Forum: citizen engagement must include listening

By Harley Dennett

November 11, 2015

Watch this presentation on the latest research in organisational listening by Dr Jim Macnamara, professor of public communication at UTS, hosted by the WPP Government and Public Sector Practice.

After the presentation is a panel of Australian federal and state government public engagement professionals discussing best practices in citizen engagement, social media, engagement with multicultural communities, and overcoming bias challenges.

The panelists include Anthony Clark from NSW Rural Fire Service, John Vineburg from Centre for Population Health at NSW Health, Pat Duffy from Defence Force Recruiting, and Sheba Nandkeolyar who runs the multicultural engagement practice Multiconnexions.

Trends in government communications

Kathryn Cooper
Kathryn Cooper

The Mandarin also sat down with WPP’s Kathryn Cooper, who heads up the Australia and New Zealand branch of the Government and Public Sector Practice, and its global managing director, Laura Citron, who is based in London.

Cooper says that while everyone is talking about listening, nobody is really doing it perfectly and there is still a lot to be learned. The closed loop listening research was something she was eager to hear Macnamara espouse.

“We do a lot of campaign based listening, but it’s rare that we have a platform to listen on a particular topic or area,” says Cooper.

“That’s part of the challenge too, how do you think just beyond the current 12-week campaign we might be in market with, and establish a longer-term conversation. That poses a lot of challenge around resourcing. It’s not enough to just hear what’s being said, you’ve also got to play back what you’re doing with what you’ve heard.”

“It’s not enough to just hear what’s being said, you’ve also got to play back what you’re doing with what you’ve heard.”

One of the core issues Cooper expects to see at state level next year, following NSW’s reform of the government advertising laws, will be quantifying return on investment in communications and advertising — particularly in behavioural change campaigns. “It’s not an Australian problem, it’s something that’s a global challenge, but given the personalities in government and the business-minded ROI [approach], quantifying the ROI will be a hot issue next year.”

Citron says the global trend has been to recognise something well-established in Australia, that communications can be a really effective tool for delivering policy. Australia is among the countries leading the way in using communications as a policy tool, she says, particularly in areas like regulation and taxation.

“Government communications functions globally need to change because in most cases they are set up to run a media relations operation — managing tomorrow’s headlines, managing the minister’s reputation — they tend to be very good at that. But you need a very different skill set and a very different organisation design to run 10-year campaigns to change citizen behaviour in a sustainable way.

“We’re seeing a big focus globally on capability building within governments as we transform the government communications functions themselves to be working hand-in-hand with colleagues in policy departments as opposed to an adjunct PR function to the ministry.”

WPP has also snagged Sean Larkins, the man who was responsible for the UK’s recent comprehensive reform of government communications and setup the Government Communication Service. The GCS is the first head office communications function for the UK government to coordinate that marrying of communications capability with policy departments and the private sector. Larkins will be taking what was learned during that UK reform and apply it with other countries working with the practice.



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