In Conversation with Michael Zinck
Each month, PlaceSpeak presents a Q&A with experts in public engagement and civic technology. This month, we spoke with Michael Zinck, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Affairs and Communications at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Michael first joined Environment and Climate Change Canada in October 2017 as the Executive Director for Strategic Communications. He was promoted to Director General of Communications in March 2019. Michael assumed the responsibilities of the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Public Affairs and Communications Branch in January 2021 before being formally appointed to the position in June 2021.
Michael began his career in regional economic development in Moncton, New Brunswick following work in the international field including non-governmental organization activities in Kenya and Cuba. Michael has a diverse range of experience in strategic communications, ministerial liaison services and economic development policy.
Michael has a Bachelor of Political Science from Saint Mary’s University and a Master of Public Administration from Dalhousie University. Michael is also a certified sommelier.
Q. How important is citizen engagement in the communications strategies of the Federal Government? In particular, to the ECCC?
A. Connecting with and engaging with Canadians is at the core of our business – we are a science based department – and that included citizen based science, in addition to professional science. Talking to and understanding citizen needs informs the work we do and allows our communications to be more direct, resonate, have purpose and reach the broadest possible audiences.
As a public service, we are stewards of knowledge, that is public knowledge – we need to share what we have gathered, we need to learn through engagement so our communications and policy development of reflective of the diverse fabric of Canada.
Q. Is the authentication of citizens a priority in light of the prevalence of trolls, bots and other forms of online manipulation?
A. Absolutely, as well as the privacy of Canadians. Cyber security is of upmost importance. Personal information is critical to the work we do. It is about integrity. Integrity in how we engage, what wo do with the information, where we share it and how it informs our work and communications. Trolls, bots and forms of AI can seriously impact how gov’t is informed and what it does with unauthentic information.
Q. Does geographic location play a role in the government’s understanding of public input? Does it factor into analysis?
A. Place based knowledge has long been a critical aspect in understanding how Canadians think and feel. Understanding what they need and why something matters more in one region over another is very important. We see this is the application of some of our regulations. I worked for many years in regional economic development – the challenges of regions are much different then the centre of the country. Differences also existing within regions – rural vs urban, resources dependent vs transitioned economies. A smart and thoughtful understanding allows for more effective communications.
Q. How do you differentiate between ‘communications’ and ‘consultation’?
A. Interesting question – I see communications as traditionally one sided and consultation where you are seeking a response – but neither may not necessarily mean a dialogue. Active engagement is where two way dialogue begins, in my opinion.
Q. Trust in government is at an all-time low, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. How do you address this through the lens of communications and public policy?
A. Trust is at an all time low. It calls for facts, no spin. Clear explanations. And validation – who the facts are coming from really matters. Credibility in scientist and experts is high among the public. They know best what they are talking about and validating their work through other trusted sources is effective communications that supports sound public policy.
Q. Marketing and communications tactics and methodologies are being adopted by the public sector. Do you see an issue with this, given the objective is ‘selling’?
A. Not at all. Government needs to be creative in reaching Canadians. Is the government selling or creating awareness is the better question. The Government is driving action to awareness which can lead to behavioural change among Canadians.