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Wednesday, 24 July 2019 17:25
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Common causes of policy crises

(LLCT) - Policy is an important tool that every country and organization uses to manage society and entities effectively. While practical and suitable policies contribute to social development enhancement, inappropriate policies can easily cause crises and social and organizational disorder, hindering development. Common causes of policy crises are unprofessional processes of developing, issuing, and spreading awareness of policies. Fully understanding the causes of policy crises requires solutions to improve the quality of policy development, issuance, and communication.

Keywords: Policy, policy crisis.

1. Policy crises begin during the process of policy formation and issuance

There are two levels to the policy cycle – central and local – and policy crises often occur at both levels. In Vietnam, we have faced policy crises at the central level due to an inappropriate process of policy development and issuance that created significant frustration among public opinion. In some cases, even when policy promulgation guidelines are absolutely good for the nation or organization, they can still cause crises and difficulties in issuing and enforcing. These regulations are often considered to be unconstitutional or inadequate, causing frustration in public opinion and wasting the time and money of the State and the people.

A typical example is this occurred at the 4th Session of the 14th National Assembly. When discussing a draft of Law on Special Administrative Economic Zone (also called Special Economic Zone Law) and Cyber Security Law, public opinion boiled over against it. This created an opportunity for malefactors to exploit and ignite the anger of innocent people ignorant about protest law, causing riots, insecurity, and social disorder. Another example of this occurred in early June 2016, when protesters burned down the offices and vehicles of Binh Thuan public authority to protest the draft Law on Special Economic Zones. This crisis has caused instability of politics and people’s confidence in the social management system(1).

At the ministerial, industrial, and local levels, there have been a number of issued policies that have caused crises and affected the reputation of organizations and individuals. On January 13, 2003, the Ministry of Public Security issued Circular 02/TT-BCA, stating that one person could only register one motorbike. The issuance of this Circular faced strong dissenting opinions, especially since the provision’s content was somewhat contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and Law. After strong resistance was voiced to the policy, the Ministry of Public Security had to promulgate Circular 17/2005/TT-BCA to remove the previous provision. Around the same time, the Ministry also had the idea that each citizen could only own one car and one number plate(2).

Another example occurred in early 2018, when Da Nang’s Department of Information and Communication issued Document 228/STTTT-TTBCXB to central and local press agencies located in Da Nang City stating coordination and support to provide information on all content before printing and public release. However, after its issuance, this document faced extreme opposition in public opinion, especially in the press. It resulted in the Da Nang’s Department of Information and Communication withdrawing the document, citing that it wasn’t in accordance with the Press Law’s regulations(3).

Recently, some central and local agencies and organizations have caused small scale crises. They have originated from the promulgation of internal documents that act against laws or operational regulations which are issued and applied generally. When the interests of the majority in a group are violated, a crisis will be created. On a small scale, there will be direct reactions by individuals to the issuers of those policies or against the organizations, mainly through word of mouth and social network forums. In more severe cases, groups will gather to strike and stop working, etc, to protest against policies. Therefore, it can be stated that the root of policy crisis lies in the incoherent formation process and bad policies themselves. A good policy should be based on a professional building and promulgating process which includes professional periods and stages. Each stage of the policy process can reveal potential crises if the process not been carried out properly, professionally, and with supervision. A standard process of forming and issuing policy must fully comply with strict implementation and enforcement steps together with the responsibility of policy makers. The main stages of the policy forming and promulgating process are as follows:

Firstly, context and status analysis is an important stage. This is the initially decisive phase where policy makers should answer the question “is it necessary to enact this policy?” This answer, about the policy promulgation’s necessity and urgency, should be answered through the deep and attentive study of policy makers who have used quantitative research to prove the necessity of the new policy in this context and situation. Sociological surveys to investigate policy needs can make policy promulgation more relevant to reality; in addition to quantitative studies, in-depth interviews with experts and solicitation and consultation of specialized knowledge and skills to build and plan policies are also very important, as they provide impersonal and frank opinions as the foundations for promulgating policies.

As a matter of fact, most people who promulgate policies have not really done their jobs well. Many policies that are issued without fully study of context, status and haven’t had the necessary research done; therefore, when coming into force, the policies are not relevant to reality. Even policy consultants often don’t follow the proper steps. They often do first and make reports later, or skip the feedback step almost entirely, meaning that only the opinion of a few experts is obtained before policies are enacted. This is the focal point of conflict between policies and practices, and it leads to inevitable crisis.

Secondly, it is necessary to clearly identify policies’ general and specific purposes and objectives identified. This is the next important step in the process of building and issuing policy. Only by identifying the policy’s purposes and objectives can policy implementation be clear and effective. In our country, many policies being formed and issued have unclear purposes and objectives; therefore, during the implementation, these policies are like ships without direction and are hardly effective at all.

Thirdly, opportunities, challenges, barriers, and risks should be clearly identified so that capabilities can be utilized to manage policy risks. During the policy making and promulgating process, if policy makers disregard unanticipated opportunities, challenges, barriers, and risks, policy crises will happen quite frequently. Those who make and promulgate policies should identify each opportunity, challenge, and risk of a policy and use specific quantitative and qualitative arguments and data to support their policies. From there, quantitative and qualitative analyses should be collected, and policy subjects can be researched and discussed to cope with any anticipated policy crises.

Fourthly, policy resources should be clear and explicit to combat corruption and avoid policy waste. People in charge of forming and implementing policies have a decisive role to play in regulating the quality and effectiveness of those policies. Policy makers should invite experts, professionals, and those who have comprehensive law knowledge to consult in the policy formation process. This should be done, however, in a way that absolutely avoids creating chances for interested groups to build policies for their benefit or exploitation, or for the creation of loopholes for “backstage forces” to earn illegal benefits. Regarding material resources, especially financial issues, policy makers should clearly address the figures and sources of financial investments and document expenses corresponding to the progress and level of work during the policy enforcement process.

Fifthly, time and budget limitations should be determined for policies as an important step in the formation and promulgation process of a policy. No policy ever lasts tens of thousands or even hundreds of years, it is even impossible for policies to be valid for just a few days.  The abolition or amendment or supplementation of policies is indispensable and objectively needed due to the unstoppable changing reality; however, this is not a reason for policies makers to abuse time and issue “sub-licenses” recklessly, causing problems of social management.

2. Policy crisis due to ineffective policy communication

Communication is the message exchange process from communication sources to receivers through channels aiming at influencing the awareness, attitude, and behavior of receivers to contribute to social development. Small-scale communication bears little popularity for policy promulgation purposes. Small-scale communication methods, like personal communication activities and inter-personal groups made up of people in society, are hard to utilize for policy purposes. Small-scale communication activities take place regularly and daily according to subjective needs, and they adapt to the living context of the social population. Small-scale communication has had little large-scale impact on social change in the past. In the age of digitalization and global connectivity, personal communication messages seem to have a narrow scale influence, but now they can create a mass “super” power. Mass “super” trends have become more and more popular and powerful in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Evidence of this is that increasing personal communication messages spread and draw a huge social effect, creating efficiency and effectiveness, even causing great social consequences.

Mass communication is understood as a communication process where sources, channels, receivers, interference, feedback, efficiency, and effect of communication is based on popularity. Mass-media systems in the world today include popular types of communication such as books, the publishing industry, journalism, cinema, and advertisements, etc. Whether it is mass, small-scale, or “super” mass-media, all are still tools and means of organization and individual communication because communication is by nature a means, a method of communication, connection and social intervention.

Communication plays an important role in national and organizational governance, especially communication around policies that are promulgated to manage a society or entity. A country or organization can hardly develop well if it underestimates the importance of communication when building management policies. Even countries and organizations that are fully aware of how important communication is but that lack professional communication skills and methods will have trouble with efficiency, especially around policy communication.

Policy communication is the process where policy makers approach and engage the public through appropriate media means and methods to make the public understand and support the policy. The first goal of policy communication is to help the public know the policy and hopefully stimulate their desire to learn more about it and participate in discussions and contribute their opinions. At a higher level, policy communication interprets, analyzes, and persuades to gain widespread voluntary support from the public(4).

In practice, there can be good policies that, due to poor communication, cause crises and social disturbances or organizational and entity disorder. Going back to the case of the Draft on Special Economic Zone Law and Cyber Security Law, if policy issuers had had professional communication campaigns, in addition to the standard policy building process, a crisis likely could have been avoided. Civilians were mostly angry because they didn’t understand the importance of the Special Economic Zone Law and Cyber Security Law, and this was because authorities did not really survey or propagate enough information for the public to understand and contribute opinions to the draft law before submitting it to the National Assembly for approval. This created an opening for malefactors to exploit people, causing them to oppose and disunite the community. They even instigated riots, causing social insecurity and reducing people’s trust in the Party and the State. Especially in the current context, where corruption is rampant, degradation of morals and the “self-transformation” status of a large number of officials and party members must be addressed immediately.

3. Solutions to improving policy communication effectiveness, contributing to overcoming policy crises

Firstly, policy makers should be made fully aware of the importance and position of media systems and how to use them as the most effective tool to spread awareness of policies. In Vietnam, the mass-media system is formed only of state-owned entities. Article 4, 2016 Press Law, clearly affirms the functions, duties, and powers of the press:

“1. The press in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an essential medium of communication for social life; is the voice of Party and state agencies, socio-political organizations, socio-politico-professional, social organizations, and socio-professional organizations; and is a forum of the People.

2. The press has the following tasks and powers: a/ To provide truthful information about domestic and world affairs in line with the interests of the country and People; b/ To communicate and disseminate, and contribute to the formulation and protection of, the line and policies of the Party, policies and laws of the State, achievements of the country and the world according to the guiding principles and purposes of press agencies; to contribute to the political stability and socio-economic development, raise the People’s intellect, satisfy the healthy cultural needs of the People, protect and promote the fine traditions of the nation, build and promote socialist democracy, strengthen the great national unity bloc, and build and protect the socialist Fatherland of Vietnam; c/ To reflect and guide public opinion; to act as a forum for the People to exercise their right to freedom of speech...”(5).

Therefore, the policy communication of the country is the political mission of all types of press agencies. In addition to using a variety of communication types for policy communication, policy builders should apply different types, means, and modes of communication to form a strong “army” of policy communication. Mass-media entities must be responsible for communicating policies on their platforms and products, and they should regularly and continuously and take transparent and clear assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of their communication.

Secondly, mass-media entities need to focus on building a policy message which is correct, on target, objective, and honest in terms of content, form, and language so that they can be easily understood, remembered, and followed. As mentioned earlier, sometimes good policies with poorly-done communication messages can still be distorted, creating troubling public opinions.

Standard policy communication messages should be based on standard policies and creativeness through various types and products of communication, as well as the skills and display modes of media entities. If communication entities do their job automatically by simply communicating policy documents in the media, policies hardly find ways to actually reach real life.

Thirdly, proper communication channels to communicate policies effectively must be selected. There are three popular mass channels that the communication entities use to do policy communication: printing, broadcasting, and internet posting. Each channel has its own strengths and limitations that communication entities can make use of and use to express policy communication messages effectively.

Printing is advantageous in conveying the content of policy communication messages via writing. This channel is popularly applied by traditional mass communication products such as books, newspapers, and magazines. Printing and written communication products have the advantage of information storage, but they face limitations in terms of their reach and level of influence. Print communication products can be monotonous and focus only on explanation capabilities; therefore, they are just suitable for reaching the literate public and mainly more highly-educated citizens. During the strong development of new techniques and technologies, social media opportunities boom and increasingly take advantage, especially social networking sites. Policy communication via the print channel will certainly attract less public interest; however, this shouldn’t mean policy builders reject this communication channel entirely; they just need to coordinate with print media entities to study the needs and desires of receivers in order to provide policy messages that are suitable to the tastes of the public.

Broadcast and transmission channels currently dominate the public’s attention, especially television products. The strength of television is the message expression through non-text codes (graphics, photography, video, and audio) and live interactive programs that easily attract the public. Policy builders should boost the use of this channel for policy communication. Nowadays, visual communication is “enthroned”, therefore entertainment television shows or live information through video visuals is more appealing to the public than words.

As for policy communication messages posted in internet channels, they are capable of conveying and spreading information quickly, widely, and online; at the same time, this channel is able to interact and display high multimedia data. We are living in the digital age, when network communication is able to attract a large number of public audiences more than ever.

Fourthly, policy communication research should be done professionally to bring policies to life effectively. The public plays a decisive role in the communication cycle, especially policy communication. The public also contributes opinions to perfect policies. Therefore, the study of public demand for policy communication is very important. Public communication research should be conducted before building communication plans, message ideas, and the organization of producing communication products. The audiences of policy communication differ in gender, age, knowledge level, culture, ethnic group, and religion, so the demand to receive information will also vary. The research process of policy communication audiences should aim at targeted receivers of policy, and each policy should be directed to specific interests in each particular area with direct influence. For example, when communicating about family planning, the targeted audience is women of childbearing age, especially women in rural and remote areas, ethnic minorities, and in low standard of living areas.  The study of policy needs should be detailed to develop appropriate communication messages for these groups.

Public research for policy communication requires professional methods and processes. Communication agencies should establish specialized units in charge of studying receivers/customers and developing communication economics/services apart from policy communication tasks. Therefore, communication entities should consider the audience an important factor to determine the effectiveness of policy communication.

Fifthly, communication entities should focus on following the information they gather and responding to the feedback and confounding factors that affect the effectiveness of their policy communication messages. Every crisis of policy and policy communication comes from public opinion. Public feedback and criticism are factors that allow the perfection of policies. Without regular or continuous professional monitoring and processing feedback, when a communication crisis occurs, it will be too late to deal with it effectively. Treating communication crises is like fire fighting: there are small fires that might be put out easily if dealt with appropriately, but without proper methods small fires will easily grow into big ones. Policy communication crises will make it difficult for policies to come to life.

Sixthly, policy communication should be evaluated professionally in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. The assessment of communication efficiency should be based on surveys and specific and explicit quantitative and qualitative analyses. Worthy survey data will be valuable to demonstrate communication effectiveness. In fact, the evaluation of policy communication effectiveness in media units has not really been invested in sufficiently in Vietnam. If communication effectiveness is not evaluated specifically and explicitly, communication will almost always fall short and cause problems.



(1) “Protest in Binh Thuan, Ho Chi Minh City: People have been agitated by bad guys”, http://24h.com.vn.

(2) “Each citizen can own only 1 car and 1 number plate”: A proposal is not feasible, https://laodong.vn.

(3) http://dantri.vn.

(4) Truong Ngoc Nam: Policy communication and social consensus - from theoretical research to practical modeling, Policy communication and social consensus, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2018.


(5) Press Law 2016, http://thuvienphapluat.vn.


Assoc. Prof., Dr. Ha Huy Phuong

Academy of Journalism and Communication

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