5 global government communication challenges that won’t shock you

5 global government communication challenges that won’t shock you

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend WPP’s presentation in Canberra on The Leader’s Report – the future of government communications.

WPP has done some incredible work in the government communications space and they share a similar belief to ours at contentgroup – governments today can’t achieve their policy goals without effective communication.

The report spans insights from 40 countries across the world, and believe it or not, is the first global review into how government and public sector communication leaders currently are working, their concerns and how they are preparing for the future.

And while the analysis contained within the report is not earth-shattering, what is hard to believe is that the global uptake to address these challenges within government is slower than it should be.

So, according to the report, what are the five challenges facing government communicators across the globe?

  1. Trust

Declining levels of trust in government have undermined the connection between those who are governed and those who govern them.

  • Only 40% of citizens trust their government, compromising the willingness of citizens and business to respond to public policies. 1
  • Even in countries with the highest levels of trust, one in four citizens do not trust their government is doing the right thing. 2

This one really is not a surprise given the way that governments have communicated with citizens for some time now.

Driven in a strong way by new forms of media, along with endless promises that are broken in each election cycle, politicians have found themselves fighting a losing battle over the past 10 years.

It’s also a problem that can only be fixed by good communication and getting a better understanding of what citizens want from governments to improve their lives.

  1. Audiences

A fracturing of audiences has broken the model of broadcast communication that many governments rely on.

  • Only 25% of respondents actively tailor their messages to citizens, with the vast majority struggling to move beyond uniform messaging
  • Nearly half of respondents say they lack an understanding of digital and social media.

Audience, audience, audience.

It’s the most critical part of any communication program and one that if you don’t get right, you will struggle to succeed in meeting both your communication objectives and your policy objectives.

And that fact that the report suggests that only 25% of respondents across the globe tailor their messages to citizens, is a worrying trend.

Note to policy makers – get your communication experts in the room from day 1 if you want to ensure your messages resonate with citizens in your local council area, state or country.

  1. Conversation

Many respondents struggle to move beyond one-way conversations that represent the majority of today’s government communication

  • Only 31% see citizen engagement as a priority for their government
  • Only 14% have had any training on public engagement.

Government communicators – how many times have you published a post on Facebook, received engagement back from a member of the public, but then had to get clearance from three or four people to engage back?

Conversing with members of the public across traditional or social media channels will never work if it is one-way.

Two-way communication will not only make citizens feel valued, but will also help improve levels of trust.

  1. Capability

Government communication teams lack the skills and expertise to operate effectively in a rapidly changing media landscape.

  • Only half of respondents believe they have the right tools and resources to do their job
  • 43% report being in post for more than 10 years; few have built up modern communication skills in that time.

Communications resourcing continues to shrink, while policy areas are also looking to take control of all communication requirements.

This also comes at a time when government employees are being asked to do more (often by Ministers’ offices), allowing little time for training, skill acquisition or strategic thinking.

We should be placing more trust in communication experts to do their job, along with buy-in from the top-level executives to realise that the communication function must change in line with how technology is changing.

  1. Influence

Government communication is under-invested in as a function of government. It is insufficiently regarded as an essential part of policy development and delivery

  • 60% of respondents don’t measure the impact of communication against policy objectives, reducing the perceived importance of communication as a lever of government.

The communication function of any government department or organisation is not the colouring in department.

As a communicator, it frustrates me when I hear stories about peers having to solve problems that could have been avoided if they were in the room when policies were being developed.

Every decision a communicator makes must relate back to the overall policy objective that a government is looking to achieve, so in my view, it naturally makes sense for them to be involved in the first stage of policy development.

In conclusion, the fact that this report was the first global review into global government communication is mind blowing.

But it also provided the same lightbulb moment for the three contentgroupies sitting in the room listening to the presentation.

We are on the right track in our mission to help government and the public sector strengthen communities and improve the wellbeing of citizens through effective content communication.

It is a long road, but a very rewarding one.

I would encourage all government employees – whether you are at council, state or federal level – to download the report and read about the challenges, insights and opportunities that exist in the government communication space.

Download the report here


David is the Head of Consulting at contentgroup and possesses a love of writing. While he could write and talk about sport all day, his focus is now on helping public-sector clients tell their stories.

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