Replanting Grassroots Access

By Amy White
posted on May 18, 2013 in Politics and Society

The Obama Administration is known for their grassroots approach to politics. One of the campaign’s inherent strengths was their strategic approach to offering the public transparent goals for the future, including public participation and open access to the campaign. In many ways, their message of inclusivity and openness continued into their elected terms; this includes outreach via technology, public addresses, and showing the personalities of the administration. Nonetheless, the administration is still deemed inaccessible by the public regarding policies and the governing processes.

This perceived change to access and transparency by the public and media, creates a problem for the White House. Poor access to leadership, as controlled by the leadership, signals low trust in the public, and in turn derives the same treatment. Overall trust in the government and this administration’s policies will erode if our leaders fail to promote access and transparency. It is time to get back to basics, with targeted messaging.

The current need for more openness across this administration is precisely where the principles of strategic communication need to be powerfully pursued again.  Whether the scenario is access to the president on the golf course, to transparency about the NSC and drone activities, the White House has been criticized indiscriminately in each situation as being restrictive. While these are two very different scenarios with vastly different implications for access, the White House should get back to basics by returning to strengths they displayed during the campaign. They can again employ topic-specific, on-message communication to address concerns, by consistently sharing information as policies take shape in the public eye.

By linking policy goals with actions the public can see and understand, strategic communications becomes an effective process for promoting trust in the administration’s objectives. This direct approach can regain trust in the administration’s goals and methods by showing how policy positively impacts people. This can fulfill the need for civic involvement with agenda issues and can indicate an inclusive atmosphere. Information is implicitly public when citizens participate in the civic process. An example of this is the First Lady’s children’s fitness and health program, ‘Let’s Move!’ Children and health are something every demographic can somehow relate to, and this campaign makes national issues of obesity, nutrition and healthcare, relevant topics for all Americans. This program gives Americans and the media access to Michelle Obama, which shows her in a community role and in a policy role. It demonstrates how the agenda of healthcare is important in practice to all strata of society.

The First Lady’s program is a winning model for how strategic communications can create immediate outcomes; it shows and promotes the far-reaching goals of a presidential agenda. The administration must remember their tactics and conflicting objectives of security and openness, while maintaining transparency and strategically bolstering their agenda. Using strategic communication tactics across the administration’s policies can only assist in balancing the public’s demands for information with national security prerogatives. As the government creates policies, trust in the government is best maintained by consistently and freely sharing information. Effective governance can move forward when the public and the elected officials work actively to engage with one another.