Government Communications

How generating public value is key to transforming government communications

When it comes to improving political governance and government communications, the age of excuses may finally be over. There is a very real and positive shift taking place thanks to governments recognising that solutions arise from better accountability and transparency. From this new position, governing bodies are positioning themselves to tap into innovative thinking that can lead to more accessible, practical governance knowledge for all citizens.

Our argument is that good governance must devolve power and involve citizens more meaningfully … while legitimising delegation of authority to institutions that can capably manage the systemic links of integration.

– Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century, Polity Press, 2013

The Department of  Innovation, Industry and Science, is making great strides in government communications. They are advocating public sector innovation and devising communication strategies to encourage a culture of information sharing and innovation across government agencies. What’s more, there are now a number of best practice examples in government communications development from countries such as Canada, the UK, the USA, and Australia too, demonstrating a new understanding of how the strengths in communication strategies stem from recognising the value of diverse thinking. This new enlightenment sees strengths combined as the best bet in terms of governance solutions in the globalisation era.

In the UK via GOV.UK, the Government Digital Service is now providing clear, easily accessible communication information and guidelines that focus on user needs, rather than the outdated model of what government believes users need to know. The Content Design page and the A-Z Style Guide are demonstrative of real change and offer a best practice example to Australia and others on how to present clear, practical information relating to content creation. GOV.UK is effectively walking the talk; astutely communicating with the audience on how to better communicate in the digital age. Snap.

This new era emphasizes clarity. No more hiding behind government-speak in deliberate attempts to obscure meaning. General consensus in both government and corporate circles says that alongside the age of excuses, the opaque age is also over. In the digital content era, communication simply cannot progress unless it is clear, concise and consistent. The champions of the plain English campaign must finally feel there is traction.

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And to fully understand communication is to know that when trusted information is well shared, it can provide the impetus for inclusion and participation. This new way of thinking can be transformative; if ideology around information and dissemination are courageously applied to government communication strategy then better effectiveness may well be the outcome.

The collaboration journey has commenced; a pathway whereby the cross-pollination of information and ideas informs user-focussed policies to enact the kind of governance the 21st century requires.

So, how can governance borrow from this newfound openness in communications? Firstly, governments can utilise well-built digital platforms to ask citizens what they need, rather than assume they already have the answers. Secondly, with advancements in data collection and analysis, they can use the information provided by the community to inform government policy. The first step empowers citizens, and the second contributes to reinstating trust in government. The end result is evidence-based policies that inform and support, rather than dictate to citizens. Ontario in Canada is a best practice example when it comes to public engagement.

And Australia is keeping up.

The Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency is changing the way the government will be delivering its services online. The agency seeks public opinion on policy drafts, demonstrating a focus on user-centred research and design. It also outlines the digital transformation agenda, providing information on changes in line with that of GOV.UK. One such change is the “tell us once” item, whereby a user can update their information or circumstances and the input securely tells the whole of government, not just one agency. These new developments will streamline the gathering of information and opinion in the form of data. Data that can be then used to inform policy.

The Data Fellowship Program run by the Digital Transformation Agency is a case in point. As part of the program, Daniel Merkas from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is improving survey data collection with the use of machine-learning algorithms for automating resource-intensive decisions that are currently made by people. The end result will be a vast improvement in survey accuracy, which should lead to better governance as future policies become based on more reliable data.

Essentially these endeavours are a value proposition. In the GOVLAB article, ‘Understanding how public value can be generated from private data’, contributors Iryna Susha and Stefaan Verhulst outline the new initiative of data collaboratives.

Data collaboratives are an emerging form of cross-sectoral partnership that seeks to leverage generally untapped sources of data (often held by corporate entities) for the greater public good.

This type of thinking is marvellously innovative. Whilst there will no doubt be challenges, hopefully, the potential for improvement in areas such as government communication strategies, design and delivery and the transfer of knowledge between sectors will continue to motivate.

Where does all this innovation come from? People. People with new ideas, people who appreciate that change is inevitable for humans to progress, and embracing that change, rather than steering away from it. People who are actively listening to each other and understand that there is value in every two cents. And when it comes to generating public value for the transformation of government communications, we at contentgroup are prioritising this integrity.

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