Public Affairs is the practice of persuasive policy communication. It is a necessary ingredient in the policy-making process. Both the European institutions and the profession itself have set out to define its objectives with ethical codes of conduct.
The PA practitioner has three principal tasks, which can be summarised as follows:
- to monitor and research policy issues that impact on the organisation,
- to liaise with parties that are external to the organisation,
- to promote the views of the organisation.
The above tasks are performed not just internally by organisations, but also with the support of outside consultants. The practice of Public Affairs is not limited to corporate or non-governmental parties: In some countries, Public Affairs officers represent government interests, as they interact with lobbyists that seek to influence the government.
By combining a number of practical skills, such as:
- a) gathering information and listening to others,
- b) thinking about issues and formulating communications strategies, and
- c) contributing persuasive opinions for debate, the PA process is the implementation of a plan to influence the policy-making process.
The practice of Public Affairs involves interaction between central power structures and wider civil society. For example, interest groups successfully changed the laws governing women's voting rights in Europe: strategic efforts of civil society can lead to a change in existing power structures.
The Public Affairs trade arose in Europe with the formation of the European Community after World War II. As the Community grew and the regulatory scope of the Union expanded, the Public Affairs practice we recognise today began to take shape (useful guidance on the advent of the PA trade in Europe is found in Machiavelli in Brussels , by R. van Schendelen). Today, trade associations that deal specifically with the study of the PA trade exist: The UK-based European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA) is one such grouping, as are the Brussels-based Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) and Public Affairs Practitioners (PAP).
In analyzing a) the manner in which PA is conducted, b) the reasons why PA exists, and c) the impact of its contributions, several key points come to light:
- codes of conduct
- methods used particular to the European Union
- approaches used at national levels,
- innovative strategies and processes
EURACTIV' s coverage of PA trade strategies therefore involves a focus on skills and methods, their impact, how these are perceived by stakeholders, and what the European institutions are doing to manage the relationships between them.
Increasingly, PA strategies are based on networks of organisations working in partnership. There is recognition that influencing public policy cannot be achieved successfully without wide stakeholder participation.
Corporations and NGOs in particular, realise that partnerships with local or para-statal organisations are fundamental in affecting change. For this reason, EURACTIV seeks to cover the PA trade through a mix of the following viewpoints:
- profiles of PA trade methodologies (academic and practical),
- interviews with PA professionals (wide spectrum of stakeholders),
- PA strategy impact case studies (success and failure),
- PA-related news (events, innovations, resource transfers)
- Analytical reports (theory and policy).
EURACTIV' s intention with this section is to provide a platform for PA practitioners and policy stakeholders to:
- express their viewpoints (inviting submissions),
- compare each other's initiatives (providing access to information about PA actors),
- contribute to a greater understanding of the PA trade (contributing to ongoing debate).
Useful reading relevant to the definition of "Public Affairs":
Where is Public Affairs Going?
This paper written by Tom Spencer examines the changing nature of the political systems in which public affairs functions and argues that, by inference, public affairs practice is culturally specific.
Governance and Civil Society . Tom Spencer reviews the new fashionability of governance and examines its confused interface with civil society.
Public Affairs and Boundaries . Tom Spencer and Jon White explore the relationship between public affairs practice and the boundaries between organisations and external structures.