The clockwork lahar : examining issues management in a New Zealand public service context : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Management in Communication Management at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Issues management has been practised over the past 30 years. However, the literature has focused on how corporations manage issues, while public service organisations have been ignored. This study looked at the issues management of a tephra dam-break lahar from 1996-2007 on Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand by a group of public service organisations. 19 interviews were conducted with people involved with the management of the ‘lahar issue’ to find out how the issue was managed. Further a content analysis of 309 articles from five newspapers, spanning the full eleven year period, was conducted to examine the salience (attention) given to the issue, the frames commonly used to present the issue and the sources who ‘drove’ the issue. The data from the content analysis was interpreted to create a five-stage lifecycle of the ‘lahar issue’. Further, data from the interviews was compared with a summary process of the issue management process. This comparison showed that five issues management process stages were employed to manage the ‘lahar issue’ although they were not referred to as such. Initially, the Department of Conservation consulted stakeholders during the development of options to deal with the lahar (1996-1999). Later in the lahar’s management, lahar stakeholders fell into two categories: internal - those involved with the mitigation and response - and external - the public. Internal stakeholders were communicated with through meetings and email. External stakeholders were communicated with through local media, presentations and meetings. Overall, it was concluded that media gave substantial attention to the lahar issue over the eleven year period. Some of those involved with managing the ‘lahar issue’ were able to identify the phases of media coverage. Further, this study identified ten frames that media employed when reporting the lahar. The most-frequently used frames were those focusing on the response (lahar response), describing the lahar (diagnosing causes of problem(s)) and discussing the potential impacts from a lahar (definition of problem(s)). Department of Conservation Scientist, Dr Harry Keys, was shown to be a primary definer – an influential source. The results suggest he defined coverage because of his status as both an official source, due to the organisation he was associated with, and also as an authoritative source due to his role as a scientist. Further, he was regularly drawn upon as a source over the entire period of the ‘lahar issue’ coverage.
Issues management, Public service, New Zealand, Lahar, Mount Ruapehu, Department of Conservation, Mt Ruapehu