Falling trust and the rise of populism require governments to rethink citizen engagement

Intensified political polarisation, fragmented groups and rapid digital disruption risk undermining governments’ efforts to effectively engage with citizens, concludes a new report launched on February 25 by WPP.

The Leaders’ Report is the only global research study looking at the state of citizen engagement, and the key challenges facing governments’ efforts to better connect with citizens in an age of technological and political disruption.  

Produced by WPP’s Government & Public Sector Practice, The Leaders’ Report: increasing trust through citizen engagement is the second iteration of the report launched at Davos 2017.

It is based on interviews and surveys conducted across 50 countries and six multilateral organisations, with over 60 government communication leaders and 400 government communicators, supplemented by a survey of 8,000 citizens.  

The landmark study shows that while governments want to engage with citizens and recognise the benefits of doing so, they are unsure about how best to devolve decision making to the public. The key consequence of this, the authors note, is that governments around the world miss a vital opportunity to rebuild trust with those they govern. Policy making struggles to include input from citizens. And the majority of governments in the research fail to commit to implementing the results of citizen engagement activities. 

Key findings from government communicators are:

  • 75% of respondents recognise that engagement done well can create more support for a policy, and rebuild trust;
  • Yet 36% know that citizens affected by a policy don’t always get a chance to share input;
  • 77% carry out engagement activities that deliberately minimise opportunities for citizens to feed back;
  • More than half (54%) do not have the resources to effectively evaluate engagement programmes; and
  • Only 8% say that their organisation commits to act on public views before running a citizen engagement programme.

Michelle Harrison, CEO of WPP Government & Public Sector Practice, said: “Government communicators told us that they are walking a tightrope: they must do more with less, while also tackling any perceptions that government is out of touch. To rebuild trust, governments must rethink their citizen engagement strategies and create a meaningful connection with the people they serve by putting them at the heart of policy making.”

Sean Larkins, Director of Consulting and Capability and author of The Leaders’ Report says: “In 2017, our survey of a similarly large cohort of government communicators revealed they needed to transform their communications with citizens in order to rebuild trust. Two years on and little has changed – in some countries, the situation has become even more challenging. Governments urgently need to establish the behaviours, frameworks and ways of working that enable them to truly benefit from citizen engagement activities.”

The global research also identifies 10 key drivers of citizen engagement that the Practice believes governments should adopt to rebuild trust with the public. These include building and communicating a clear picture of a government’s ambitions and priorities, demonstrating social cohesion through more inclusive policy delivery, and building opportunities for citizens to help co-create public services.

The Leaders’ Report launch coincides with the launch a new Hub in Toronto to drive excellence in communications and research for public sector clients in Canada. The Government & Public Sector Practice now has active Hubs in UK, EU, Middle East, ANZ, US, Singapore and Canada.

Source: WPP

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