Public policy and the act of poetry: a path to togetherness in a healing world: IPP Community of Practice

Isabel Fontoura

One week ago, today, I met, with delight, the words of the youngest inaugural poet in American history, Amanda Gorman, as President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris took office. With a voice filled with warmth and courage, which resembled the vividness of the ipê trees of my native land, she reminded the world that "If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright." I wrote this passage of her inaugural poem "The Hill We Climb" on a piece of paper, in a quest to, somehow, hold to the emotion I first felt that day. Later, Ms. Gorman shared her view that poetry "is an instrument of social change and one of the most political arts out there because it demands rupture and destabilizing the current language." It is, thus, a path to togetherness.

I believe that Implementing Public Policy is also a route to togetherness. In this right, it requires effective communication as both a tool for everyday work and an act of poetry: words, narratives, and messages bring light to causes, projects, and innovation. Thus, able communication helps us address the challenge of convincing constituents, legislators, and communities of initiatives' public value. But how can public policy practitioners come to realize that they are invited to embrace poetry to better lives? I acknowledge that this thought may sound digressive, a stretch, or maybe not find immediate support. However, I would like to contribute to this debate by sharing three simple ideas that elevate communication to the heart of public policy practice.

First in line comes challenging the outdated, status quo idea that communication is an organizational department that takes precious time away from experts, replacing this perspective with a renewed vision of communication as an empowering tool valuable to all. The University of Oxford's professor Paul Collier argues that government leaders are needed "Communicators in Chief." They must frame and present a common purpose connecting networks of influence and groups to mobilize the will and behavior to deliver public policy and induce compliance. This way, the most capable and prepared public policy leaders are, first and foremost, talented communicators.

Second, being a skilled communicator isn't a given. It involves intentional and hard work, reflection, practice, growth, and exercising internal and external leadership dimensions. In Rob Wilkinson's 4P Model for Strategic Leadership - including Perception, Process, People, and Projection – all four core domains of leadership benefit from transparent, empathetic, and well-framed communication. Additionally, in the working paper "Leading with Intentionality, The 4P Framework for Strategic Leadership, authors Wilkinson and Leary argue that Projection requires leaders to elaborate on the story "you tell yourself" and the "story you tell of the future." This is needed to "create a shared vision to bring people along with you to the larger goals you need to achieve."

Third and equally important is the topic of self-responsibility in communicating truth in our professional roles and conduct as world citizens. In this unprecedented era of increasing desinfodemic (the spread of fake news and violent and hate speeches), what communicators do we want to be to the world to build bridges, not sour divides? The Harvard Kennedy School's Misinformation Review offers excellent insights on this matter, especially related to the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Speaking to you from the second country hardest hit by the pandemic, Brazil, I have found this material helpful in my search for ideas to debunk conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus crisis at the community level.

Finally, I conclude by taking you back to where we started: Amanda Gordon's call for poetry as a tool of a (very welcomed) destabilization of narratives and social change. Fellow IPP Communicators in Chief, I believe we are positioned to make a difference by sharing truth-led messages and narratives and mobilizing others on behalf of what matters to the common good. Healing from the pandemic as much as from political and social polarization, a phenomenon by no means exclusive to the United States, are among the pressing challenges that call for the collective embrace of communication with a capital C. Gladly, our first IPP Community of Practice Exchange event of 2021, held yesterday, January 26th, also meant just that, offering a glimpse of the extraordinary that comes out of fostering communication, collaboration and a shared belief in the power of good public policy. 

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