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Moving governments from communication to consultation

Friday 31, Mar 2017

Governments must change from communicating with citizens to genuinely engaging them in decision-making. This was the message from Ben Fowkes to a PRIA lunch in Canberra last week.

Ben is the Commercial Manager for Delib, a UK based company that develops digital tools to support governments improve their connections with citizens. Drawing on his experiences working with governments around the world, Ben explained that simply broadcasting a message and calling it “communication” is no longer sufficient.

“Governments must move from communication to consultation and digital tools provide an easy mechanism for increased engagement.”

The Internet’s disruption of the way we communicate gives people access to unprecedented amounts of information and direct access to decision-makers. However, governments have not always kept pace with peoples’ communication expectations, which has seen trust in governments decline globally.

For those government communicators increasingly called upon to design public consultation processes, this was a timely reminder that our audiences are often better prepared to engage than our institutions.

Ben highlighted work being done online by the British and Scottish Parliaments communicating government challenges and seeking public input and ideas. Methods include online consultation hubs, crowdsourcing, trade-off simulators and budget simulation tools. The age of the survey is over, according to Ben.

“Face-to-face communication still has a place; however, it is expensive and limits participation to those who can physically attend events. Online engagement means people can participate in their own time, on their own terms.”

The challenge for communicators will be motivating people to engage with online processes. “Government communication needs to be highly relevant, visible, jargon-free, and it must be mobile-friendly.”

Ben left us with a final challenge. “Develop platforms for engagement, not projects for communication.”

Victoria Taylor, ACT Council Member