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Welcome to The Leaders’ Report: Increasing trust through citizen engagement.

Spanning over 50 countries this study provides a comprehensive, global overview of how government communicators are thinking about citizen engagement, the challenges they face, how they are addressing them, and what issues lie behind the challenges identified.

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  • France
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Luxemburg
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Qatar
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrain
  • UAE
  • KSA
  • Egypt
  • Tunisia
  • Morocco
  • Iraq
  • US
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Indonesia
  • Myanmar
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong (SAR of China)
  • Taiwan (China)
  • China
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

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Failure to deliver or under-delivering on citizen expectations has consequences

Communication professionals recognised that poorly-executed citizen engagement, that under-commits or does not affect policy development could have serious counterproductive effects.

“It’s good to say that it’s important to be transparent and to have feedback, but if you just say that and then don’t have mechanisms to actualise it, then it can backfire.”
Communication Leader, Multilateral Organisation

“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, North America

The Detail

There is widespread recognition across the profession that citizen engagement should make the work of government more transparent and give citizens more agency. These significant benefits often fail to be realised due to a lack of confidence in delivering and a lack of commitment to delivering engagement activities. Failures in activity design meant that in many instances those affected by a potential policy were unable to participate in engagement activities.

  • Only 36% of respondents surveyed said that affected citizens could always get involved in engagement activities;
  • Failure to be both user-led and outcome-focused—by prioritising those most affected—can lead to the tyranny of the majority. Where the minority most affected by an issue has the majority’s view imposed upon them.

If engagement activities do not involve those most affected, then the impact of these activities is likely to be minimal or, worse still, will add to perceptions that the government is out of touch or only listening to a privileged few.

Relevance was also identified as an important issue for professionals. While citizens want to engage on issues that are relevant and meaningful to them, they do not want to be consulted on every issue.

“All public issues can be opened for citizen engagement. However, if you consult the citizenry about topics they ignore, you will probably get a useless answer. That is a problem of design, not a knowledge problem.”

“We’ve identified over 200 possible engagements broadly targeting the same people, and we have to be really careful not to overwhelm our public and create consultation fatigue but also make sure there’s an authentic feedback loop to our public and they understand they really are contributing to outcomes.”
Communication Leader, Australasia

Many respondents voiced uncertainty over the level of influence that the engagement activities they run may be giving citizens. This uncertainty was mirrored in citizens’ own lack of clarity on their involvement.

  • 73% of respondents were not always sure on the level of influence they were giving citizens;
  • 85% of respondents stated that citizens are not always clear on their level of influence.

The failure to establish levels of influence means that the contract of expectation established between organisations and citizens was often breached: respondents believe that citizens often feel misused because their energy and input has not been respected and appears not to have been valued by the organisation.

Communication professionals are keenly aware of these challenges and many voiced frustrations with how their organisation used engagement activities as a public relations exercise or messaging platforms, rather than a genuine attempt to listen to the opinions of citizens.

“There is very little evaluation of our citizen engagement because in most instances the organisation is not interested in the results. It’s lip service or a PR stunt, not a genuine attempt to find out what people believe, want or fear, and take that into account when developing services or policies.”
Communication Leader, Western Europe

Across the profession, there is a high level of awareness that citizen engagement needs to be approached with caution. While it has enormous potential, failure to realise it can often render activities counter-productive. There is recognition, too, that building trust should begin with giving it. Activities that promise the citizen a role in decision-making, only to withdraw it later, are likely to negatively impact levels of trust in government.

Read full report here