centre using free hosted social media tools (if access to the existing systems is impaired).

    I’d lean towards comms professionals more than policy, just to make sure the messages are co-ordinated and joined up – and to mitigate against issues like trust in government messages, which comms people have more exposure to.

    It sounds quite exciting… let’s hope it never happens.

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