The fruit of my Assessment Project, this research focused on the British executive government of 2002-2003 and its stance on Saddam Hussein and the Iraq of that era.
Structure, Values, Roles, and Discourse in British Executive Government: A Political Discourse Analysis (2012) examined relationships among institutions’ structure, values, participants, and discourse. Across 185 pages, source material included public reports, internal memos, national news, and government workers’ memoirs.
“It was not the presence or absence of a formal dissent process that caused conflict in this case; thanks to emails and inquiries we have the record of dissent. During the case, it was the participants’ informal dynamic that made expressing dissent difficult…
“Contributors had not developed a climate that accommodated alternative perspectives, and with that cultural deficiency, I’m not convinced that an official policy would have changed the outcome.
“In our own collaborative spaces, practitioners can evaluate team cultures and [determine] whether those cultures are contexts where dissent can be acted on as appropriate and used to refine team processes.” —Keisha E. McKenzie
- How might researchers articulate the complex interactions among the structures, values, user-participants, and discourse in this case?
- How did the British executive government’s structures affect the discursive strategies that political writers used to justify their position on Iraq in 2002?
- How did the executive government’s values affect the discursive strategies that political writers used?
- How did the institutional structure and values articulate the user-participants of the executive government system?
In 2002, British executive government agencies collaborated on a public, intelligence-based dossier on Iraq’s biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons capability. Their report, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction: The assessment of the British government, combined technical, political, and rhetorical discourse to support the Blair administration’s foreign policy and the 2003-2010 Iraq war. Since the dossier’s publication, three formal inquiries have evaluated the government’s decisions, but no research to date has analyzed the Assessment as the discursive, persuasive product of a complex political system.
This qualitative study applies political discourse analysis to the Assessment case and describes the potential complexities of public sphere participation. Through analysis of case facts and institutional texts, the study identifies interactions among the structure, values, personnel roles, and discourse of the British executive branch between 2002 and 2003. Key sources include the Assessment, inquiry and oversight committee reports, media analyses, participant testimony, interviews, and memoirs. Analysis shows that participants’ reporting lines, institutional myths, disciplinary values, and individual commitments structured their communications about Iraq and with each other. The Assessment blended organizational values—persuasion, objectivity, openness, and secrecy—that helped the government to reinforce its public ethos and advance its policy goals without undermining its fundamental principles.
The study represents policy administrators and technical communicators as active system participants, not powerless bystanders. Findings suggest that participants can influence heterogeneous groups by exercising official authority or disciplinary expertise and deploying institutional values. In similar circumstances, technical communicators could mediate between organizational aims and the public good by denaturalizing institutional conventions, interpreting specialist discourse, and advocating for increasingly inclusive and participatory system norms.