It is clear from the communication professionals we spoke with and surveyed that citizen engagement continues to be an exciting area of development. However, the context in which the profession operates around the world poses significant challenges to delivering effective engagement to the public.
Geopolitical disorder, individualisation and permanent disruption have made an already challenging communication landscape harder still. Government and communication professionals both recognise the need to engage citizens and to establish a sense of shared purpose, collaboration and crucially trust. But these positive outcomes are counter-weighted by real risks: unpredictable publics equipped with new ways to share and amplify messages, engagement fatigue, and disappointed citizens all threaten to undermine the efficacy and legacy of engagement activities.
These global factors are compounding longer-standing challenges for communicators: the pressures on resource and the difficulties in securing buy-in from policymakers and politicians make meaningful engagement elusive in many situations.
Our research into the state of the field and the thinking of government communication professionals has led us to make several recommendations about how communicators should approach engagement activities. We identified a need to be more strategic in the opportunities organisations pursue, being mindful of limitations in resource and only commiting to engagement where activities can affect outcomes. In short, we recommend engaging on a higher level—but potentially less often, doing so more carefully and committing to follow through.
What follows are our key recommendations for how to achieve this balance. As with the rest of this report, these recommendations have their roots in the insights we have gained from consulting communication leaders and professionals from around the world. They are not presented here as a guide on how to conduct citizen engagement, but as learnings from professionals about what is already working well when partnering with the public to build a richer and more trusting citizen-state relationship.