Public Affairs – How Do You Use Your Monitoring?

Keeping track of political intelligence is the lifeblood of public affairs. But having information is not enough. The critical element is what you do with it.

The information

The first set of decisions to make is where to draw your information from.

Parliament – Always a good starting point – across debates, questions, committee proceedings, bills, early day motions etc. The Parliament could be any of those across the UK.

Government – Departments issue a range of documents including press releases, consultations, policy documents.

Speeches – Pay attention to what politicians say and do.

Think tanks, third party reports etc. – These often shape the wider policy setting so pay attention and know what conversations taking place are.

Media and social media – Especially through the likes of Twitter. Politicians, and other stakeholders, make comments, get involved in debates and make their support, opposition or positions known.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but should be the type of information that you are aiming to collect. You can do this yourselves but, as may be clear from the list, there can be a lot of sources to consider. This is why many prefer to outsource their monitoring.

But once you have all the information, what should you do with it?

The approach

There should first be a prioritisation of the information that comes in. That process should be led by your overall public affairs strategy enabling you to be considered in your approach rather than simply reactionary.

That prioritisation could be based around the issue, or the people involved.

Critically, and in my opinion the basis of all good public affairs, the information gathered enables you to be proactive. It facilitates outreach. It enables new contacts to be established. Existing contacts can be reinforced through the offer of support, for instance when debates are tabled.

Monitoring also enables you to identify emerging issues or trends but equally you may see attention moving elsewhere. All these risks and opportunities need to be managed and exploited.

But it is not just about you and what the team do with the information. Does it need to be distributed to others as well? This could be internally but also maybe telling others externally as well if that helps your programme. Maybe partner organisations need to be brought up to speed on developments. At all times, consider how you deliver that information, internally or externally, to ensure that there is an explanation and maybe an action point to go with it. Otherwise, it is all too easily ignored.

Of course, this only captures the ‘formal’ information that is gathered. That is only part of the story. You also need to be gathering information ‘informally’ as well through your networks, by attending events etc.

Critical role

My plea is that rather than the focus of activity being having a monitoring system in place, it should be having a plan to make of most of the information when it arrives. It is too easy to put monitoring at the bottom of the list of priorities, but its output should be at the very top of your list.

Image by kontekbrothers on iStock

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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