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Home Features All about listening: the lie public organisations tell themselves
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TAGS Jim Macnamara
Policy and service delivery agencies can spend big dollars on communications and engagement activities without truly listening to what the public wants. Why do governments struggle to listen as much as they talk?
Last week the South Australian government announced the completion of a civic reform that divides many a community: how motorists and cyclists can share the road. The result of SA’s citizen jury process, the changed law coming into effect later this month is exceptional for being among the few examples where new public policy was crafted in an environment where government spoke less than the community.
That makes it very rare according to the latest research by Professor Jim Macnamara, the UTS professor of public communication who recently completed an international study of organisational listening involving 36 case studies in Australia, Britain and the United States.
Government organisations, like their private sector counterparts, like to claim they practice two-way communication and engagement. Macnamara’s research instead found on average, 80% of organisational resources devoted to public communication are focussed on speaking instead of listening. This was reflected in both policy and service delivery agencies, where communication and its various synonyms was overwhelmingly constrained to one-way dissemination of messages, even on social media.
Even the best cases Macnamara found were only 60% speaking, 40% listening. He says the rarity of actual listening could be said to be a “crisis of listening in contemporary societies”.
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Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.
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