Motivations: The Office of Public Affairs (OPA) at many Federal agencies is responsible for ensuring that the public and press are informed about the agency’s activities and about the priorities and policies of their leadership. As the communications department, OPAs often serve as the principle point of contact with the news media, advise agency officials on all aspects of media relations and communications issues, and coordinate public affairs both within an agency and outside an agency. Typically, OPAs prepare and issue news releases and frequently review and approve those issued by agency organizations. They serve reporters assigned to the agency by responding to queries, issuing news releases and statements, arranging interviews and conducting news conferences.
OPAs ensure that information provided to the news media and to the public is current, complete and accurate. They also ensure that all applicable laws, regulations and policies involving the release of information to the public are followed. This ensures that maximum disclosure is made without jeopardizing investigations and prosecutions, violating rights of individuals, or compromising national security interests.
Approach: Since OPAs serve as the “voice” of most Federal agencies, they require a seat at the open government table. Open government tools and web 2.0 tools should be integrated into to their department’s strategic communications plan as another communications vehicle. Key messages for the department will be communicated via these new tools.
When standing up an open government strategy, OPAs will be particularly concerned with the following questions:
- Will open government tools help make public engagement easier?
- What type of outreach and collaboration mechanisms reach my stakeholders most effectively?
- What tools are available and how will each get my message across the best?
- How are other OPAs using open government tools to communicate and collaborate with the public?
Partner’s Bottom Line: Based on the role and motivations of OPAs and the fact that they are the authoritative source of information for the Department, they need to be one of the key players in a department’s open government strategy. OPAs will typically be the group responsible for using the open government tools on a day-to-day basis, therefore they should be involved from the beginning.