Dutch public affairs professionals in the national and European arena: A smart mix of skills, attitude, and knowledge competences

Published date01 November 2017
Date01 November 2017
Dutch public affairs professionals in the national and European
arena: A smart mix of skills, attitude, and knowledge
Edward L. Figee |Jordy F. Gosselt |Paul C.J. Linders |Menno D.T. de Jong
Department of Communication Science,
Faculty of Behavioural, Management and
Social Sciences, University of Twente,
Enschede, The Netherlands
Edward L. Figee, University of Twente,
Department of Communication Science,
Faculty of Behavioural, Management and
Social Sciences, Enschede, The Netherlands.
Email: e.l.figee@utwente.nl
Although the profession of public affairs (PA) is increasingly important for organizations, relatively
little is known about the range of competences PA professionals need. This article presents a
qualitative study among 41 experienced Dutch PA professionals and practitioners, who were
interviewed about the competences needed in regional and local PA. The results show that
a combination of skillsrelated, attitudinal, and knowledgerelated competences is needed.
Skillsrelated competences involve two broad domains: politics and communication. Attitudinal
competences comprise the almost paradoxical qualities of authentic professionalism and
flexibility. Knowledgerelated competences comprise political and communicative knowledge.
These competences are used in a delicate process of swapping, depending on the situation of
the very moment and the PA file at hand. Every competence may be of decisive importance.
The PA professional is a silent diplomat.
Public affairs (PA) is gaining ground in the public sector in the Nether-
lands. Traditionally, governmental organizations would find themselves
on the receiving end of PA activities, but nowadays, many governmen-
tal organizations recognize that PA activities can be a useful means for
them to promote their interests and get things done. In particular,
regions and municipalities realize that PA can help them to reach the
national and European political arenas and draw attention to regional
and local issues and interests. PA is a managerial tool that can be used
to influence processes of political decisionmaking in the national and
European arena (Marx, 1990; Van Schendelen, 2013, p. 1524, 60).
The PA profession that these decentralized governmental bodies
are entering is hard to demarcate (Harris & Moss, 2001a, 2001b;
Schuler, 2002). In general terms, PA may be described as a strategic
management discipline, directed to the political, administrative realm
the organization is functioning in or is going to function in(Linders &
De Lange, 2003, p. 17). According to McGrath, Moss, and Harris
(2010) and Van Schendelen(2013, p. 1524), the problems of demarcat-
ing PA can be attributedto ongoing dynamics in society, which are con-
tinuously modeling the public and private sectors (Van de Donk, 2014).
Earlier research shows that the effective use of PA by decen-
tralized governments involves many challenges, such as preparing the
home organization for the use of PA (Figee, Gosselt, Linders, & De
Jong, 2017a); forging regional and publicprivate collaborations (Figee,
Gosselt, Linders, & De Jong, 2017b); and accessing the complex, highly
competitive, and not always susceptible national and European politi-
cal arenas (Figee, Gosselt, Linders, & De Jong, 2016). Considering that
PA professionals have to act on various stages with highly relevant but
often vaguely demarcated objectives, it is no wonder that questions
arise about the expertise of PA professionals. What are the
competences PA professionals must bring to the job?
In an earlier study (Figee, Gosselt, Linders, & De Jong, 2017c), we
addressed this question using a survey among PA professionals. The
results showed a wide variety among PA professionals, both in educa-
tional background and in competences, and a long list of competences
PA professionals must develop. In this article, we take a qualitative
approach to answer the question more in detail while focusing on
the context of regional and local PA. We interviewed prolific and
seasoned PA professionals and practitioners, who all had participated
in the domain of regional and local PA in various roles, about the
competences that are crucial for the PA professional.
Earlier research provides some clues for an inventory of PA compe-
tences. Fleisher (2007) argued for the need of a PA body of knowledge
and put the identification, description, and measurement of PA
Received: 6 January 2017 Accepted: 16 July 2017
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1666
J Public Affairs. 2017;17:e1666.
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of8

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