4 Changes and expectations
The voice of citizens must be heard. Public authorities must understand citizens’ expectations when changes are made in public administration and its services.
The voice of citizens must be heard. Public authorities must understand citizens’ expectations when changes are made in public administration and its services. Communications make government agencies and their administrative activities and services more familiar to citizens and organisations alike and provide a framework for interaction between citizens and government.
Different phenomena in society also need to be identified, so that it is possible to respond proactively to citizens’ information needs and desire to interact. Information on matters under preparation is communicated through various channels in media networks, web services, social media, briefings and customer services.
With the advances in digitalisation, citizens themselves are becoming increasingly more important as communicators and individual actors.
They produce and share information and engage in debates on online platforms where it is possible to reach other like-minded people.
Communications by public authorities ensure that accurate information is available and shareable and that authorities are present in the media used by citizens. The needs of different language groups and plain language communications must also be taken into account.
Changes in the media landscape
The rapid changes in the media environment demands new thinking on the part of public authorities. Public authorities must be able to provide communications services that are both top quality and versatile.
Reliable quality journalism has an important role in today’s fast-changing world. Freedom of the press and a media committed to good journalistic practice are the pillars of democracy and freedom of speech.
Media plays a key role in forwarding and interpreting information published by public authorities. The media also serves as a watchdog of decision making in society. Communications by public authorities to the media must be active, open, equitable and service-minded. Experts supply the media background information on issues and developments and must be prepared to appear in public. Unforeseen developments often make it necessary for public authorities to respond to media inquiries outside office hours.
Communications content and services should be provided in a format that is readily usable by the media. Streamed online press conferences communicate information simultaneously to the media and citizens equitably. Professionally edited and informative online services and proactive interactive communications in social media serve both the media and the public. High-quality images, informative graphics, video clips and animation also contribute to this goal.
Background briefings are an established way of providing the media with more extensive in-depth information about issues under preparation. Invitations must specify whether the event is a briefing or press conference so that the participants know in advance which type of meeting they will be attending. It is also important to clearly indicate what is off the record. Briefings can also be held for more limited groups, such as journalists and other parties with a special interest in the issue at hand.
All media representatives must be treated equally when press conferences and briefings are held. If attendance is restricted, the grounds for exclusion must be clear-cut and fair. Public authorities need to ensure that sufficient information on the theme is also available for those who are not invited.
Meetings between public authorities and individual media companies and journalists are part of the normal management of stakeholder relations.
Rapidly advancing digitisation affects the content and sharing of communications. Digital communications are characterised by topicality, interaction and ease of use. Citizens and other stakeholders must be given the opportunity to check information on the internet issued by public authorities whenever they need it. Access to the information must also be device-independent, so this needs to be taken into account when online services are developed.
Public authorities can use the social media to increase general awareness of their work and services. They can also use it to direct users to sources of accurate information, such as official documents and data. It is also important to ensure that the information is readily available to citizens in other media channels and sources.
Most people can be reached through digital channels. Public authorities select the channels they use based on the needs of the citizens and other stakeholders and inform them of the channels being used. The selected information channels must be used consistently. Public authorities should keep abreast of technological developments and take them into account when developing communications.
Public authorities should make active use of social media in new and versatile ways. The social media is especially well-suited for interactive communications and customer services. Social media presence is becoming part of the daily duties of growing numbers of public officials. Public authorities can use it to supply background information on decisions and clear up any misunderstandings. The speed of social media makes it an important vehicle for crisis communications.
Adequate resources should be ensured when communications channels are chosen and new services created. Operating a site requires active monitoring and sometimes quick responses to feedback and questions.
In a networked global environment, new issues and developments are often swiftly debated by the general public. Public authorities must be prepared for unforeseen and exceptional situations. They must be ready to use various communications channels quickly and flexibly.
Communications must be intensified when faced with unforeseen new developments but it is also important to follow the procedures and practices that apply in normal conditions. In the event of a crisis, communications are part of the efforts to manage the situation. Cooperation and flow of information between those in command, experts and communications professionals is highlighted under such circumstances. Reliable, well-timed and empathetic communications assure people that their concerns are being addressed.
Successful performance in managing emergencies and communications is based on daily cooperation, clear-cut procedures and exercises. More detailed instructions for crisis communications are available in the ‘Central Government Communications in Incidents and Emergencies’ publication.
Information by influence
A lot of information available to the public is difficult to evaluate in terms of reliability and accuracy. Information management and strategic utilisation of information have become an increasingly important way of shaping attitudes and opinions.
Information by influence refers to systematic actions designed to influence public opinion, decision-makers’ and people’s behaviour and thereby the functions of society. The methods used include dissemination of false and misleading information, exertion of pressure as well as manipulative use of information that is, in itself, correct. It is a strategic activity designed to mislead the targets to make self-detrimental decisions or to act against their own best interests.
The best buffers against information by influence are efficient cooperation between authorities, a high level of general education, good media literacy and a media committed to good journalistic practice. It is important to respond to manipulative dissemination of misleading information quickly by communicating truthful information. Special care needs to be taken to ensure that correct and reliable information published by public authorities is easy to find. Capabilities must be in place to produce and disseminate such information in different languages, because information by influence is an international phenomenon.
The central government works in an international environment. All ministries, agencies and institutions have responsibilities in providing and developing international communications and improving mutual coordination related to it. Aside from the Finnish public, it is important to also consider the global media and audiences abroad.
Finland’s objectives are promoted abroad through traditional diplomacy, official visits and communications as well as by means of country image work. The goal of country image work is to highlight Finland’s strengths truthfully so that the country and its people are perceived as reliable and stable partners on the international arena. One of the objectives is to promote the internationalisation of Finnish companies and workforce as well as to attract foreign investments to Finland.
Country image work consists of long-term efforts related to influencing, communications and marketing. This work is coordinated and overseen by the Finland Promotion Board, appointed by the Prime Minister, and its secretariat in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Finland’s reputation is affected by the daily actions of all the ministries and public authorities.