[CfP] The changing professional fields of communication in public organisations

Call for Papers – Special Issue « Communication & Professionnalisation

The changing professional fields of communication in public organisations

  • Submission of proposals: April 1st, 2023
  • Full text received: June 30th, 2023
  • Publication: December 2023

This issue of “Communication & Professionnalisation” aims to study specifically the evolutions of the field of communication of public and for non-profit organisations that participate in the representation of public action. New uses lead us to question the definition of public communication, its role, the professionalisation of its actors and the challenges it faces.

 If “the space of political phenomena is created by men” (Hanna Arendt), the challenge for public communication is to create this space in terms of temporality and mediation, by carrying the discourse and reporting the reactions in order to crystallise a representation that will bring the stakeholders together.

Proposed axes

The articles may fall within one or more of the following areas of questioning:

1) What scope for the definition of public communication?

The contributions could focus on the variety of existing definitions, from the Franco-European model (communication of public institutions), to the Anglo-Saxon model (communication in the public space, with regard to the mimetic isomorphism associated with the popularity of an organisational form, acquired practices or behaviour generally accepted by peers in Canada or Spain)[1], not to forget specific approaches such as the Dutch conceptualisation of ‘voorlichting’ (communication illuminating the path to be taken)[2].

This axis deals with the distinction between public and political communication which has been questioned for a long time[3], as well as between a logic of differentiation (following the example of the 1990 Law in France and the Law of 7 June 2000 in Italy[4]) and the variable connections over time that are inherent in the functioning of bureaucratic public institutions as intended by Max Weber[5].

What do the levels of attachment or subordination in the organisation charts say? How do organisational logics reflect logics of power (governance) and what is their impact on public communication? What can we learn from the tensions between centralisation (imposition by power – top down, for example in French local authorities) and decentralisation (rapprochement – bottom up, as in national and devolved state communication[6])? Who leads the way between internal communication, external marketing communication and institutional communication? How are the different forms of communication translated into official budget lines or linked to specific public actions[7]?

More broadly, how can we understand the role communication plays in public organisations when looking at an undifferentiated approach compared to organisational communication (e.g. in Spain[8]) or at a own standard model (normative isomorphism) as for the Maghreb countries mirroring France.

2) What is the place and role of public communication: is it being transformed under the pressure of the management model or under the injunction of society?

This axis underlines the dialogue between long and short time as a driving force for the evolution of public action and communication as a support and as implementation[9]. It invites you to consider the impact of fashion effects at the structural level in relation to the development of methodologies for anticipating public expectations and representations or the development of new public policies: for example, Public Management (1980s), New Public Management (1990s), or Public Design (2010s).

However, when looking at the communicative integration of citizens’ uses[12] in terms of commitment, the development of dashboards and the transparency within the legal framework[13], the Netherlands can be seen as a pioneer in bridging the institution (power) and the citizen (participation)[10] in a communicative perspective of two-way symmetry (sharing versus consultation) and societal injunction[11].

Where should we position public communication and how should we interpret its transformation?

3) What professionalisation for public communicators?

Four approaches are outlined in this section, which looks at professional trajectories, pursuing the ongoing reflections on the changes in occupations (professions)[14].

– What is the difference in the communication of institutions between centripetal logics, which are carried out by different actors and components of organisations, and centrifugal logics, which are carried out by the search for centralisation and coherence? How do the transfers of competences and personnel from the central power to the territories take place in the operations of decentralisation and what are their consequences in terms of communication[15]?

– Professional representation seems to be crucial in the process of recognition of communication professionals in public organisations, moving away from the classic model of civil servants, often perceived as generalists[16]. Which roles can professional associations play? What is the awareness-raising in the training of (senior) public officials for the recognition of public communication in terms of legitimacy? How to define professional ethics for public communicators (charters, manifestos, awards, etc.)? How important are the values of public service and service to the public in the ethos of the public communicator and do they constitute a common base or an obstacle to a career?

– We also note the emergence of new professions (community manager, participation and consultation officer, etc.). We question how they build their institutional recognition in regard to their recent saliency and their modest cost.

– The staging and promotion of public action and the support of change are part of the mission of public communication. We identify more professional behaviour, individualistic attitudes linked to the notions of jobs[17] and organisational transformations through the so-called agile approach. These new managerial watchwords (as both semantic and methodological speech elements) come, more or less directly, from Anglo-Saxon consultancy. This fourth entry allows us to question the role of private firms in the institutionalisation of public communication.

4) The challenges and new watchwords of public action as communication factors?

In this last axis, we invite cross-referencing or critical views on the phases of introspection, reflection and anticipation.

We welcome critical reflections on the coercive impositions of managerial processes, which are increasingly present in a dominant top-down logic, in relation to their effects in terms of public communication. This is a paradigm shift from the bureaucratic (means-oriented) model to the managerial (results-oriented) model[18].

New managerial watchwords seem to have been adopted in the field of public organisations. These include CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). Environmental issues now seem to have a societal impact on public communication to ensure more responsible actions. Following the example of the guide to economical environmental communication, public communication is shown to be exemplary. In France, it even benefits from the support of ADEME (Agency for Ecological Transition)[19]. More broadly, we question if CSR in public action is used as managerial window dressing or if it is an integral part of its societal raison d’être?

We note the injunctions in terms of participation and consultation relayed at European level. However, the territorial referendum is not constitutionally recognised in Belgium and it is highly restricted by law in France. The development of governance, with its decision-making processes opening up to other actors via communications and negotiations, is mainly a European phenomenon. Do these watchwords serve an open communication, or do they fundamentally change the way power is exercised?

There are signs that marketing communication today seems to be looking for a new balance between competition (between local authorities) and cooperation (what place for territoriality and city branding?). We think of, for example, Ghent with North Sea Port and Antwerp with the port of Antwerp-Bruges (with strong economic competition to attract industries, investors and qualified personnel /cf. Employer branding), or a rapprochement between the long-rival cities of Lyon and Saint-Etienne within a territorial cooperation conducive to offering a greater capacity for economic reception and development on larger territorial spaces. How do these new approaches liaise to public communication?

We note a greater identification of the digital challenges of communication[20] in public organisations in terms of service management[21] or changes and modernisation of communication media[22]. How is digital public communication made consistent and optimised?

Are we moving towards digital sovereignty, towards more citizen participation? And what about open data and the legal framework for the protection of private data in relation to the use of paid digital platforms (use of Facebook, Instagram, and other pages by public actors[23]?

Scientific coordination

  • Dominique Bessières, Senior Lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences, University of Rennes 2 – PREFICS EA 7469
  • Anne-Marie Cotton,


  • Submission of proposals: April 1st, 2023
  • Return to authors: May 2nd, 2023
  • Full text received: June 30th, 2023
  • Reviewers’ comments: September 15th, 2023
  • Submission of final text: October 30th, 2023
  • Publication: December 2023

Authors are invited, in the first instance, to propose an intention to be submitted by April 1st, 2023, via the journal’s website, in French or English. Intentions should be between 1200 and 1500 words (not including the bibliography). They should present the title, the axis in which the proposal fits, the problematic, the methodology adopted, if any, and the main results to be developed.

Subject to a favourable feedback on these intentions, authors will then have to submit a first version of their complete article by June 30th, 2023 at the latest, in French or English, following the standards of the journal on its website: https://ojs.uclouvain.be/index.php/comprof/about/submissions.

Communication & Professionnalisation is a recognised scientific journal in the CIS field (71st section of the CNU, CPdirsic, SFSIC). It operates on the basis of continuous publication: several thematic dossiers are opened simultaneously on the journal’s website, and the articles submitted and accepted for publication in these dossiers are published one by one on the website, as they are finalised, without waiting for the whole dossier to be ready for publication. The journal is also interested in submissions outside the theme.

Illustrative bibliography

[1] Bessières, D. (2009). La définition de la communication publique : des enjeux disciplinaires aux changements de paradigmes organisationnels, Communication & organisation, n°35, p. 14-28.

[2] Ruler van, B., Cotton, A.-M. (2015). Netherlands and Belgium. T. Watson (Ed.), Western European Perspectives on the Development of Public Relations: Other Voices. Palgrave Macmillan, p. 89-106.

[3] Miège B. (1989). La société conquise par la communication. PUG, 226 pages.

[4] Angeli, F. (2017). Relazionalità consapevole. La comunicazione pubblica nella società connessa, 192 pages.

[5] Bessières, D. (2021). The hybridity of public communication: on old component still a sign of modernity in France, Sociologgia della Comunicazione, n°61, p. 36-51.

[6] Bessières, D. & Huang, Z.-A. (2021). La communication publique et d’intérêt général, in : C. Guillot, S. Benmoyal Bouzagmlo (eds), Les fondamentaux de la communication – Pratiques et métiers en évolution, de Boeck Supérieur, Louvain la Neuve (Belgique), Chapitre 8, p. 201-213.

[7] Bessières, D. (1999). Les formes de la communication publique, in : D. Bahu-Leyser, P. Faure (eds), Nouvelles Technologies, nouvel État, La documentation Française, p. 137-143.

[8] Errantz, J.-M. (2020). How Influential Are International NGO s in the Public Arena, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 15, p. 624-635.

[9] Sauve, J.-M. (2008). Une exigence démocratique et un impératif de bonne gestion, in : Lemaire M. et Zémor P. La communication publique en pratiques (eds). La documentation Française, p. 419-423.

[10] Frissen, V. (1999). De participatieparadox: maatschappelijke en politieke participatie op Internet. Media in overvloed, p. 150-162.

[11] Aarts, M. N. C., & Van Woerkum, C. M. J. (1994). De integratie van communicatie in het overheidsbeleid. Beleid en Maatschappij, 21(6), p. 310-321.

[12] Loos, E. Loos, E. (2010). Nieuwe media in oude handen: naar een toegankelijke digitale informatievoorziening. In V. Frissen & M. Slot (Eds.), De duurzame informatiesamenleving. Gorredijk: Media Update Vakpublicaties. Jaarboek ICT en samenleving, 7, p. 109-121.

[13] Mommers, L., Mommers, L., Franken, H., van den Herik, H. J., van der Klaauw, F. A. M., & Zwenne, G. J. (2010). Toegang tot juridische informatie als grondrecht. Het binnenste buiten. Liber amicorum ter gelegenheid van het emeritaat van prof. dr. Aernout HJ Schmidt, hoogleraar Recht en Informatica te Leiden, (174), p. 375-388.

[14] Monseigne, A. et Guilhaume, G. (2012). La mutation du métier de communicant public. Communication et organisation. Revue scientifique francophone en Communication organisationnelle, n°41, p. 5-11.

[15] Awono, R. (2015). La communication territoriale : construction d’un champ, Communiquer, n°15.

[16] Le Bianic T. et Vion A. (dir.) (2008). Action publique et légitimités professionnelles, LGDJ, avril, 347 pages.

[17] Bessières, D. (2009). La quête de professionnalisation des communicateurs publics entre difficulté et stratégie, in dossier Les processus de professionnalisations, Formation Emploi, n°108, p.39-52.

[18] Bessières, D. (2009). La définition de la communication publique : des enjeux disciplinaires aux changements de paradigmes organisationnels, Communication & organisation, n°35, p. 15-28.

[19] Le guide de la communication responsable – nouvelle édition 2022 https://communication-responsable.ademe.fr

[20] Le communicateur bousculé par le numérique. Quelles compétences à transmettre ? (2015). Communication & professionnalisation n°3.

[21] Bessières, D. (2018). La communication publique, Chapitre 23, in CommunicationL’ouvrage de toutes les communications sous la direction de Thierry Libaert, Vuibert, p. 490-518

[22] Ducci, G., Lovari, A., Rizzuto, F. (2021). The Culture of Communication in the Public Sector Facing the Challenge of Digital Media: An Explorative Research in Italy and France, Comunicazioni Sociali, pp. 251-262.

[23] Rapport du Conseil d’État (2022). Les Réseaux sociaux enjeux et opportunités pour la puissance publique, 323 pages.