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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Social convergence and the need for transparent crisis comms

As I'm listening on RadioReference.com and following the response to an explosion in a hotel in Nashville where the US national sheriff's convention is taking place ...I'm struck by the fact that some people still believe they can hide info or just plain lie to their audiences. (and it's not happening in that case ...I'm using this example to show that anyone can listen in and make their own minds about your operations) 


Social convergence (the alliance of mobile tech/devices and social networks) has pretty much made such attempts at obfuscation, omission or misinformation pretty futile. There are just too many channels where people can obtain and share info to make this a viable/efficient approach.


We're in an era of transparency and openness. Stakeholders (particularly electors) expect their leaders (elected ones especially) to tell it like it is ... That's a key lesson from Fukushima ... minimizing the impact of a disaster in the face of reality and public opinion is totally misguided and can even impede your response. In addition, if it's later shown you were negligent in your planning and preparedness, your credibility is shot ... then why should I trust what you're telling me now?






In one just example of the lack of transparency by government agencies and nuclear operators following the Fukushima event, information was purposefully withheld from the public ...potentially putting Japanese citizens at risk.

U.S. military aircraft gathered radiation data from March 17-19 over a 45-km (28-mile) radius and found that people in an area about 25 km (15 miles) northwest of the plant - where some people were moving - were exposed to the annual permissible level of radiation within eight hours, Japanese media said.
The information was passed to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the science and technology ministry by Japan's Foreign Ministry but neither agency passed it to the prime minister's office, which was overseeing the evacuations.
"It is extremely regrettable that this information was not shared or utilized properly within the government and I have no words to apologize, especially to the disaster victims," Industry MinisterYukio Edano, top government spokesman during the crisis, told a news conference.
What you end up with is a legacy of mistrust and a not-so-slow erosion of confidence in public institutions and governments ... this is a direct attack to the legitimacy of the democratic process. So when new incident occur ... the climb back up to regain public trust is a steep one. Especially when authorities insist the situation is improving and they're contradicted by reports.


Or when despite your claims that you didn't study the impact of a large tsunami, a report emerges that you actually did but that no measures were taken to correct deficiencies.


OK ...that's enough piling on poor TEPCO and Japanese officials ... just shows though that "face saving" is not a viable crisis communications objective. There are few rules more crucial to crisis comms than:

  1. don't lie ...ever ...period 
  2. don't try to hide things ... they will come out ...
  3. don't pass the blame ...admit it if you did wrong and tell us how you're fixing it 
  4. we can take it ...tell us what's going on ... without sugarcoating the issue and we can make informed decisions ...
You ignore any of these rules at your peril ...especially if you're in government because some guy/girl with a strong conscience (and a big pair of brass ones ...) will see it his/her duty to let the truth come out as happened recently in Qu├ębec ... putting the provincial government in an embarrassing situation ... on corruption and the construction industry.

That particular case begs the question: who do civil servants really serve? The public or the government ... 

You can avoid these issues by practicing and embedding transparency and openness in your crisis comms planning and your training. Strike out some people's natural tendency to hide things ... lie and obfuscate ...

Yes, I know ,,, a bit utopic ... but i'm tired of the same old sh*t ...it's high time for our institutions to be fully responsive and accountable to us ... the people who entrust them with our common wealth ...






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