Our five findings show that communication professionals around the world clearly face a consistent set of challenges. These findings have led us to four distinct conclusions:
Citizen engagement is under-resourced and under-funded
Citizen engagement is widely endorsed in principle, but is often being practised as a stand-alone listening exercise that does not impact policy;
Citizen engagement activities are rarely resourced sufficiently. Many organisations require better funding for engagement activities;
There remain significant capability gaps. In many cases, governments lack the equipment, skills and expertise to conduct and fully evaluate engagement activities.
Citizen engagement is always possible but not always desirable
Activities have been successfully run in all areas of policy, including highly sensitive issues such as national security;
However governments need to pick and choose engagement opportunities strategically;
Governments should only pursue opportunities that can impact policy development and delivery, or service outcomes;
Organisations need to assess whether they have the capacity to effectively deliver programmes before undertaking them.
Citizen engagement has unfulfilled potential
Most citizen engagement activities are taking place at a lower-order level and are not influencing policy;
The benefits of higher order engagement activities are not being realised in most organisations;
The lack of rigorous evaluation makes defining success and measuring outcomes elusive;
Lack of integration and collaboration means too many programmes fail to move beyond consultation;
There is a lack of strategy and a lack of frameworks available to practitioners that help them understand how activities can build more-trusting relationships between citizen and state.
If executed poorly, citizen engagement activities can make relationships between the citizen and the state worse
A lack of commitment and action following engagement activities risks them being perceived by citizens, stakeholders and the media as a public relations exercise;
Consultation without implementation breaks the contract of expectation between citizen and state;
Failing to engage affected audiences on policy decisions can increase perceptions that governments and public bodies are out of touch and disinterested;
Governments must be wary of the reputational risk of doing citizen engagement poorly. Citizens increasingly expect authorities to engage them in user-centric and relevant ways that challenge traditional government communication practices.