Our work globally since 2016 has found that government communication professionals around the world continue to face significant challenges in maintaining public trust in their government’s competency and integrity. Both our quantitative and qualitative research showed that the optimism and promise surrounding citizen engagement two years ago has seen more communication leaders advocate for increased consultation and dialogue with citizens. There is an appetite to embrace new techniques and technologies and a genuine willingness to partner with citizens on a wide range of policy issues.
However, respondents globally shared a frustration that this commitment to greater citizen engagement rarely extended as far as empowering citizens to influence policy outcomes. There was widespread recognition that politicians and policymakers were worried about the potential risks of greater citizen engagement: populist political sentiment and new technology have formed a potent combination that can allow relatively small groups to become prominent yet unrepresentative voices in society. Governments are struggling to meet the needs of increasingly unpredictable publics, and to protect society as a whole from vocal minorities and special interests adept at exploiting the new media landscape and the politics of emotion.