Managing Public Affairs in the 21st Century Provides Students with Invaluable Skill Sets
By Haysel Hernández-Holzshu (MSFS '13)
Leaders in modern day organizations require the ability to understand and navigate the environment in which they function. In a world where the transmission of information has become immediate, communication is constant, and trust and reputation are paramount, the need to engage with various public entities is become vital. Dr. Fruzsina Harsanyi's course, "Managing Public Affairs in the 21st Century, is helping those future leaders understand the current public affairs culture and its role in obtaining organizational results.
"Public affairs is the management practice for connecting to an organization's social and political environment. We don't presume to manage the entire environment, but we monitor it, respond to it, and anticipate changes in it," Dr. Harsanyi explained.
Dr. Harsanyi clarifies that this is not a course in communications or public relations. The idea is for students to become conversant in public affairs as an important managerial skill. "It's a great course, it's presented as a leadership competency. The theory behind it is that leaders in the 21st century, running big organizations in very turbulent times when social media is very important,transparency is critical, and trust is important [must] have an understanding of how to connect with the external environment of their organization," she explained.
With over 30 years in the field, Dr. Harsanyi has experienced the evolution of public affairs first hand. Her course takes a look at public affairs skills and practices utilized to connect with the external environment. "We focus on relationships with stakeholders, not just shareholders. We focus on issue management--what is the life cycle of an issue and how do you monitor and decide which issue to prioritize and act on? Also, when does an issue become a crisis, and how do you recognize and deal with them?" Dr. Harsanyi said.
For Professor Ross Harrison, Chair of the International Commerce and Business Concentration, "The issue management piece of the course is one of the most critical. Managing public affairs is not just about communication, it is about engagement on an management of multiple issues."
After learning the functions of public affairs, students explore how this framework is applied int he United States in contrast to different cultures. "Is there such a thing as international public affairs, and is there a body of principles that are universal and applied differently in different countries? We look at Australia, China, and Mexico, and then students pick a country they want to understand better and apply these principles in that cultural context," explained Dr. Harsanyi.
This course also incorporates case studies and culminates in students analyzing a current issue, applying public affairs principles, and discussing whether these were used effectively in that particular context in a class presentation.
Dr. Fruzsina M. Harsanyi is an Adjunct Professor at the School of Foreign Service. She also serves as a senior adviser for the Public Affairs Council. She has experience managing the public affairs function for several U.S. and non-U.S. multinational corporations, including Tyco. Outside of her career and academia, Dr. Harsanyi serves on several boards in Washington, D.C., such as Arena Stage, the Executive Council on Diplomacy, the Bryce Harlow Foundation, and the National Archives Foundation.