Strategic Communications

Leaders of child protection agencies must steer their organizations through an increasingly competitive and collaborative environment. For many years, these organizations' direction was largely set by public mandates. Though never static, their worlds had a certain level of predetermination. In recent years, dramatic changes have transformed most all areas of agency operations. Budgets have to be sustainable, services must be cost-effective, technology has altered every facet of service delivery, and competitors arise from unlikely quarters including for profit businesses. The demand for partnering and collaborating has shattered the concept of a self-directed organization. Stakeholders want to see results in black and white and all of this has transpired under a new and much more intense media scrutiny.

An essential new skill required of all leaders in the child protection arena is the ability to strategically communicate with a wide variety of audiences. To be even minimally effective, leaders must be able to:

  • Clearly articulate the value they create.

  • Influence key stakeholders to grant the authority and resources they must have.

  • Assure the internal and external capacity required to accomplish their mission, including increasing the safety of children.

Successful leaders must, of course, communicate skillfully on a macro level, providing information on general policies and procedures as well as aggregate data demonstrating need and accountability. Concurrently, they must communicate on a micro level, assuring individual stakeholders that the agency and staff are continuously doing the right things right, the first time, on time, every time, one child at a time. What's more, communication must, at both levels, be accurate, thorough, responsive, and dependable in order to develop the levels of trust required to sustain effective strategic communications over time.

To achieve these communication goals, leadership must be externally oriented, mission focused, and opportunity seeking. The leader must be willing to take the lid off of the organization, allow stakeholders to peer in, and freely interpret what they see. This requires openness and honesty in all facets of communication. Stakeholders are encouraged to examine the agency from every angle, assess its effectiveness, and decide for themselves whether it is operating in an efficient manner. The external environment demands this openness and accountability from its public agencies and effective leaders demand it of themselves.

Stakeholder Mapping:

Through the development of your agency's strategic plan, you have defined the agency's mission, guiding values or vision, and the strategies you will use to pursue the mission and to actualize the guiding values. You, of course, need to communicate the mission and guiding values to the agency's internal and external stakeholders as well as the strategies you will use. Beyond that, though, you need to engage all agency stakeholders in the implementation of the strategic plan. It is not enough that they know about the plan. They also need to actively participate in reaching the goals and in achieving the outcomes. This may be thought of as 'positive participation' and the process of engaging stakeholders is 'strategic communication.' Strategic communication, then, produces positive participation by stakeholders.

The first step in developing your strategic communication plan is, thus, to identify the agency's external stakeholders and to define positive participation for each. (Internal stakeholders are discussed further in a later chapter.) For example, your state's legislature can positively participate by providing financial resources for foster care but cannot provide a safe, supportive home for a child. Your juvenile court can positively participate by giving the agency legal authorization to remove a child from an abusive home but cannot deliver the needed services to enable the child to successfully reunify with his family. Local service clubs can positively participate by providing resources for gifts and special activities for children served by the agency but cannot assure that those children receive adequate health care or that they are successful in school. External stakeholders can positively participate in some ways but cannot participate in others. Strategic communication starts by clearly mapping each external stakeholder and specifying positive participation for each.

To construct the stakeholder map for your agency, begin with the agency's mission and guiding values. Using the mission and guiding values for LCCS for purposes of illustration, you can isolate the major goals or agency outcomes. Those for your agency are likely very similar.


Consistent with the focus group research discussed earlier, the primary outcome is safety for each child served by the agency. LCCS refers to this outcome as 'Protection.'

Next, LCCS values permanence for each child served by the agency. This is operationally defined as a safe, stable home for each child within one year of the agency's first contact with the child.

Further, LCCS holds prevention as a guiding value. This includes activities that assure that all instances of abuse and neglect in the county are reported, that immediate intervention protects the children, that services reduce the likelihood of future abuse and neglect, and that factors and conditions that are thought to contribute to abuse and neglect are reduced and eliminated in the community. For example, support of the 'Early Start' program for young children and their families is thought to reduce the likelihood of future abuse and neglect.

In addition to the above, LCCS holds the well being and long term success of each child served by the agency as core values. Underlying all services and programs is an ongoing agency commitment to fiscal responsibility and public accountability. This, then, establishes the first dimension of the LCCS stakeholder map. It includes: protection, permanence, well-being, and long term success for each child served by the agency along with prevention of abuse and neglect of children in the community, financial responsibility, and public accountability. This is the 'outcome' dimension of the stakeholder map.


As you think about your agency's stakeholders, the list will quickly become unmanageable, if you do not divide them into categories or groups. To do this, first consider your agency's political stakeholders. Generally this category includes elected officials but not all elected officials who have a 'stake' in the agency's success are included here. For example, judges are usually elected but belong in a later category. Here, limit membership to elected officials (including their aides and other immediate staff) who have a direct role in passing laws/rules and making financial appropriations for the support of agency programs and services. Although the political stakeholder list will vary from state to state and perhaps from agency to agency, it generally includes: the President and Congress, the Governor and Legislature, county Commissioners, and in some communities, the city's Mayor and Council.

Next, make a list of your agency's administrative stakeholders. At the federal level, this includes, at a minimum, the Department of Health and Human Services. At the state level, this category includes, at a minimum, your state's Department of Child and Family Services or Social Services. In Ohio, this administrative stakeholder is called the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. In many states, the state department will have district offices and may directly administer local programs and services. In some states, county officials may belong to the administrative stakeholder group. For this category, include all agencies and individuals who have an administrative relationship to the agency but who are not staff members of the local agency.

In addition to political and administrative stakeholders, the agency has mandated stakeholders. These are agencies and individuals who are mandated by law to work with the agency and with whom the agency is mandated to work. Of course, political and administrative stakeholders are not included here. For your agency, this group likely includes the juvenile court, the police, the District Attorney or Prosecuting Attorney, the Department of Social Services (if child protection is a separated function), and mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. Simply include everyone who is legally mandated to work with your agency but who is not a political or administrative stakeholder.

The next stakeholder category is Children's Safety Net (CSN) members who are not in the earlier categories. Include agencies and organizations (private and public) that are not mandated to work with your agency that have positive outcomes for children and families as part of their missions or role in your community. This category usually includes local mental health and substance abuse agencies, schools and recreational programs, hospitals and other health services, and child treatment and care-giving agencies. The list for specific communities will vary, but you are including established organizations that focus their resources and services in part on children and families.

Finally, develop the list for public stakeholders in your community. This group excludes any organization or individual who is in an earlier category. Certainly your agency's public stakeholders include the media and your business community. This category also includes other groups and individuals who can potentially contribute to the agency's success or can potentially work against the agency's interests.

The members of the political, administrative, and mandated stakeholder categories will change little over time, although the specific people will change frequently. The members of the CSN category will change somewhat more often and the members of the public category will change most often. Within all of the categories, though, the people will change with regularity so your strategic communication within each category needs to be continuous, even though you are working with the same organizations or agencies over time.


From the above, you can see that the first dimension of your stakeholder map includes outcomes, e.g., protection, permanence, well being, long term success, prevention, fiscal responsibility, and public accountability. The second dimension includes stakeholder categories, e.g., political stakeholders, administrative stakeholders, mandated stakeholders, CSN stakeholders, and public stakeholders. Critical to strategic communication success is understanding this simple point.

  • You never communicate with agencies or organizations. You can only communicate with people.

It is not enough, then, to simply know which organizations and agencies belong in the stakeholder dimension of your stakeholder map. You must focus on the stakeholder categories you developed above and for each agency or organization in each category, identify the two or three individuals within the agency or organization who have the most influence over areas and issues that matter to your agency. If you do not know the names, mailing addresses, and phone numbers of these people, your challenge is to learn that information and replace the agency or organization on your list with the people. For example, your list will now include your state's Governor, his Chief of Staff, and the person in the Governor's office who deals with issues related to children and families. For each agency in the Children's Safety Net, you will replace the agency with its Director and the one or two people who have the most influence with programs and services for children and families. You will replace the name of your local newspaper with the reporter who covers child and family stories, that reporter's editor, and the paper's Managing Editor. When you are finished, your stakeholder list for the five categories will only include people. Keep in mind that these lists must be current, since,

  • You can only communicate with people if you know who they are.

Next, for each person in each category on your stakeholder list, put a '1' beside their name if you can appropriately pick up the phone and expect that they will chat with you about a problem or issue of interest to you today. Put a '2' beside the person's name if you could appropriately call them directly but, if you did call, they would not know who you are. Those people who now have a '1' are your personal contacts. Those who have a '2' are those people with whom you need to cultivate a face-to-face, personal relationship. You need to call, schedule an appointment, and visit with them at their office. The first visit should be for a half hour or less and should not raise any issues or problems. You are simply there to introduce yourself. Try to focus the discussion on how you might be able to support their work, contribute to their success, and work together toward shared outcomes.

In larger agencies and larger communities, it may not be possible for any one person to have or cultivate all of the direct relationships needed to cover all of the stakeholders on the agency's map. If that is the case for you, divide the 'contacts' among your senior management staff. The goal is to assure that at least one member of your senior management staff has a direct face-to-face relationship with everyone on the stakeholder map, especially anyone within your community who is on the map.

However, keep this caveat in mind. Political stakeholders and anyone who is the 'head' of an agency or organization expect direct contact with the agency executive. The executive may delegate some assignments and activities to other senior staff but this can be done only if the executive already has a personal, face-to-face relationship with the individual.

Finally, put a '3' beside anyone on your stakeholder list with whom you do not have a direct relationship and who it would be inappropriate for you to call directly. For example, you likely would not expect to directly call the President or the Governor of your state. You should be comfortable calling your (local) state or federal legislators but may not feel comfortable calling those who do not represent your district. There are probably others on your stakeholder list to whom you do not have direct access. For those individuals, your challenge is to develop indirect access or influence.

For example, your agency's membership in the Child Welfare League of America or the American Humane Association may serve that purpose. At the state level, membership in state associations may serve that purpose. In Ohio, the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) serves that purpose.

The point is this. You can only strategically communicate with people. You can only communicate with people with whom you either have a direct relationship or indirect access. Indirect access can only be there if you have cultivated relationships with people who know the people you need to know and influence.

If you have been working along with the discussion, you have completed the outcome dimension of your stakeholder map. Separately, you have completed the stakeholder dimension of the map. In that dimension, you have the names, addresses, and phone numbers of people with whom you have a direct, face-to-face relationship, those with whom you will cultivate a direct, face-to-face relationship, and the same information for those people (trade associations, membership organizations, etc.) with whom you have developed relationships for the purpose of gaining indirect access to stakeholders on your list. Here, be sure you keep your list current, do pursue the cultivation of relationships called for above, and actively participate in the organizations and associations that give you indirect access to your agency's stakeholders.

Value Convergence:

Value convergence is the point where the values or priorities of each individual on your stakeholder map converge with one or more of the outcomes on your stakeholder map. To display your map, you will need a large sheet of paper that is easiest to use if you fasten it to a wall. As shown in Figure 3.1, down the left side of the paper, write outcomes at the top. Under that, write the outcomes for your agency. For LCCS, that list would include: protection, permanence, well being, long term success, prevention, financial responsibility, and public accountability.

Next, across the top of the paper, (after outcomes) write: Political Stakeholders, Administrative Stakeholders, Mandated Stakeholders, CSN Stakeholders, and Public Stakeholders. Now, draw a heavy vertical line to the right of the outcome list and a heavy horizontal line under the stakeholder categories. Next, draw lighter vertical and horizontal lines to show the divisions between the columns and rows in the map. The resulting boxes are where you will map the stakeholders. Since you will be writing information in the boxes, they need to be as big as possible.

Using the LCCS outcomes, there would be seven boxes going down the page and five stakeholder categories going across the page. (As an alternative to a large chart, you may also use a notebook, with one page for each of the thirty-five boxes on the chart.) Each box is the intersection or 'value convergence' of one outcome and one stakeholder category. For example, the upper left box is the value convergence of protection and political stakeholders. The 'value' is protection and the convergence is with political stakeholders. The box in the lower right corner is the value convergence of public accountability and public stakeholders. The 'value' is public accountability and the convergence is with public stakeholders.

The level of value convergence within each of the thirty-five boxes is not the same for each box. For example, the value convergence with protection and political stakeholders is high. Political stakeholders value protection (child safety) very highly, thus, the level of value convergence is high. Alternatively, the value convergence with mandated stakeholders and financial responsibility is likely low. They would only be interested in agency fiscal performance if there were serious financial problems that caused problems with protection and other outcomes. They value agency financial responsibility low so the value convergence is low. The value convergence for different stakeholder categories varies, depending on the outcome and how strongly the people in the category value the outcome. Generally, all stakeholders value each of the outcomes but value some more than others. Some outcomes are more immediately important to them than others.

On your stakeholder map, rate the value convergence high, medium, or low for each box on the map. Write the value convergence level in the upper left corner of each box on your map. Since you likely do not have time or resources to pursue strategic communication with everyone, every time, in relation to every issue, it is important to prioritize. Your highest effort needs to focus where there is high value convergence. That is where your efforts will make the most difference.

The next step may be somewhat counter-intuitive. First, look closely at your stakeholder list. Focus on the individuals whom you gave a '1,' indicating that you can appropriately pick up the phone and talk with them about a concern or issue. Each individual is in only one category so his or her name goes in only one column on your map. For example, start with the people who have a '1' and who are in the political stakeholder category. Now write the name of the first person in the category in each of the boxes in the column where you have written 'high' in the upper left corner. (That person's name goes in each box rated high.) Continue this process until you have included all of the people with '1' and who are in the political stakeholder category. (Leave space below each name for additional information.) When you have included all of those people on your map, do the same for those individuals who have a '1' and who are in the administrative stakeholder category. Remember to only include names where you have rated value convergence for a box high. Finish this step by adding the people with a '1' in the remaining columns.

To complete this part of the mapping, focus on the map. It now has names in most, if not all, of the boxes where value convergence is high. For each name in each box, rate the capacity of the individual to influence the specific outcome for better or worse. For example, suppose you wrote Joe Smith's name in the box where mandated stakeholders converge with protection. What is Mr. Smith's capacity to influence 'protection' outcomes for the agency? Rate it high, medium, or low. For instance, if Mr. Smith is your lead juvenile judge, a rating of 'high' would likely be in order. Beside each name on your map, put an 'h' for high influence, an 'm' for medium influence, and 'l' for low influence. When you have finished, underline any name on the map where you have put an 'h' beside the name. One person may have his or her name underlined on the map more than once.

Now, keep in mind that you are actively developing direct, face-to-face relationships with those individual stakeholders with whom you have not cultivated that type of relationship. You gave them a '2' above. Add them to the map as you achieve the desired, direct, face-to-face relationship and then rate their influence, underlining the name if their capacity to influence the particular outcome is high.

Finally, focus on those people on your stakeholder list to whom you have given a '3,' indicating that you do not have a direct relationship and that a direct relationship is unlikely and perhaps inappropriate. For each person who has a '3,' note which shareholder category he belongs to. Does the individual have a high capacity to influence any of the outcomes where value convergence is high? Look at the boxes in the column where you have written 'high' in the upper left corner. Does the individual have a high capacity to influence that outcome for the agency? If so, write the name in the box and draw a wavy line under the name.

For each box on your map, look at the people whose names are underlined. For each person, ask this question. Can this person contact anyone on a direct, face-to-face basis whose name has a wavy line under it? If so, that represents potential access to that person. You can directly contact person 'A' and he can, in turn, directly contact person 'B.' That is an indirect connection. Write person 'A's' name in parentheses immediately under person B's name. That is one connection or access route to that individual. On your map, you may have more than one name in parentheses under some names.

Now make a list of the organizations and associations to which you or the agency belong. Through these affiliations, you can have indirect access to people whom you cannot contact directly or to whom you do not have regular access. Look at all of the names on your map, including those whose names are underlined and those who have wavy lines under their names. Under the names, write the name of each organization or association that has or can have direct contact with that individual. Put the organization or association name in brackets. That is a connection or access route to the person.

This step is critical. Focus on each name in parentheses or brackets on your map and consider the box where their name is. Does that person or organization have any vested interest in or ability to influence the outcome represented by the box, the outcome in the same row as the box? If not, draw a line through that name. You may be able to persuade someone to do you a favor and give you indirect access to someone else but the interpersonal cost over time is just too high. As tempting as it may be, resist the temptation. Do not inappropriately use people you know and who trust you. For those people who have wavy lines under their names and with whom you do not have an access route, your challenge is to develop or cultivate one. Never shortcut this process.

You are finished with this part of developing your agency's stakeholder map. You may be surprised to see how many people you now need to actively include in your strategic communication plan. It would not be unusual for even small agencies to have several hundred names on their map. Everyone on the map is important and none can be ignored or overlooked. The success of the agency's strategic plan and the success of the agency itself are dependent on your ability to develop and implement a strategic communication plan that attends to every stakeholder on your map. Anything less potentially jeopardizes your agency and threatens protection, permanence, well-being, and the long-term success of your children.

Positive Participation:

As you can see, initially developing your agency's stakeholder map is a complex process. Additionally, keeping the map updated at least monthly is quite challenging. Were the above not enough, there are two more steps. The first is to identify positive participation for each key stakeholder: those people on the map whose names are underlined or who have wavy lines under their names.

Each key stakeholder on the map is there because you have determined that he has the potential for high influence in relation to one or more of the agency's primary outcomes. Your task now is to articulate exactly what the individual can do to influence the specific outcome for the agency.

This is a point to never forget. Anyone who can actually influence one of the outcomes has the 'power' to influence that outcome in either a positive or negative direction. An individual who can help the agency can also hurt it, to exactly the same degree he can help. Keep in mind the Chinese symbol for crisis: opportunity and danger. If you ever overlook or discount the potential danger, you run the risk of foreclosing the opportunity. If the individual stakeholder wants to help, he will help today. If he wants to 'hurt,' he will do that when the time is right for him, probably when you least expect it.

  • You cannot afford to offend or alienate any stakeholder, ever, for any reason.

With this caveat in mind, exactly what can each key stakeholder do to positively influence the related outcome in a way that benefits the agency? Yes, stopping behavior that works to the agency's disadvantage may be an appropriate strategic communication goal for a specific stakeholder now and then. The question here is simply: What can the specific stakeholder do to increase the agency's ability to reach the specific outcome?

Stakeholders can either increase resources or authorization or both. More specifically, a stakeholder can increase financial resources or other types of resources that are potentially useful in furthering the pursuit of one of the primary outcomes. For example, a stakeholder may be able to increase the agency's access to particular expertise, access to facilities or opportunities, or other non-financial resources. Additionally, a stakeholder may be able to directly authorize the agency to do something it needs to do or provide permission to become involved in an activity such as directly providing alcohol and drug services to agency clients.

Using only one sentence, answer this positive participation question. What can the stakeholder do to help the agency (PP)? How can he increase resources or authorization? For the stakeholder, PP = ?

Under the name of each key stakeholder on your map, write, in one sentence, the answer to the positive participation question in the form PP = .

Value Exchange:

The last step in developing your agency's stakeholder map is this. Just because a stakeholder can help the agency does not mean that he will help. He has to be motivated to help. This means that helping the agency must, in some significant way, benefit the stakeholder. Of course, people sometimes do things because they are kind-hearted and just want to do something nice. Unfortunately, that type of motivation is not dependable enough to stake the agency's future on it. You need to understand how helping benefits the stakeholder and then be sure he receives that benefit every time he helps. It is a value-for-value exchange. With this focus, what is the value exchange for each stakeholder on the map?

Below each stakeholder's name, you have already written what the person can do for the agency; you have specified PP (positive participation). Now define the value exchange for that individual (VE) in the form VE = .

To help you with the last step, specifying VE, recall that the individual is on the stakeholder map because he has a high capacity to influence one or more of the agency's primary outcomes. The key to understanding the value exchange is to ask yourself, 'How will it benefit this stakeholder if he influences the specific outcome in a way that benefits the agency?' How does it benefit him if he increases protection, permanence, well-being, long term success, prevention, financial responsibility, or public accountability?

In one sentence, write under the person's name the benefit he derives from increasing the extent to which the agency reaches the outcome related to the box where his name is. Use the form VE = . If there is no benefit to the individual in helping, ask the converse question, 'What is the benefit in harming the agency?' Although there will likely be no individuals on the map who cannot help the agency but who could derive benefit from harming it, there may be. For them, write the value exchange in one sentence under the name, using the form -VE = .

If there are any names on the map where there is no value exchange (VE or -VE), draw a line through the name. Although they appeared to be stakeholders, they are not. Having done that, your map is complete.

It cannot be over-emphasized that your stakeholder map is a dynamic, ever-changing strategic landscape. At any point, the map has to be current, has to be complete, and has to reflect your best, informed judgment about all of your stakeholders. If it does not meet this test continuously, you may actually be better off just muddling through the murky political, administrative, mandated, CSN, and public environments. It is probably better to know that you do not know what you are doing than to think you do when you do not.

Strategic Thinking, Intent, And Communication:

There are many ways to engage in strategic thinking but two warrant specific attention here. First, focus on one of the primary outcomes, e.g., protection. Now begin a list of ways the agency might protect children or a sub-group of children better than it is currently protecting them or new ways the agency might better protect children. Once you have added all of your ideas to the list, you could review the relevant literature, brainstorm with co-workers, or use other approaches to expand the list. When the list is about as complete as you can make it, share it with others in the agency and in the community to select the strategies that are most promising. With those strategies in mind, develop a work group to explore how the agency can work toward better outcomes for children by using those strategies.

In contrast to the above active, strategic thinking approach, there is a passive strategic thinking process that all highly successful leaders have mastered. They are continuously involved in meetings, conversations, and other experiences within the agency, in the community, and other contexts. As they participate in those experiences, they constantly 'filter' the content of the experience through the primary outcome filter. 'Is there anything here that may have the potential for increasing resources or authorization for the agency, its clients, or its staff?' They are attuned to what people say and do and continuously relate that to the primary outcomes. If there is a possible match, they then either pursue it immediately or make a reminder note so they pursue it later, when doing so is more appropriate. Additionally, they remember experiences that may not fit right now and are able to recall them later when they may fit with new information or experiences.

This passive strategic thinking process, of course, only appears passive from the perspective of other people. They see the leader appear to magically find resources, opportunities, and authorization where none were obviously present. From the outside perspective, this seems like unusually good luck but there is much more than simple luck to the process. The leader is continuously scanning experience and filtering it through the primary outcomes. Through this strategic thinking, the leader discovers and then exploits the otherwise hidden opportunities in every experience.

Strategic thinking, in turn, leads to strategic intent. This is what the agency and the leader 'intend' to do in order to incrementally move toward the primary outcome. For example, LCCS engaged in a strategic thinking process focusing on long-term success for children. One of the potentially useful strategies developed through that process was to increase the likelihood that children in out-of-home care would succeed in school. This strategy was further narrowed to academic success for all elementary school children in out of home care. The strategic intent was then conceptualized as doing whatever is necessary to assure that all children in out-of-home care who have the ability to do so pass the fourth grade proficiency test taken by all fourth grade children. The process had progressed from strategic thinking to a specific strategic intent.

Strategic communication, then, is in the interest of actualizing the specific strategic intent. Assuring that children in out-of-home care pass the proficiency test is outside of the agency's expertise. Expert resources must be found and applied to the task. Also, authorization to move into the education business must be forthcoming, as well as permission to involve teachers and other educators. Appropriate stakeholders must support and contribute to the process. Through strategic communication, agency leadership must get appropriate stakeholders to buy into the strategic intent and actively participate in realizing that intent: all children who are in out-of-home care, are in elementary school, and who have the ability to pass the proficiency test do pass the test when it is time for them to take the test. As you can see, this is an ongoing process that extends into the future. It cannot be completely accomplished today. Long-term success for children is a long-term endeavor.

In the last chapter, you considered strategic planning and saw how to develop a strategic plan for your agency. Along with developing specific strategies, you developed a mission statement and vision statement for your agency. The result was a 'picture' of where your agency will be in three to five years, why it has to get there, and how it will move from where it is to where it needs to be. In a later chapter, you will focus on public relations and on how to work both internally and externally to assure that 'relationships with the public' serve your agency's interests and support the strategic plan and the primary outcomes. Strategic communication relates specifically to actively engaging stakeholders in that process.

When engaging stakeholders, the first two rules are these:

  • Only ask stakeholders to help increase resources or authorization in the interest of achieving a specific, well-considered strategic intent.

  • Only request the involvement of those stakeholders for whom there is a good fit between PP and VE on the one hand and the strategic intent on the other hand.

To keep focus, get a small notebook that you will use for strategic communication dealing with a specific strategic intent. On the first page, write the strategic intent, in one sentence. For example, all children in out-of-home care who are able will pass the fourth and sixth grade proficiency tests. Under that statement, write the names of those key people in the agency who are responsible for achieving the strategic intent. Underline the name of the team leader.

Now, return your attention to the stakeholder map. Identify the rows where the primary outcome relates directly to the strategic intent. If the strategic intent seems to relate to more than one or two primary outcomes, it needs to be further narrowed and defined. You can usually only pursue one primary outcome through a specific strategic intent. Write the primary outcome at the bottom of the first page of your notebook so you always see it when looking at the notebook.

Next, identify those stakeholders on the map who can directly influence the outcome and can also contribute to achieving the strategic intent. Simply list their names on the second page of the notebook. This is your initial stakeholder team. You will want to refresh this list as you regularly update your stakeholder map.

Focus on your stakeholder team. Put a '*' beside each name if the strategic intent cannot be achieved without the support and cooperation of that individual. For each of those essential stakeholders, use one notebook page. Write the person's name at the top of the page. You will not proceed to involve other stakeholders until you have gotten buy-in from each of the essential stakeholders.

Under the essential stakeholder's name, transfer the PP and VE information from the stakeholder map. Also, include the names of anyone who is associated with that person as someone who can directly influence that stakeholder.

In a later chapter, there is a more extensive discussion of power messages but for now, you need to develop a one sentence power message for each essential stakeholder. The first part of the message is PP. How can the stakeholder positively participate in achieving the strategic intent? Next, what is the value exchange (VE)? What value does the agency get and what value derives to the stakeholder? For example, the Superintendent of Schools is an essential stakeholder for the school success initiative. She can 'authorize' school staff to work with the agency on the initiative and provide expertise. For her, PP = authorizing and adding expertise. If she does this, she gets an opportunity to improve the school performance of abused children and recognition of her pro-active approach to the education of children. The agency gets needed authorization and expertise. VE = an opportunity to help children combined with additional resources for the agency. Both sides benefit.

Your next task is to combine PP and VE into a power message for the stakeholder. For the Superintendent, the power message is, 'If you choose to work with us to assure that our children pass the proficiency tests, abused children will have a better chance at long-term success, the agency will have the opportunity to do the right thing for the children, and we hope you and your staff will have a special opportunity to assure that these children are successful in school.' Of course, add the tag that goes with all power messages, 'Together we can assure that our children are safe and that they do well. Working together, we can do this far better than either of us can do that by ourselves.'

Once you have the specific power message for the particular, essential stakeholder, put it in the notebook on that stakeholder's page. Now, under that, write at least two more versions of the power message for that stakeholder. Continue until you have appropriate power messages for each stakeholder in the notebook.

You now have specific people to whom you need to deliver specific power messages. You know what you want to communicate to whom and why. You are successful when they choose to do what they can do to help. Strategic communication is the process of succeeding, the process of getting stakeholders to do the right thing, getting them to increase resources and authorization for your strategic intent.

Cultivating Relationships:

Above, you sorted your agency's stakeholders by the current level of relationship you have with them. A '1' was assigned to those stakeholders where you can merely pick up the phone and have a significant conversation. Relationship is 'high' with those individuals. You assigned a '2' to those stakeholders whom you could appropriately call, but if you did, they would not know you personally. Relationship with these individuals needs to be cultivated. Finally, you assigned a '3' to those stakeholders where a direct relationship is inappropriate but nevertheless important enough to develop a means of indirect access. You need to cultivate relationships with the '2' stakeholders and develop indirect access to those with a '3,' while maintaining your relationships with the '1's.'

What follows are technical approaches you can use to cultivate relationships with members of the media, elected and administrative officials, and the public with whom you do not have a '1' relationship. The suggested techniques may also be used with other stakeholder groups but are offered here in relation to these particular groups since they tend to be the most difficult groups to pro-actively engage.

The Media:

Relationships with the media are discussed more extensively in a later chapter. For the present purpose, though, it is important to understand that members of the media are public stakeholders and have significant potential to positively influence the agency's gaining authorization for its major goals and priority outcomes. Conversely, they have an even higher potential to influence the withholding of this authorization, especially with political stakeholders. Your strategic communication goal is to develop a trusting relationship with a well informed media, i.e., members of the media trust that they can depend on you and the agency as a consistent source of timely, accurate, truthful information.

The following activities will serve to solidify your relationships with members of the media and to assure the 'trusting' relationships necessary for your mutual success.

  • Develop a written news media policy for your agency. This policy should clearly articulate the perspective that the agency is a 'public agency.' To be successful in achieving its mission, the agency must have public support. Developing and cultivating trusting relationships with members of the media are important ways the agency gains the public support it has to have.

  • Secure media-related training for all staff designated to have direct contact with members of the media. Be sure to never lose the perspective that reporters are well-trained professionals who are specialists in their field. For the most part, agency staff members are amateurs. They need to understand how media people work and what they are looking for. Those agency staff who interact with reporters need to know how to consistently respond appropriately and effectively, regardless of the issue or circumstance. Within this context, impart to all agency staff the philosophy that appropriate and effective relationships and communication with the media are vital to building legitimation and support within the agency's authorizing environment.

  • Establish ongoing, personal contact with reporters and editors. Talk with them regularly and send them informative materials that may have news value or add to their understanding of the agency and of child protection. Of course, they will not print everything you send to them. They are the judges of what is and is not newsworthy. Even so, your consistent efforts to keep in touch will benefit the agency in the long run. You may also want to consider having a reporter spend time in the agency as a strategy for familiarizing the reporter with some aspect of what the agency does and with its complexity. If you do this, understand that all of the reporter's experience in the agency is available to him (or her) for inclusion in an article or story, unless explicitly excluded by mutual agreement. Whether you pursue this option or not, always be a reliable source of information that the reporter can count on.

  • Learn as much as you can about how reporters do their jobs. If you can arrange it with a reporter with whom you already have a good working relationship, spend some time with him discussing how he does his job and what his typical day is like. Perhaps include a visit to the media outlet if that can be arranged. These types of activities not only give you a better understanding of the media but also demonstrate that you are serious about having good relationships with the media.

  • Create a 24-hour media hotline to answer reporters' questions and publish its availability to the media.

  • Give the reporter a table of organization for the agency and explain the positions, who currently fills the positions, and the function of the positions.

  • Develop opportunities to help the reporter understand the steps a case goes through from the time a report of suspected abuse or neglect is made to the agency until the case is closed. Help him understand the roles of agency staff as well as that of the district attorney, the court, mental health, substance abuse, and others in the Children's Safety Net who may become involved. (See the first Addendum to the Introduction.)

  • Explain to the reporter the appropriate laws and agency policies that govern what information you can share and what you cannot share. This will be especially useful in times of crisis so be sure to share the information when there is no crisis.

  • Constantly collect and, when asked, share data concerning the characteristics of the children and families served by the agency and in your community. Be honest and forthcoming about what needs the agency and the Children's Safety Net are meeting and about what needs are not being adequately met.

Political Stakeholders:

Elected officials have an enormous breadth of responsibility for things ranging from solid waste disposal to allocating scarce resources to assuring the health, safety, and welfare of their constituents. Most elected officials are experts in a few policy areas but cannot be experts in all areas of responsibility. They rely on people they trust to provide information in areas where they lack expertise.

Elected officials, of course, rely on their immediate staff and on state and federal administrators. While these individuals certainly know a great deal, their responsibilities do not include the direct delivery and supervision of services. As an expert on the direct delivery and supervision of services, your leadership objective is to be a reliable and trustworthy information resource in relation to child protection issues.

The following activities will serve to solidify your relationships with elected officials and to assure the 'trusting' relationships necessary for your mutual success.

  • Understand the responsibilities of the elected and administrative stakeholders on your map. Your task is to get them to rely on you and the agency for accurate, timely, and helpful information in your area of expertise. You can only serve in this role if you understand what they do, what information they need, and if you have developed relationships that reliably serve their interests.

  • Understand the legislative process: how bills become law and the budget process used to allocate the scarce resources of government.

  • Understand the administrative rule-making process and at what stages that process can be influenced.

  • Understand that all resources allocated to the public sector come from the political process. There is no other way.

  • Understand the expectations placed on each elected official on your map by his caucus, his constituency, and his personal convictions.

  • Establish ongoing, personal contact with elected and administrative officials at all levels of government. Along with regular contact, for example, consider inviting individual elected officials to spend a day with an agency social worker. This is a potentially powerful way to familiarize the elected official with what the agency does and how complex the work of child protection truly is.

  • Develop a process to ensure that when an official requests information, the right information gets to the right person at the right time. If you cannot be relied upon to respond in a timely manner, you will not be asked the next time. The policy development process can move, stop, and restart quickly. When information is needed, it is needed now.

  • When agency successes are celebrated, always include the appropriate officials. Invite the media to cover the event. Not only does this educate the elected official (and the media) about agency successes, it also gives your valued political stakeholder deserved credit.

  • Always advise the appropriate officials of actual or potential crises. Brief them on the matter so that they can accurately respond to the media. No one likes to be caught by surprise, especially elected officials. The official will likely be asked to respond to the media and must have the correct information to respond accurately.

  • Be considerate of the official's time. If you cannot convey your information in five to ten minutes or in one to two pages, then rework your presentation until you can. Your presentation should never take more than ten minutes. If the official has questions beyond that, then he is on his time.

  • Demonstrate your accountability by regularly providing unsolicited, one to two page informative reports. Use graphs to convey your message instead of dry statistics. Include data concerning the characteristics of the children and families of your community as well as what needs the agency and Children's Safety Net are successfully meeting and what needs are not being met.

The Public:

Educating the general public is a complex task. In general, the public has no desire to learn more about what the agency does. They believe that they do not have and will not have need for agency services. Thus, strategic communication with public stakeholders works best when targeted to specific groups within the general public.

  • On a revolving-schedule basis, meet with social services agencies, parent-teacher organizations, service clubs, unions, spiritual leaders, and members of the business community to brief them about the agency's successes and needs. Listen carefully to their issues and concerns. Let them know what they can reasonably expect from the agency and invite them to contact you with questions they may have concerning general agency policies and procedures, including perceived lapses in the implementation of those policies and procedures.

  • Demonstrate the agency's accountability for its use of the financial resources and authority given it to achieve child safety and family stability. Develop regular, unsolicited, one to two page reports that you can hand to stakeholders when you meet with them.

  • Pro-actively look for and exploit potential strategies to actively engage members of the community in the work of increasing child safety. A person who contributes to reaching a goal is more likely to be an ally.

  • Be absolutely clear that parents are responsible for rearing their children. The child protection agency only intervenes in a family situation when parents cannot or will not appropriately provide for the safety and well-being of their children and the Children's Safety Net is unsuccessful in supporting the parents in this effort.

Issue-Driven Strategic Communication:

There will be occasions when political stakeholders or the media propose well-intended public policy that is potentially counterproductive in relation to the agency's primary outcomes. When this occurs, it is generally a result of one or more of the following:

  • The media has written about a crisis, problem, or tragedy. The elected official must respond and does not have the necessary information to do so in a manner that supports the agency's primary outcomes.

  • The agency has not taken the initiative to cultivate an appropriate, mutually supportive relationship with the elected official.

  • The agency has not successfully cultivated a trusting relationship with the reporters and other staff members of the particular media outlet.

When these circumstances develop, the agency can choose to see this as a strategic communication opportunity and provide needed education and information or can head for the 'bunker' in which it will eventually be buried.

In these situations, the stakeholder mapping process as illustrated in Figure 3.2 can again be used very effectively. First, identify all of the key stakeholders surrounding the specific issue. Next, determine the level of value each places on the child protection work being done and the level of understanding each has of the specific issue. Now, identify which stakeholders have the authority to make the wanted decision or significantly influence the elected official's decision. Finally, decide exactly what you want each stakeholder on the map to do. What specific action do you expect from the stakeholder? This is your issue-driven stakeholder map. Usually, there will be ten or more key stakeholders on this type of special stakeholder map. If your map has fewer names, carefully reconsider who all should be on the map to be sure you are not overlooking someone critical to your success.

Now, carefully answer the following four questions:

  • What is your preferred outcome; what will you consider as success?

  • Who (the people or groups) has both the authority and resources to make the desired action or decision occur?

  • What is your message; what is the most important idea that you want firmly planted in the minds of the key stakeholders you have identified in relation to this issue? (All strategic communications should contain this one-sentence, power message.)

  • What tactics or specific strategies will you use to convey your message most persuasively to each stakeholder on your map? (The message does not change but the strategy for delivering the message usually varies from stakeholder to stakeholder.)

This process may seem excessively elementary. Nonetheless, if you cannot identify the specific action or decision you want, you are unlikely to get it. Carefully identify the people or groups of people who have the authority and resources to take the specific action or make the particular decision you want. Now, determine the message that represents the core of your argument.

Think long and hard about whether the message you have decided upon represents positive outcomes for children and families or merely serves administrative convenience. The latter will have little weight. You will be merely viewed as an entrenched bureaucrat, someone for whom stakeholders have little empathy. Once you are sure that your argument represents obviously positive outcomes for children and families, thoughtfully consider your strategies to convey your message. This package is, then, your issue-driven strategic communications plan.

It is critically important for you to monitor your progress regularly to determine whether each element of your plan is working. If it is, stakeholders should 'move' in the desired direction. If it is not, evaluate why not and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Finally, if you have not developed the large stakeholder map discussed above, do it now or be faced with issue-driven planning on a continuous basis. If that occurs, it may well be only a matter of time before you begin to lose significant opportunities to achieve your agency's primary outcomes.

An agency's reputation takes years to build but can be compromised in a fraction of that time. Reputation defines the boundaries or latitude the agency has for achieving its mission. The primary function of the agency is to increase the safety of children. If the key stakeholders perceive the agency as being competent to achieve this function, it will receive all necessary authorization. It will successfully garner needed financial and human resources, along with the community support required to increase the safety of children. The community will report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the agency with the belief that it will respond quickly and use its granted authority appropriately. The other members of the Children's Safety Net will more readily offer their financial and human resources to the agency because it is not only the right thing to do but each will be held accountable to those who have the ability to grant legitimation and support if they do not. When your community achieves this level of mutual support and reciprocity, the safety of its children and the stability of its families will be far better assured.

By Dan Schneider, Gary A. Crow, Patti-Jo Burtnett March 23, 2017