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What’s the real secret to effective engagement?

A revolution is taking place in government. With the onset of the digital age, we’re witnessing an explosion in the creation of new, high traffic websites for government services, social media channels and community engagement portals across state and national government with new apps and innovation initiatives regularly featuring in high profile announcements from ministers and senior bureaucrats such the recent announcement by NSW Finance Minister Victor Dominello of the NSW FuelCheck app and the digital.nsw.gov.au website.

Discussions of digital no longer the preserve of the ICT department

Discussions of digital transformation, open government, data analytics, start-up hubs and technology based innovation are now commonplace across the sector. Data is increasingly available for people to manipulate in hackathons, while town hall meetings have been replaced by online “have your say” portals and in South Australia’s case, a whole fortnight recently dedicated to community engagement on everything from food and drink to democracy and enterprise. Queensland Treasury hosted its own “reimagining public work” seminar.

While some public agencies are still debating the merits of social media, police and emergency services countrywide have been early and sophisticated adopters, while customer-focused agencies large and small have developed a range of apps simplifying public transport, helping people to stop smoking, protect their homes from bush fires or work out the kilojoule content of their breakfast muffin.

Citizens and stakeholders alike have been empowered by their smart phones and social media. Agency leaders who do not acknowledge how profoundly this has changed the game for the traditionally insular public sector are likely to end up as roadkill.

In this world the citizen is in the middle of everything an agency does.

More than just a job for the comms team

We’ve all come a long way from the days of “comms” people earnestly churning out multi page press releases. The ever-growing field of communications and engagement is no longer the preserve of specialist public affairs teams managing the latest media story. The new world of communications and engagement is increasingly a key focus for senior executives across all disciplines.

Policy leaders are seeing social media listening tools provide smarter and more up to date stakeholder insights than focus groups ever could. CIOs and IT departments simultaneously tackle cyber security and data protection while providing secure publishing platforms with 24/7 remote access. Progressive agency CEOs are dragging their web, comms and publishing teams together and locating them close to the C-suite so response times and authorising environments are fit for the speed of modern engagement. Procurement teams are challenged to consider innovative or unproven approaches while corporate governance and HR teams are managing demands for clever intranets and extranets with closed loop social media channels for cross-department collaboration.

Metrics and analytic driven KPIs are still very immature in this world of citizen engagement, with most agencies relying on traditional media metrics such as page impression and session times, rather than more qualitative and insightful analysis.

The launch of our new Engagement section

The shift to real time and sophisticated engagement is a huge and profound challenge for agencies at all three tiers of government and is demanding a rapid build up of capability, investment and professionals. To support this challenge The Mandarin is launching a new “Engagement” section.

Curated by me as The Mandarin’s new associate publisher, we’re planning not only to provide regular commentary on learning and best practice, but also, through regular newsletters, events, conferences and webinars, to inform and promote best practice in public sector communications and engagement. As head of the GovCom Group, following a decade as executive director of communications under five NSW premiers, I have been a long-term advocate of government agencies taking control of their public brands and managing their engagements in a sophisticated and modern manner.

Successful communications and engagement nowadays is a major C-suite challenge and requires an intersection of policy, design, public affairs, digital, stakeholder and governance skills to meet changing customer demands and deliver on strategic objectives. Highlighting live issues affecting departments and agencies and featuring success stories and shared problems, our initiatives in this area will help public sector executives connect with and share best practice across the many areas of communication and engagement, internal and external, both policy and commercially driven.

The issues we will cover will go far beyond the understood role of the “communications unit”, embracing everything from risk management, marketing and governance to the need for stable technology delivery, wise data management and the provision and support of leading edge software platforms. We’ll have a keen eye on procurement and service contracts, all framed within the unique context of the public sector.

Successful engagement is an industrial level challenge and many of the skills and capabilities governments now need are familiar to consumer-facing enterprises. We hope to tap into the experiences of top service providers to inform our public sector readers of the best thinking and the strategic design solutions they need to consider, as we build a community of best practice for the sector.

Author Bio

Alun Probert

Alun Probert is associate publisher – Engagement - for The Mandarin. Head of the GovCom Group, a specialist communications agency for the public sector, Alun has over 25 years global experience in communications and marketing, both as Marketing and Publishing Director for a leading global publisher and more recently as Executive Director of Strategic Communications for NSW Department of Premier & Cabinet, working under five NSW Premiers.