The Minimalist Guide to Monitoring Government

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post on using strategy and media-monitoring software to reduce information overload. The responses I received solidified my view that overload is one of the biggest problems in the workplace today.

Naturally, the greater the number of sources you have to monitor, the more complicated your task will be. This is especially true of those who monitor different types of sources. Keeping track of government proceedings – often in addition to news sites, blogs, journals, and social networks – can result in information overload of epic proportions. This post will explain how automated software can be used to help combat these problems in government monitoring.

Monitoring Government and Information Overload

Imagine this: you’re sitting in front of a television set, watching a committee meeting on CPAC. You’re intention is to track a particular subject. It should come up at any moment, but you’ve been watching for hours, and you’re becoming increasingly distracted. A hundred other thoughts are vying for your attention: the needs of various clients, the simultaneously-occurring committee meetings that must be monitored the following day, the many unanswered emails sitting in your inbox, and the sneaking suspicion that you’ve missed some important piece of information…

For many working in government relations, this scenario is a regular part of existence. It may not conform to popular narratives of information overload (which identify technology as the sole cause of the phenomenon), but in many ways, it fits the bill. How much ground is covered in the average debate or committee meeting? What percentage of the information absorbed in these proceedings is actually useful to the listener? Anyone manually monitoring these proceedings is inundated with data, much of which they will never have any use for. This is the essence of information overload, the insidious, productivity-killing ailment that strikes many in the government relations profession.


The Solution: Increased Automation

According to surveys conducted by Gnowit (both formal and informal) the vast majority of government relations (GR) professionals are using at least one – and very often more than one – media-monitoring software. This makes sense; software-based solutions can save organizations time, resources, and the anxiety of missing vital information. More to the point (at least for this post), automation can simplify the process of digging through vast quantities of data. Given the popularity of automated media monitoring in GR, I was surprised to find that many of these teams are not applying similar technology to government.

Manually monitoring government proceedings – through in-person attendance or audio/video recordings – can be very time consuming. Vital information is often missed, or is not caught in time to be useful. Given the available solutions, there is no real need for these issues to be as serious as they are. Federal and provincial governments provide the public with comprehensive, high-quality sources in the form of government transcripts. These transcripts – which are posted online, on government Hansard databases – are nearly verbatim, and can be easily monitored with automated technology. Currently, there are several companies providing this service.

If you are looking for the right service provider, there are several things you should take into consideration. How will a particular government-monitoring software complement your media-monitoring software? If you choose a program that is too dissimilar from the one you use to monitor media, using it may not be intuitive. You may decide on an all-in-one solution that covers both. What kind of coverage are you looking for? Federal and provincial? Do you need to monitor all of the provinces, or only a few? Below you will find some tips for answering these questions.


Source Selection: The Key to Monitoring Government

After selecting the right software, the biggest factor in achieving optimal monitoring results is selecting the right sources. While it may be tempting to go for blanket coverage, receiving continuous alerts from too many websites can actually cause you to miss truly relevant information, or prevent you from finding it until it’s no longer useful.

For many, tracking online media for relevant government commentary is an integral part of the government monitoring process. Currently, there are estimated to be over 1 billion websites on the internet. While Canadian government transcripts can only be found on a few official sites, useful media can be trickier to identify. Finding ways of narrowing down your potential pool of results is crucial.

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Those who are organized begin the selection process with a series of questions. Should I monitor national editorials, or the blogs of local influencers? Does it make sense to track newspapers in cities outside of my province? If so, which cities? The answers to these questions will, of course, depend on the levels of government that matter to you, as well as the strategies you plan to use to achieve your goals.

Consider the example of an Ontario medical association. The person in charge of monitoring would likely want to follow public opinion at the national and provincial levels. They would probably monitor several provinces in addition to their own. Decisions made in Quebec (and the public opinion that plays a role in forming them) have a great deal of potential to affect other provinces. Currently, this situation is playing out at the national level, where debate about doctor-assisted suicide is occurring a few short months after Quebec passed right-to-die legislation.

The question of location will, of course, be relevant for government monitoring as well. Many GR professionals can cut down on the amount of data they receive by limiting their provincial monitoring efforts to the governments of Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta. For those who work in organizations tied to other regions – Grain Growers of Canada, to use an obvious example – other provinces, like Manitoba, will be a higher priority. Some software covers individual provinces, which may be a perfect solution for those who don’t require extensive coverage. However, for more comprehensive coverage, it is wise to seek out all-in-one solutions that allow you to pick and choose your sources.

Being bombarded by legislation from provinces irrelevant to your organization can be distressing. So too can having to sift through results from Question Period when only Committee Meetings are useful to you. Depending on the type of software you use, you may be able to monitor transcripts of certain parts of the Hansard record to the exclusion of others. Remember, the overall goal is to reduce the number of alerts filling up your inbox while ensuring you receive everything you can actually use. To that end, adjustable alert settings are an easy way to cut down on clutter. Simply set alerts at a lower frequency for topics that are less dire.


Overcoming Overload

A solid foundation is the best place from which to undertake your government-monitoring efforts. Ask yourself a few basic questions to clarify your goals, then use the answers to select the right software and implement a simple, effective strategy.

If you are currently using a software that seems less-than-optimal, try setting aside some time to experiment with the features you’ve never used. You might be surprised at the various ways they can save you time – and, in some small way, your sanity.

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