Dec 31 2009

Strategic Communications Planning Is Your Secret to Success

Photo: James Kegley

Stakeholder engagement. Public education. These words may not be top of mind when you think about essential components of your information technology project, but they should be.

Ask yourself: Will your completed project affect people beyond your project team?

If so, your project’s success may depend on a strategic communications plan. Having implemented such a plan for the Homeland Security Department’s United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, I can attest to the results. What’s more, the approach is transferable to other major government IT initiatives.

In the case of US-VISIT, DHS is providing decision-makers with accurate immigration information when and where they need it through biometrics: digital fingerprints and photographs. Whether for visa adjudications at U.S. consulates overseas, or interior enforcement, biometrics form the foundation of this identity management system.

We don’t make a move without testing to ensure the technology we implement will work and further the achievement of our goals. Similarly, we don’t implement any initiative before reaching out to affected and interested stakeholders to discuss challenges and engage them in solutions.

In fact, through such outreach and public education, coupled with the experience travelers have had with US-VISIT, we turned some of the program’s original critics into supporters. By listening, testing, adjusting and educating, we continue to achieve success.

Strengthening the Core

Communication is core to this planning. To that end, strategic communications experts need to be part of the planning team — along with experts on IT issues, training and business — from the beginning. For US-VISIT, this lets us provide the public with important information as well as keep Congress apprised of the project’s progress.

US-VISIT has pursued public education with determination and energy. This proactive approach has provided hard-earned equity, such as:

• Strong and constructive relationships with a wide range of important stakeholder groups within the United States and abroad. US-VISIT has facilitated hundreds of face-to-face meetings and regular communications between US-VISIT leadership and our key stakeholders. We develop relationships and form partnerships. These partnerships allow us to use their channels of communication to reach additional stakeholders, while responsibly controlling our resources.

• A solid and increasingly recognizable brand. By producing and disseminating a broad range of collateral materials — pamphlets, educational videos and online products — we developed a brand that represents the unique attributes that constituents understand and expect from the program.

• The capacity and knowledge to monitor, understand and manage US-VISIT’s response to a wide range of policy and technical issues. Because of our record of collaboration within and outside the U.S. government, the project team is in a strong position to work with stakeholders to address current or future policy and technical issues.

Public education and collaboration are at the heart of the success of government programs like US-VISIT. The systems and those they’re meant to serve suffer when we do not engage with people who are impacted by them. I encourage all of us, as program managers, to utilize the power of communications.

To learn about the European Union’s counterpart to US-VISIT and worldwide data-sharing initiatives, turn to the FedTech feature here.