Extraterrestrial First Contact ranges in impact from the least, an engineered signal being discovered, to the highest, in the form of Direct First Contact. Those two poles are also relevant in an examination of the time element in First Contact. By time element I mean the amount of time each scenario gives us to prepare our society and our institutions for the impact of First Contact.
The one end of the spectrum, discovery of an engineered signal, gives us the greatest time to prepare for impact, because it could take many years to decipher such a signal. Depending on the location of that signal it could take decades to send a signal in reply, if we should chose to do so. There would be much time to debate each step. The response would have time to develop organically.
Direct First Contact, an extraterrestrial civilization visiting Earth, provides no time to prepare and that would have major repercussions for our response. The lack of debate could cause a forced response, rather than an organic response, and easily lead to knee-jerk reactions. Those knee-jerk reactions could come in the form of an over-welcoming response, one that is not grounded in cautious, critical thinking. It could also lead to a hostile reaction, with too much worry and not much welcoming.
No matter what the type of First Contact, and how quickly a response must be developed, there are steps we will need to take:
-Appoint an organization or organizations to take the lead role in diplomacy and response
-Provide for international participation in that diplomacy and response
-Control the immediate situation and determine the most immediate needs
-Set up gatekeeping procedures for any information that might be received
-Develop an efficient bureaucracy to manage the response
-Create a framework for moving forward
-Develop a list of the most important considerations
-Bring in expertise to examine those considerations and provide recommendations
-Determine a method for making final decisions, while providing for as much global inclusion as possible
-Make sure that the process is transparent and open to all
-Determine, through gatekeeping, what information cannot be made open yet and develop a strategy to evaluate, act and then eventually make that information open for examination
-Bring in expertise to determine long-term impact
-Have a conversation about how First Contact could change humanity
-Make decisions about how we want to manage that change
-Develop long-term response strategies