If We Build It, They Will Come:
Fostering Public Affairs Knowledge in the Department of Defense
In each of the armed forces, public affairs professionals perform the same basic functions: internal information, external information, and community relations. The baseline regulations that govern how each service conducts public affairs are also common to each of the services. Entry-level and follow-on training for these professionals is consolidated at the same location and follows the same curriculum with minor adjustments for service-unique requirements. In addition, one can argue that Department of Defense public affairs practitioners face approximately the same types of public affairs problems, no matter if they are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines. In fact, there are more commonalities among the situations public affairs professionals from different services face than there are differences.
Over the last decade, public affairs professionals in each of the services have had to conduct community relations programs in their surrounding communities. Each base and station has a newspaper or newsletter to inform local military members and their families. Some bases and stations overseas have broadcast detachments that perform the same function, as well as entertain viewers and listeners. In addition, public affairs professionals from all services have handled responding to the media and the public in the wake of issues like terrorism; training mishaps; crimes committed by service members; instances of discrimination, hate, or harassment; environmental matters; and a host of other issues. With all this commonality among the services, one might be surprised to learn that outside the formal schools, little knowledge is shared among the different services about how to successfully deal with the challenges public affairs professionals face. It is with some degree of irony that one can characterize Department of Defense public affairs as an organization which is chartered to share information with the public, yet communicates very little information and knowledge within itself.
In today’s media environment of an instantaneous news cycle that allows little time for reaction, let alone room for mistakes, the need for public affairs professionals to share knowledge intra-command, intra-service, as well as inter-service is more critical than ever. An environment in which public affairs professionals deliberately and systematically share information and knowledge with each other will reduce error, save valuable planning time, and better individual and organizational performance. The purpose of this paper is to introduce a starting point for the sharing of information and knowledge among Department of Defense public affairs practitioners. This will be accomplished by applying theories related to the concept of knowledge management, a widely acclaimed business practice that is being pursued in thousands of corporations across the world.