8% of respondents stated that their organisation always commits to acting on the opinions that the public give before running a citizen engagement programme
“There is a political risk to boosting people up to think they have influence. That’s why we need an ongoing engagement mechanism and not just dialogue. Dialogue on its own can make things worse.”
Communication Leader, Multilateral Organisation
46% of respondents said their organisation had the insights and research to evaluate the effectiveness of their programming
Communication professionals believe that for citizen engagement to be meaningfully different from traditional, stand-alone consultations, governments need to commit to integrating it into policy and service development, and to provide the funding and resources required to do so.
- 61% of respondents stated that organisations should only run citizen engagement programmes if they are committed to acting on the opinions that the public give during that programme.
- Only 8% of respondents stated that their organisation always commits to acting on the opinions that the public give before running a citizen engagement programme.
Our research found that the confidence government communicators have in the potential of citizen engagement is not matched by governments overall: politicians and policymakers are unwilling to commit to integrating engagement activities into policy development and delivery, or to implementing the findings of citizen engagement activities.
“There is a political risk to boosting people up to think they have influence. That’s why we need an ongoing engagement mechanism and not just dialogue. Dialogue on its own can make things worse.”Communication Leader, Multilateral Organisation
This suggests there are clear attitudinal barriers to delivering effective engagement activities in government. Communication professionals feel that not all authorities (or stakeholders within authorities) may be willing, able or ready to cede decision-making power to the public and lose perceived control over the policy development cycle.
“If we trust the people enough, if we learn their language and their lived experience enough, some of them will trust back. It’s not good to ask people to trust the government without the government trusting them first.”Communication Leader, South-East Asia
While communication leaders agreed that risk aversion was a major barrier, some attributed this to politicians and others to policymakers. These problems become more acute as authorities attempt to move to higher levels of engagement, and potentially mask wider concerns over the political implications of implementing suggestions made by the public.
“The problem is not that people don’t trust governments, but governments don’t trust people. We switch on, dial up and then switch off. We make policy tweaks instead of fundamental reform. Communications teams need to influence at the beginning of the process but that is hard. I’m not on the board of my organisation. It’s hierarchical and there are blockers that stop me and my team making the impact we are capable of.Communication Leader, Western Europe
Others in this organisation need to take responsibility to effect change. It’s not just communication. Communication is just one policy lever, but we don’t use or integrate it with the others. 70% of my team’s time is spent fighting internal battles. Hierarchy matters more than outcomes. Communications doesn’t hold the levers of power.”
The challenges facing communicators around implementation and securing commitment to act are exacerbated by a lack of evidence and evaluation.
Communication leaders are frustrated at their inability to answer the following questions:
- What does good look like?
- What’s the best form of citizen engagement and what are others doing?
- How can I integrate citizen engagement into policy development?
- And, how do we evaluate what we are doing?
“The definition of a success in consultations could be better policy…but it’s difficult to measure. A measurement of success could also be trust in government, whether people feel they are being consulted...it’s very clear we need some work on how to measure the impact of the consultations.”Communication Leader, North America
The research suggests that the lack of quantification and measurement has inhibited the development of best practice. Organisations lack the confidence to act on findings in part because they don’t have a coherent measure of effectiveness. This leads to a reluctance to properly resource engagement activities.
Our research also found that many organisations were measuring the success of citizen engagement against communication outputs rather than policy outcomes. This mirrored one of the central findings in the first edition of The Leaders’ Report, and suggests that it remains a pressing issue for public authorities around the world.
In the absence of KPIs against which authorities can measure success, the research suggests that participation data (such as completion or drop-out rates) is taking the place of outcome-focused evaluation. These proxies can offer some value in terms of refining and improving processes, but they do not reveal whether activities are enriching policy; whether citizens feel that government is responsive; or whether it is building trust.