Brussels, 14 March 2012 – The first prize of the EPACA contest 2012 was handed over by Alain Perroy, member of the EPACA Professional Practices Panel  and Jose Lalloum to Nora Delaney from from APCO Worldwide during EPACA’s Annual General Meeting.

The EPACA 2012  Contest, with the topic “The Public Affairs Professional, good governance and the democratic process“, aimed to highlight the Public Affairs profession and bring recognition to young practitioners. Young talents under 30 and working for consultancies member of EPACA were invited to take part in shaping our profession by sharing their views and experiences in an essay competition.

The Jury was the members of our Professional Practices Panel. Nora Delaney was unanimously designated by our Jury as the winner. Her essay showed both talent and originality. Nora said said: “I am overwhelmed to receive this prize. Participating in this contest was a fantastic experience” Chairman of EPACA Jose Lalloum said: “The essays we received were of great quality. We have a promising new generation of practitioners, which reflects the vibrant interest in our profession”

Runners up in the contest were James Ogilvie, from Burson Marsteller, ranking second, and Brian Fox from Fleishman Hillard ranking third. We congratulate them for the excellent quality of their essays.

The Public Affairs professional, good governance and the democratic process 

Plato said that democracy “is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder”. He should count himself lucky he never had to understand how comitology works. It’s true: the democratic process is a messy business. At its most vibrant and vigorous, the voices of a multitude must be weighted and accounted for. But if its primary aim is to ensure the true representation of people, a certain standard of governance is nonetheless necessary to guard against the clamour of the day.

Those principles of transparency, accountability and rule of law which the UN uses to define good governance are an essential complement to democracy if we are to ensure that not only are the voices of the people represented, but they are represented well, both equitably and effectively. The tools that we use to support these principles evolve over time, from campaigns to pay politicians in the 19th century to 21st century transparency registers and codes of conduct.

As public affairs professionals we have the privilege of playing an important role in strenghtening this nexus of good governance and democratic process and ensuring it is rigorous enough to stand up to modern developments. In acting in that interface between governments and concerned organisations and citizens, we are afforded a peek into the charming disorder Plato described so eloquently. Not only do we peek but we advocate, scrutinize, cajole and badger to ensure that the true impact of the decisions governments make are understood at every step of the discussion.

Ultimately it is civic engagement that ensures that the push of open participation and the pull of the contraints of governance form the perfect complement. To strenghten the push and act as a safeguard for the pull is to be a Public Affairs professional. And a good one at that.

The Public Affairs professional, good governance and the democratic process

Is the process or the result more important?

Ask a management theorist this question and they’ll tell you that unlike a result, process is repeatable, measurable and improvable and is therefore the more important. Ask Locke the question, he’d rightly point out that democracy itself is inconceivable without democratic process. Ask a contemporary western liberal democrat and they will be similarly convinced that process is a prerequisite for good governance. Now ask a public affairs professional…

Whilst this last respondent ought to have been easier to find, their response is likely to have been more difficult to decipher. Unlike governance and democracy, in the context of public affairs, results are not formulaically achieved simply by virtue of the professional adhering to a given process. As such, the public affairs professional often starts with the result in mind and defines process accordingly.

However, flavours of enlightenment and social contract theory are gradually and ever more progressively altering the public affairs environment and the approach of professionals within it. As transparency, accreditation, and codes of conduct criteria multiply, so adherence to process inescapably becomes a more primordial vector influencing results achievement. Ostensibly, the public affairs professional welcomes this; if process drives the result we may not know precisely where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

Practically, however, by supporting increasing adherence to process the public affairs professional also risks falling on their sword. The primary service public affairs professionals provide is to translate desired results into strategic processes. Accordingly, over-invasively formulaic processes have the potential to render the public affairs professional practically obsolete.

In this sense, the key in the coming years will be to ensure that process is not regulated in such a way as to suffocate the very service that public affairs professionals provide.

The Public Affairs professional, good governance and the democratic process

The world of Public Affairs is often perceived as a murky, wry place, where self-interested organisations and people attempt to disrupt the democratic process and curb good governance for private gain. In this short essay, I will argue the contrary. I will argue that rather than impinging on democracy, the PA profession reinforces the ‘check’ between the ruled and the rulers, while providing the crucial link between the democratic process and good governance.

From the time of Plato, the key struggle within broader question of, ‘How should humans govern themselves?’ has been the balance between good governance and the democratic process. One, as Plato saw it, comes at the expense of the other. (‘Ship of State’, The Republic) The arbitrary rule of the few lacks democratic legitimacy, while the communal rule of many lacks experience and decisiveness.

The state structure we have today is one that makes a serious attempt to combine both elements. We have the motors of the democratic process through ‘free and fair’ elections and administrative skills through an experienced civil service. However, as they are not directly involved in the areas they regulate, the knowledge of this civil service is, by definition, limited. This is where the PA profession comes in.

The PA profession provides expertise needed to understand how to better regulate. Bad regulations bring unintended consequences, which often stem from basic lack of knowledge in the subject-matter. Who best to fill this knowledge-gap than by the people and organizations being regulating? As such, the PA profession acts as a ‘king’s counsel’, although not being formalized into a set institutional framework. This means insufficient credit is given to the PA profession, blinding people to their crucial role in correcting the delicate balance between good governance and the democratic process.