3 Management, planning and assessment

Communications is a vital part of organisation’s daily strategic activities. It is managed, planned, developed and assessed on a daily basis. 

Management

Communications and media relations are an integral part of management. Senior management gives a face to the organisation and is responsible for the organisation’s communications culture, competencies and information management procedures.

Communications professionals must be part of the organisation’s management team. Communications are successful and timely when cooperation between management and the organisation’s communication professionals is based on mutual trust.

Communications professionals must have access to core matters related to preparations and decision making. By doing so, government organisations can take into account communications comprehensively already in the planning stage. This is the way to carry out changes successfully.

Communication professionals are responsible for the planning, implementation, coordination and assessment of communications. Communications services cannot be properly managed or developed without adequate resources.

As a field, the communications industry is evolving fast. To keep up with the pace, public authorities must develop their own communications services. At the same time, the role of communications professionals as consultants and coaches is growing.

Organisations must ensure an adequate standard of communications skills. Communications professionals need training on a regular basis and need to work in close cooperation with other actors. Cooperation in communications is particularly important when extensive inter-administrative reforms are being carried out. Cooperation also makes it possible to pool resources and know-how as well as find bold new ways of communicating. Third-party communications resources are used when special expertise is required or when the organisation’s own resources are insufficient.

In a global age and today’s social media, communications needs are not limited to office hours. Where organisations have a regular need to communicate outside ordinary working hours, they are advised to put in place appropriate work time or on-call arrangements.

Each expert communicates about the issues for which he or she is responsible and cooperates closely with communications professionals when planning messages. Experts must be in a position to wield influence in networks. Organisations need to make sure that each expert knows his or her duties and responsibilities relating to communications. They are also entitled to the support and training they need for it.

Public authorities must be familiar with the principles in the Act on the Openness of Government Activities and understand what this entails. In particular, public servants must recognise how to assess what is public or confidential in terms of the Act.

Experts must keep communications professionals informed on a timely basis of matters that are being prepared or ready for decision making. Those responsible for communications must inform other experts of issues that have a bearing on their duties.

Staff commitment

Open and interactive communications in the workplace promote staff wellbeing and commitment. Active communications, transparent activities and up-to-date communications equipment support workplace management and performance. To be able to respond to the expectations of external stakeholders, workplace communications must be efficient.

The organisational culture evolves through formal and informal communications. Information must flow smoothly within the organisation so that work can proceed as planned. Close cooperation and smooth flow of information brings down internal boundaries and helps develop activities and create new ways of working.

Internal communications enable the staff to form a comprehensive picture of the organisation’s activities and to gain access to information that has a bearing on their duties. This makes it possible for staff members to impact their own work and the activities of the whole workplace.

Managers play a key role in shaping the ways in which information is passed on within the organisation. Directors and managers are entitled to receive support and training on managerial information dissemination. Employees are responsible for acquiring the information they need at work and to pass essential information on to those who need it.

Workplace communications should be planned and implemented in close consultation with the management, human resources, the communications unit and staff representatives. Proper planning safeguards that staff members can participate in preparations, for example. Staff members should always be the first to be informed of new developments in the organisation.

Efficient and interactive workplace communications are particularly important when there are changes in the organisation. Staff members will want know the reasons for the changes and how the different measures affect their position and what options are available. For projects that involve changes, a specific workplace communications plan should be drawn up and reviewed in connection with co-determination procedures.

Planning and assessment

Communications are part of any organisation’s daily strategic activities and are directed, planned and budgeted just like any other activity. All public authorities must have in place up-to-date communications guidelines.

Planning communications brings predictability. This way those who need information can rely on impartial and consistent communications being delivered on a regular basis. Public authorities must plan their activities and communications in such a way that citizens and other stakeholders have adequate time and opportunity to comment on matters under preparation. Communications should make use of a wide range of tools and channels to reach the relevant stakeholders.

Communications planning should be part of all major projects and their execution. Adequate human resources and funding should be allocated for large projects so that communications are successful. If necessary, marketing communications can be used to reach the relevant target groups.

Stakeholder engagement needs to be planned and have clear objectives. It is necessary to keep in regular contact and follow stakeholder information needs and expectations so that they can be met. Stakeholder engagement is part of the duties of all public servants.

Customer communications take into account the needs and special characteristics of different groups. Customer communications are honed together with the customers. Public authorities must make sure that their services are accessible and stakeholders are aware of them.

The benchmark for success and impact lies in the objectives set for communications. The goal is to develop communications so as to be able to respond to the expectations and information needs of citizens, media and key stakeholders in a wide range of situations.

Communication professionals must have access to tools that permit on-going assessment and monitoring of communications performance. These include customer feedback, monitoring and analysis of the digital services offered to the media and organisations as well as opinion polls and attitude surveys.

Reputation is a reflection of the stakeholders’ expectations and experiences of the organisation. It stems from the way in which the organisation and the people in the organisation work. Well-managed, open communications are part of this reputation. To succeed in their operations and to be effective, public authorities generally need to have a good reputation and a high level of recognition. The reputation of government organisations hinges on reliability.

Public authorities pursue their goals through partnerships and cooperation. Administrative organisations cooperate in communications and co-funded activities in order to achieve their own objectives. No form of cooperation may undermine the independence of the public authorities in their exercise of executive powers, however.

Political communications

Some central government organisations are led by elected appointees, for example by a minister. Political communications and communications by public authorities constitute a system in which each actor has its own, justified role.  

Political communications strengthens public debate, which is essential for the democratic formation of opinions. Communications by public authorities, in turn, ensure that citizens and other stakeholders have access to information on decisions and matters under preparation. For example, communications  by the Finnish Government and the ministries involves both the discharge of official duties and political management of Government and the ministries.  

In principle, ministries separate communications by the public authorities from political communications. A minister’s media relations and other communications are handled jointly by ministerial advisers and the ministry’s communications unit. Party-political communications and election campaigns, instead, are made public by the parties’ communications services. 

It is important to recognise the role of political communications in changes taking place in central government. When reforms are carried out, the division of duties and organisation between communications by experts and political communications must be kept very clear.