All of us operate in a planning environment daily.  When you and I first wake up on a workday morning, we instinctively have a plan in our heads on what we’re going to do from the time we get out of bed to the time we get to work at say 8:00AM.  The plan isn’t written down, but it’s there in our heads.  The plan doesn’t have a template with various steps, but it is a plan nonetheless.  Your plan’s mission, your, “Wake up and get going!” is to get to work by 8:00AM.  Your plan has stakeholders that help you accomplish or hinder your accomplishment of the mission.  The stakeholders could be your children, spouse, roommate, day care center, someone you have to talk to on the phone before you leave the house, entrance security check points where you work, etc.  There are corrective action steps that you sometimes use if you are not operating according to plan.  Finally, you have a feedback loop called evaluation which means you may find a need to change your plan if you’re not accomplishing your mission.


Discussing and reviewing what you do from the time you get out of bed to when you arrive at work in terms of planning with a mission, corrective action, stakeholders, etc. almost seems silly.  However, it is applicable to planning in the job environment, whether it’s a strategic plan for a large corporation or agency or a risk communication issues plan that you are involved in, which this article describes.


A large organization’s strategic plan would include elements such as a competitive analysis, a market environment analysis, a long term projection of where that organization will be maybe ten years out.  These type elements are not necessary in your communication issues planning but you and your fellow communicators need a plan.


A communication issues plan has several benefits for you.  It aligns your team/fellow risk communicators.  It allows you to measure progress and make necessary adjustments.  It involves stakeholders.  It provides a system to adjust to change.  A communication issues plan should have a template (components) and no one template is the right template.  However, we believe that your communication issues plan template should at least have these components:

  1. What do we know?  In other words background or situational analysis
  2. What are we trying to accomplish?  Or rather, what is our purpose/mission?
  3. Who is involved in accomplishing our mission, e.g., stakeholders (internal or external)?
  4. What are the action steps that are necessary to accomplish the mission?
  5. How are we doing, e.g., an evaluation from time to time – usually an informal approach to evaluation.


There are many other template component options such as:

-        Goals to accomplish the mission

-        Stakeholder prioritization

-        Stakeholder analysis

-        Message development

-        Your strategy or approach to accomplish your action steps


A communication issues plan is very a flexible and iterative process because risk communication is a social science involving ever changing environments, new stakeholders, new situations, new regulations, elimination of some challenges and creation of new challenges.  As a result, your plan is dynamic, energetic and evolving.  The plan is not linear.  That is, you don’t complete step 1, then start step 2, complete step 2 and start step 3.  In a risk communication plan you may be working on steps 4 and 5 in order to complete step 2.  For example, you may want to change your mission statement after you gather more intelligence from stakeholders.  Also, your stakeholders may change from time to time.  Your messages may change as the issue becomes more or less important or as new stakeholders become involved in the issue.


The two key requirements of effective risk communication issues planning are: 1) identifying, analyzing and prioritizing stakeholders then receiving input from these stakeholders and 2) communicator skills training.   Time and time again, when we work with our clients, if we find limitations in risk communications issues planning it is in these two areas.  We also personally experienced this when we worked on safety, health, environmental and other issues in the chemical industry.


It is important to identify, analyze and prioritize stakeholders that impact your mission, favorably or unfavorably, as well as identify other stakeholders that we refer to as “straddlers.”  Your straddlers and your supportive stakeholders frequently have many good ideas receive input to help you regarding your communication plan components.  We say many of the good ideas for your plan are “out there.”  “Out there” also includes internal stakeholders some of whom may be in the lower ranks of your organization.  Finally, how you respond to stakeholders that oppose you influences how you are viewed by straddlers.  Your action plan with these opponents should be based on the impact those actions will have on your straddler stakeholders.


Identifying, analyzing and prioritizing stakeholders can be done formally (various types of surveys) or informally – meetings one-on-one conversations.  We generally recommend the informal approach.  We have seen many successful risk communication plans that used informal approaches to stakeholder identification, analysis and prioritization.


Attached is one template that we have used for our clients.  Note that the arrows reflect obtaining input/ideas from selected stakeholders on each step.  It can be thought of as gathering intelligence.

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