Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Measurement and Evaluation of Public Affairs

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By Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D. — Organizations today need structures, processes, and people in place to effectively manage public affairs on a global level. Measurement and evaluation of public affairs is an essential process and needs to be a part of the wider organizational structure; however, it is very difficult to do.

Public affairs practitioners often find it hard to demonstrate the ROI of the public affairs function within their organization. Without comprehensive evaluation and measurement, public affairs budgets are frequently reduced or eliminated. More and more organizations are demanding that measurement and evaluation should be an integral part of all public affairs work.

The challenge arises from a lack of understanding of outcomes within an organization, from a lack of developing measures specific to the campaign, and even at times from a lack of ability to quantify outcomes. The business value of public affairs activities in terms of freedom to operate, cost avoidance, market opportunity or advantage, and even reputation can be established and validated using some key measures.

Based on previous research[1], this article provides a list of measures that a public affairs practitioner can choose from to measure and evaluate public affairs function. The measures described below are discussed in the larger context of organizational performance assessment and help illustrate a positive impact on business:

Direct or indirect measures: The impact of public affairs is mostly indirect on the organization and its position in the market. Also most of the public affairs impacts are indirect since they are combined with other organizational functions and hence difficult to distinguish. Some of the more direct measures of public affairs can be in the form of large governmental contracts or writing and passing of laws that may directly benefit the organization.

Process or product measures: The process measures in public affairs such as benchmarking, process maps, and control charts can all help to improve and assess the key processes. Process measures include defining the inputs (goals, ideas), outputs (product), and outcomes (results) in the process. Process measures are measures that the public affairs practitioner controls. Whereas the product or outcome measures are not directly under the organizational control but need to be evaluated and acted upon. It is integral for the success of public affairs function to measure and report its outcomes in addition to its processes and outputs.

Short or long-term measures: Public affairs practitioners deal with issues which can be both short and long-term. And the measures would differ from single activities to comprehensive programs. The choice of methodology, resources, and even integration with other organizational functions and activities would all define the choice of short or long-term metric.

Single or multiple measures: The use of single point measures help report on single activities over time. But the gamut of activities a public affairs practitioner manages requires multiple measures that can help monitor, measure, and evaluate different dimensions like the quality, quantity, cost, outputs, and outcomes.

Qualitative or quantitative measures: The methods used to capture public affairs performance can take on either qualitative or quantitative natures. Quantitative measures are designed to ensure objectivity, generalisability, and reliability. Qualitative measures on the other hand can help elucidate the mental processes underlying behaviors. For example: Media monitoring and using quantitative and qualitative measures can be invaluable to project implementers and managers to make mid-course corrections to maximize impact.

The different measures described above can help public affairs practitioners to choose from different approaches and develop a measurement plan. The choice of measures depends on experience, knowledge, resources available, time, and the overall objective of the public affairs program. It is not ideal to have multiple measures with unmanageable loads of data. Much better to develop measures that are based on the needs of all stakeholders and can be adapted and adjusted according to the changes in the environment and strategy.

Proper integration of the measures with ongoing processes, getting buy-in from senior managers, and establishing the measures in the larger context of organizational performance assessment can help demonstrate the positive impact on business. Well-defined measures are important for the public affairs practice and help in effectively managing, assessing, and communicating the successes of public affairs programs. These measures can further help to develop frameworks and models to validate the relationships between public affairs activities and outcomes.

The measures can be developed into a performance monitoring system and provide information on program quality and outcomes. The measures can also establish the parameters for collecting data and then turning that data into critical information and insights. The adaptability of the measures can further refine the measurement techniques and help drive decision-making. However, in the end, it is very important to measure activities that are not just interesting but are important for the success of the public affairs function and the organization.

[1] Fleisher, C. S. (2003). The trade- offs in developing public affairs metrics. Journal of Public Affairs, 3(2), 176-185.

Lee, M., Neeley, G., & Stewart, K. (Eds.). (2011). The practice of government public relations. CRC Press.

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Sarab Kochhar

Sarab Kochhar

Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D., is Director of Research at the Institute for Public Relations, and Associate Director of Measurement and Analytics at APCO Worldwide.
Sarab Kochhar

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