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THE LEADERS'
REPORT 2.0

Welcome to The Leaders’ Report: Increasing trust through citizen engagement.

Spanning over 50 countries this study provides a comprehensive, global overview of how government communicators are thinking about citizen engagement, the challenges they face, how they are addressing them, and what issues lie behind the challenges identified.

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  • France
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Luxemburg
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Qatar
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrain
  • UAE
  • KSA
  • Egypt
  • Tunisia
  • Morocco
  • Iraq
  • US
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Indonesia
  • Myanmar
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong (SAR of China)
  • Taiwan (China)
  • China
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

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THE LEADERS' REPORT 2.0

Challenges

In 2016, The Leaders’ Report: the future of government communication found that communication professionals around the world were confronted by a series of five interconnected challenges:

  • Declining levels of trust. The distrust of authority and the rise of populism highlighted the need for governments across political systems and countries to better engage with their citizens, listen to their concerns, and ensure there is a genuinely responsive relationship between citizen and state at every level of government;
  • A lack of understanding of—and an inability to connect with—increasingly fragmented audiences. Government communications were too often directed at generic audiences. Government communicators lacked the ability to target audiences with personalised and relevant messaging. While governments were becoming more aware of the need for personalised communications, their efforts were failing to keep pace with citizens’ expectations;
  • An over-reliance on one-way ‘broadcast’ communication. Government needs to shift away from one-way (state to citizen) communication towards more consultative forms of engagement. Citizens felt that government communication was focused on simply disseminating information: it failed to properly enter into a sustained and engaged dialogue, and was too focused on mass media;
  • A lack of modern—particularly digital—communication skills. Government communication was still prioritising media management, while citizens increasingly expected to interact with government directly on emerging digital platforms. Financial pressures on government communication teams increased this capability gap, with communicators often unable to produce content and services on the platforms most relevant to citizens, and untrained in a range of important specialisms such as data science and behavioural science;
  • The inability of many government communicators to influence sufficiently within and across their organisation. The function of communications was viewed primarily as a presentational one—a way to display and sell policy to the public. Communicators reported that they struggled to be involved in policy development and were brought into proceedings once decisions had already been made. 

The Leaders’ Report: the future of government communication concluded that communication professionals felt that citizen engagement had the potential to address these challenges by:

  • Restoring a sense of agency to citizens in the decision-making process;
  • Helping make the work of government more transparent;
  • Making policy the product of co-creation and collaboration;
  • Better engaging hard-to-reach audiences, ensuring there is a shared sense of common good and core narrative across society as a whole.

Read full report here

New global factors have intensified existing challenges

What were identified as key challenges for communication professionals in 2016 have become even more crucial in 2019. Our experience in the field, and complemented by desk research, found that the communication challenges identified two years ago have been compounded across all 50 countries reviewed by three additional factors:

  • The porosity of borders coupled with the permeability of information systems has increased geopolitical disorder, driven the rise of populist and nationalist movements, enabled more terrorism and more cyberattacks, and increased environmental problems and economic uncertainty;
  • Although very difficult situations remain in many parts of the world, globally poverty is decreasing and access to health and education is improving. This is profoundly good for humanity, but simultaneously challenging for society: it can create a culture of individualisation and an attitude of ‘me before anyone else’;
  • The exponential growth of technology has sped up the pace of change; the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution has produced a state of permanent disruption.

Publics across the world are now, arguably, more fragmented and more diverse than ever before: their relationship with government is less defined, less deferential and more distant. And as research for The Leaders’ Report in 2016 identified, they are also angrier and more insecure than probably at any time since the end of the cold war. 

Individualisation has changed the citizen-state dynamic. Where the citizen was once deferential to the state’s authority, they increasingly expect the state to accommodate and meet a growing number of needs.

Technology has amplified and diversified the voice of the citizenry, bringing both opportunity and challenges. Government can better understand the needs and expectations of all citizens, but it has also allowed minority and special interest groups to dominate public discourse. It has significantly increased the burden on government communications, as it attempts to meaningfully respond to citizens across a fragmented media landscape.

Many respondents to our qualitative and quantitative research see a citizen response to these challenges in the growth of new populist movements around the world and across the political spectrum.

What unites these diverse populist movements is:

  • A direct appeal— above the heads of established political parties—to the interests of ordinary people;
  • The sharing of information at speed, freed from the burden of governments for truth and veracity;
  • The fostering, both on and offline, of empathetic and emotive forms of engagement.

Populist movements have also given citizens new and simplified forms of core narrative that frequently feel more authentic and personal than those of existing governments. Populist championing of ordinary people has often come at the expense of traditional political parties, which are portrayed as self-interested, out-of-touch and lacking in empathy.

These large-scale challenges to the world’s social, economic and political order, have thrown up some important questions:

  • How can governments make citizens feel empowered?
  • How can citizens be involved in decision-making and feel valued by government?
  • How can government re-establish a sense of shared vision and common good?
  • How can governments ensure they are responding to the needs and expectations of citizens?

In the face of these big questions and challenges, the communication professionals that contributed to this research find themselves walking a tightrope: they are expected to meet citizens’ proliferating needs and expectations with the same or less resource. Additionally, many of the organisations they work for are balancing the desire to understand and deliver for citizens with the concern that citizens’ appetite for agency and transparency outstrips their ability to resource and offer it.

Defining citizen engagement

Defining citizen engagement

The research showed that there is high awareness of the role of citizen engagement, some agreement on its core elements, and a growing number of respondents implementing citizen engagement programmes. But, it also showed that there is no clear definition among respondents of what citizen engagement is, or what constitutes best practice.

There is, however, consensus around several key themes:

But when communication leaders went beyond these core principles, there was little sense of how these principles could to be converted into concrete programmes and strategies.

“Engagement is a growing share of our overall communications work but I’m not sure we’ve really properly defined what we mean by engagement. The reality is that the majority of what we do is not what we’d call genuine dialogue.”
Communication Leader, Multilateral

“Citizen engagement is a two-way conversation directly with the target audience. We don’t often do it properly. It needs active listening and we don’t do much of this, but our intention is to listen more. Goodwill towards citizen engagement within the government is growing, but people don’t know how to do it.”
Communication Leader, Western Europe

While no single agreed definition exists, for the purposes of this research we have defined citizen engagement as a process of two-way dialogue between an authority and citizens that uses inputs from both parties to better develop and deliver public policy.

Communication professionals are engaging citizens at different levels. Our research found a clear gradation of engagement levels, involving different kinds of activities. This spectrum of activity, however, broadly fell into two distinct categories: higher- and lower-order citizen engagement.

Levels of engagement

Communication professionals are engaging citizens at different levels. Our research found a clear gradation of engagement levels, involving different kinds of activities. This spectrum of activity, however, broadly fell into two distinct categories: higher and lower order citizen engagement.

At the lower order, authorities do not relinquish decision-making power to citizens as there is no commitment to act. Engagement activities consist primarily of:

  • Publishing information. Authorities place information into the public domain. The information published may not represent full disclosure: information may be redacted for political, legal or security reasons. However, ensuring accurate information is available to the public forms the bedrock of citizen engagement activities. While publication may not be linked to action, it may be incorporated into subsequent engagement activities (such as hackathons);

NationalMap, Australia

NationalMap is an online map-based tool to allow easy access to spatial data from Australian government agencies. This allows information to be available in a transparent way that facilitates other uses and innovations. It:

  • Provides citizens with an authoritative data source;
  • Encourages federal, state and local government to be transparent;
  • Provides a framework that supports commercial and community innovation.
  • Communicating information. Authorities share or exchange information, news or ideas and solicit public feedback. Authorities may direct citizens to private or third-sector organisations delivering relevant services or working on a particular issue. Opportunities to respond are limited and often mediated;

GREAT Britain, UK

The UK’s GREAT Britain campaign is a multi-dimensional campaign targeting both domestic and international audiences. Domestically, the campaign aims to provide support to businesses with exporting. Internationally, the campaign aims to promote UK trade overseas and encourage tourism.

  • Transacting. Authorities provide opportunities for citizens to engage with them on a functional issue. Transactional exchanges do not usually develop into more dynamic conversations. Many public consultations are transactional—citizens are asked to feedback on a specific issue, rather than to engage in an ongoing conversation.

vTaiwan

vTaiwan is an engagement process designed to engage experts and members of the public in large-scale deliberation. It does this by creating several stages, including an initial ‘objective’ stage for crowdsourcing facts and evidence, and a ‘reflective’ stage using a mass deliberation tool, which encourages the formation of ‘rough consensus’. Finally, key stakeholders are invited to a live-streamed, face-to-face meeting to draw up specific recommendations.

For more on this case study, please see Case Studies

At the higher order, authorities relinquish some decision-making power by actively soliciting detailed input from the public, with a view to acting upon the findings. Higher order citizen engagement activities consist primarily of:

  • Shaping. Authorities give citizens the opportunity to shape discussions on how services or activities may be developed. The authority retains a relatively high level of control. If not managed well, activities can be perceived as tokenistic, particularly if authorities do not demonstrate to citizens the impact of their contribution.

Public safety in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

In the past two decades Ciudad Juárez has been affected by high levels of violent crime, particularly against women. Since 2008, various levels of government and state institutions (local and federal police and the military) had staged interventions, often with limited success. Trust in these institutions and the government was very low.

To counteract this, authorities initiated a series of roundtables with key stakeholders and citizens. These meetings saw all three levels of government come together with members of academia, representatives of civil society organisations, business leaders and citizens to design specific public security policies, draft a common agenda, identify shared goals and key performance indicators to evaluate.

For more on this case study, please see Case Studies

  • Setting. Authorities allow citizens to decide how an issue should be handled, and to define key priorities. Although there may be pre-set parameters for discussion determined by the authority, citizens are given a relatively high degree of control over outcomes.

Citizens’ Assembly, Ireland

The Citizens’ Assembly was established by the Irish Government in 2016 in response to calls from citizens for wider constitutional and political reform on issues such as the ageing of the population, climate change, and a proposed Eighth Amendment to the constitution on abortion.

The Assembly included 99 randomly selected citizens — broadly reflective of wider Irish society in terms of sex, age, geography, education and socio-economic status, together with an independent chair.

The Assembly considered a different issue at each meeting with the help of expert advice. It then developed a series of draft recommendations and voted on them. These recommendations were then submitted to Parliament, which had to provide a response.

The report and recommendations on the Eighth Amendment were considered by a joint committee of politicians from both Houses of Parliament, who in turn also recommended a referendum on whether to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. This referendum took place on 25 May 2018 and passed by a majority of 66.4%.

For more on this case study, please see Case Studies

  • Defining. Authorities give citizens autonomy to decide how and what is important to them as part of a dynamic ongoing conversation. While there may still be limits (for example budgetary constraints), the authority has placed decision-making power into the hands of citizens and has committed to act upon the outcomes of discussions.

"Madame Mayor, I have an idea", France

In 2014, Paris Mayor Anne Hildalgo sought to bring citizens into the policy making process. The first step was to introduce participatory budgeting. In its first year the city council put forward 15 proposals that over 40,000 Parisians voted on. The following year proposals were crowdsourced from citizens on a new website. Over 5,000 ideas were generated and 58,000 people participated.

To ensure that peoples’ choices were balanced against the council’s obligation to all citizens, part of the budget was ringfenced for the poorest areas of the city. Additional resources were protected for youth and education projects that even engaged pupils on specific policies.

Over €500m has been allocated to projects between 2014-2020.

For more on this case study, please see Case Studies