Government-citizen communication at a crossroads
Effective communication is the key to the success of government initiatives
Effective communication with stakeholders/citizens is one of the critical contributors to the successful deliveries of government initiatives (Patanakul et al., 2016; Shergold, 2015). Through government citizen communication, the government can explain its position and ensure alignment between the intended benefits of its policies, programs and regulations with stakeholders/citizens’ needs; through this communication, stakeholders/citizens acquire the required information and knowledge that allow them to utilize these initiatives’ products/services upon their delivery.
Ever more complex communication challenges in the public sector
Technology has changed the way the world communicates. Empowered by advanced technology, every stakeholder/citizen can not only receive information from multiple sources but also create (and/or recreate) and distribute, the information through multiple online and offline communication channels.
Stakeholders/citizens are no longer simply passive information receivers. They are now proactive message co-creators and co-distributors sharing information and opinion with family, friends and the wider community.
This substantial shift in influence and power is driving significant change in behaviour. It has created a serious challenge for all governments at a sub national, national and global level. The traditional communication channels that government has relied upon (media and mainstream traditional advertising) to communicate with stakeholder/citizens are increasingly ineffective. The challenge now is to ensure that “what the government delivers” is “what the stakeholders/citizens hear.” Further compounding this challenge are the lack of skills in government and the resource and regulatory constraints facing the public sector. Government now needs to explore new, resource-effective ways to configure new ways to communicate effectively with the stakeholders/citizens.
A systematic value co-creation toolkits for content communication in the public sector and complex organisations
Content communication is a derivative of the private sector practice of content marketing. Content marketing is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, drive profitable customer action,”(Content Marketing Institute CMI, 2016). “Content Communication” adopts the same method but is designed to “engage and inform” in order to achieve the desired stakeholder/citizen action. Content communication gives the government the ability to create and curate their own content to “go direct” to engage with citizens and stakeholders. To frame their policies, programs, regulations and services through the eyes of the intended audience in order to effectively explain their actions and decisions. It has the potential to improve the quality of government-citizen communication in order to enhance the benefits realised from government initiatives.
Content communication is an agile, science based communication process. You are required to perpetually test and learn using different story angles and tactics in order to influence the audience in pursuit of your objectives.
Why are you communicating? What is your purpose? You need a compelling reason to start a communication program.
What are you trying to achieve? What are the program, policy, service or regulation objectives you are seeking to influence through your content communication program? These are the overarching objectives and they need, where possible to be S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound).
Research and Discovery
What are the inputs and insights that you will need in order to achieve the above objectives? What is the budget? Do you have the skills and capabilities? Is there research, both formal and informal, that will inform your content communication approach? In this step of the method, the idea is to sweep together the information you need to make good decisions.
Content communication takes a “design” based approach to understanding and meeting the needs of the audience.
What is the compelling and differentiated story you will tell in order to inspire our target audience to take the desired action? The sweet spot is the cross over between what you want to say and what the audience wants to hear.
Based on the strategic planning which gives insights into the audience and their needs and the scope and scale of the budget and capabilities, there is a need to make decisions on the media type you are going to use to tell your story. Is it video, audio, stills, text graphics, animation etc.?
There are a wide variety of channels that can be used to reach your intended audience.
- Offline – Events, community consultation meetings, meetings, traditional advertising and public relations, printed materials.
- Online – These are your owned channels including website, webinars, email and apps.
- Social – The social media platforms own your audience on their platforms not you. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn are among the most powerful distribution channels available to you to tell your story.
- Third Party – Increasingly in government, people with their own audiences are happy to help you to spread the story of your policy, program, regulation or service. Ask yourself “who has your audience’? Or who is influential with my audience and see if you can come to arrangement to distribute your content or curate their content.
Once you have considered the needs of your audiences, your objectives, your story and your constraints, it is time to make choices about the mix of channels you will use and the frequency of your publishing. All of this activity needs to be logged in a calendar.
Measurement and Evaluation
The key measurement is to understand what is the behaviour you are seeking to achieve your objectives and what are the signals that you are encouraging that type of behaviour. For example, if you are seeking to engage an audience to take up a particular program, an email registration is a “signal” that members of the intended audience have given you “permission” to talk to them.