Why Good Government Data is Good Customer Service


NBC’s Peter Alexander: “The bottom line is—the question that you still have not answered is—can you say affirmatively that whenever the president says something, we can trust it be real?”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “If he’s not joking, of course… Every time that he speaks authoritatively, he’s speaking as president of the United States.”
White House Daily Press Briefing, 3/13/2017

More often than previous administrations, the Trump administration finds itself clarifying statements, administration policies and the sources of information it uses. Whether it’s considering a recalculation of the Congressional Budget Office’s forecasting or a change to America’s trade deficit math, the Trump administration could be calling into question previously trustworthy government data. In the early days of the administration, they also started a clampdown on the federal government’s press releases, social media, and general policy information sharing.

Since Americans demand customer service from businesses and government alike, restricting and changing the public’s access to key information on policy and scientific data not only prevents transparency, but it negatively impacts how the government serves constituents. The service part of public service partly means constituents remaining informed and trusting that information is dependable. Those of us who work in communications should take note of the changing landscape and what it means for our work.

After all, public relations professionals rely on all kinds of sources to do their jobs. This includes press releases, social media, research, data etc. from both the private and public sectors. To us, successful communications efforts don’t just boost brand awareness or popularity, they also tell a story and connect complex issues to people’s day-to-day lives. Sometimes that means informing an audience in order to make the impact of a policy or piece of legislation clear. Businesses, too, often look at how government policies impact their profit margins and their ability keep the doors open. However, an information freeze or potential data reformulation will make it increasingly difficult for those who work in the public policy sphere – including firms like this one – to successfully understand policies or achieve policy goals.

How government calculates the data that influences policy and how they, and we, disseminate information about policy is critical to our democracy – and it actually impacts people. The federal government’s data is a key source that academic institutions, private businesses, as well as state and local governments use to function. Yes, making that information less reliable will make it harder for communicators to do our jobs, but it also makes it more difficult for the public to stay informed and remain civically engaged. The Trump administration’s clampdown on information and potentially recalculating data formulas sends large, choppy waves through already uncharted waters – and impedes customer service for constituents.

What does this mean for the communications industry? In short, we need to find trustworthy, authentic sources. One of my fellow Blue Engineers previously wrote about the value of trust, and how part of earning and maintaining trust means using trustworthy information. You can have the best story in the world, but one piece of bad data can undermine your ability to tell it. We tell our clients that authenticity is critical to communicating successfully. That’s why communicators have to keep both trust and authenticity in mind and become more vigilant with the information we use. This includes checking for primary sources and generally being more diligent about where data comes from — particularly if government data loses some of its credibility. In fact, we might have to rely more on research and policy organizations to properly crunch numbers and check methodology. In the end, extra due diligence will allow for better customer service for clients and the public alike.