paving the way

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Paving the Way is part of a larger effort undertaken by the Topos Partnership and Public Works to create more constructive public dialog about public policy and economic outcomes. Promoting Broad Prosperity contains the complete findings and recommendations from this body of research.


  • 1. PAVING THE WAY: Governments Role In Economic Innovation November 2009 Produced by the Topos Partnership for - Public Works: the Demos Center for the Public Sector
  • 2. About topos Founded by veteran communications strategists Axel Aubrun and Joe Grady of Cultural Logic and Meg Bostrom of Public Knowledge, Topos has as its mission to explore and ultimately transform the landscape of public understanding where public interest issues play out. Our approach is based on the premise that while it is possible to achieve short-term victories on issues through a variety of strategies, real change depends on a fundamental shift in public understanding. Topos was created to bring together the range of expertise needed to understand existing issue dynamics, explore possibilities for creating new issue understanding, develop a proven course of action, and arm advocates with new communications tools to win support. - About Demos Dmos is a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization. Headquartered in New York City, Dmos works with advocates and policymakers around the country in pursuit of four overarching goals: a more equitable economy; a vibrant and inclusive democracy; an empowered public sector that works for the common good; and re- sponsible U.S. engagement in an interdependent world. Public Works: The Dmos Center for the Public Sector was initiated by Dmos as a deliberate attempt to address Americas lack of trust in, understanding of and support for the essential roles of government. Grounded in thor- ough research and refined through extensive field-work with state organizations and national constituencies across the country, the Public Works approach to this problem has yielded enhanced understanding of how we can create a more receptive public audience for constructive conversations about government. Dmos was founded in 2000. Miles S. Rapoport, President Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Programs 220 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor | New York, New York 10001 | About the ReseARch This analysis is based on a three year investigation by Topos of American understandings of governments role in the economy. An Exploratory phase in 2007 included an analysis of expert and advocate communications, a review of public opinion data, and a series of in-depth interviews (cognitive elicitations) with average Americans. The Strategy Development phase conducted in 20072008 included Talkback testing of explanatory messages, focus groups, and a survey. In order to verify and update the recommendations after the dramatic turn in the economy in late 2008, a new round of research was conducted in MarchJuly 2009 including new reviews of recent public opinion research, plus more individual interviews and TalkBack testing of messages.
  • 3. tAble of contents executive summary....1 background................2 Research....................2 challenges........................3 An effective Approach....5 Approaches that miss the mark.....7 Ideological Debate....10 endnotes..................12 conclusion...................12
  • 4. 1 executIve summARy Helps direct thinking towards a historical pattern (and basic truth), as opposed to focusing Paving the Way: Governments Role in Economic Inno- narrowly on particular current events. vation is part of a larger effort undertaken by the To- Importantly, the pave the way approach also guides pos Partnership and Public Works: the Dmos Center thinking in a way that helps audiences avoid a variety of for the Public Sector to create more constructive pub- counterproductive default patterns in thinking, includ- lic dialog about public policy and economic outcomes. ing a general lack of awareness of (cognitive blindness Promoting Broad Prosperity: A Topos Strategy and Re- to) governments active role in the economy, as well as search Brief 1 contains the complete findings and rec- ideological resistance to any important role, and skep- ommendations from this body of research. ticism about governments ability to do anything con- structive in this arena. It also helps people avoid a coun- This brief is focused on a specific application of the re- terproductive focus on the latest events in the headlines searchidentifying an effective and compelling way (from bailouts to executive compensation). of conveying the fact that government plays an im- portant role in helping make business/technology inno- A paragraph such as the following quickly helps people vations happen. Comparative testing with a variety of achieve a fuller and more constructive understanding approaches established one particularly effective way of of how active public policy and economic success are making this point: deeply linked: The US government has always paved the way for new businesses and industries, in a variety of ways. sample pave the Way paragraph One of the things that has always boosted the economy most is innova- This key organizing idea, in combina- tionnew products, new ideas, new industries. And these major innova- tion with a well-chosen set of examples, tions have almost always depended on government paving the way for is both sticky and enlightening, and businesses, rather than just getting out of the way. For example: helps convey the broader idea that gov- ernment plays a fundamental and pro- Government-supported researchers develop a new idea and active partas opposed to playing a pe- companies make it profitable (Internet, various medicines). ripheral, after-the-fact rolein shap- Government creates a regulation, and companies compete to find ing the economy. better ways of doing things (more efficient light bulbs). Among the key strengths of the mes- A company invents something, and government purchases enough to sage are that it: get the industry launched (microchips). Is a user-friendly idea and Economists say government paving the way has always been one of the keys image that is easily remembered, to the US's economic success and leadership. understood and repeated (i.e. it has the potential to enter public discourse and common sense); While communicators would adapt the central idea Establishes an important role for government based on their own particular contexts and priorities, while also allowing an important role for private testing with some 300 research participants establishes business; that the pave the way approach is a particularly effec- tive way of creating understanding and appreciation of Offers a clear and memorable alternative to the governments key role among Americans of all political idea that government should get out of the way; persuasions. and
  • 5. bAckgRounD Administrations chief economic plans involve promoting innovation (in green energy etc.), This brief reports on part of a three-year investigation, and experience in communications on a range involving a wide range of qualitative and quantitative of relevant issues has shown that Americans research spanning a period of dramatic change in the typically overlook or deny governments economic landscape. Between 2007 and 2009, Topos, at important role in such changes. the request of Public Works: the Dmos Center for the Finally, exploring the dynamics around a specific point Public Sector, conducted an extensive investigation of like this one is a helpful way of continuing to illustrate Americans understandings of the economy, and identi- the broader challenges communicators face in discuss- fied communications strategies to engage the public in a ing governments economic role. more constructive conversation about the ways in which government can and does shape the economy. A guiding assumption for the entire project is that the ReseARch public debate over economic policy is constrained by Americans views and understandings of governments The research and testing for this phase of work was roleincluding fundamental and counterproductive based on TalkBack testing involving roughly thi


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