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.