Creating a 'Democracy for Everyone'

Strategies for increasing listening and engagement by government

Professor Jim Macnamara PhD, FAMEC, FAMI, CPM, FPRIA

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) are proud to jointly publish this report of a two-year, three-country research study of how, and how well governments, corporations, and other types of organisations listen to their stakeholders and publics.

In the wake of Brexit, the shock election of Donald Trump, the rise of the Alt-right in Europe and other countries, and ‘hung’ parliaments in Australia in recent years, this research study focussed particularly on how democratic governments listen to and engage with stakeholders and citizens.

The findings are disturbing and send a warning signal to governments and all types of organisations. In the words of Theresa May, who became Prime Minister of the UK after the resignation of David Cameron following the Brexit vote, the voices of many citizens and groups in the community have been “falling on deaf ears”.

This research report identifies major failings in listening and engagement by organisations, including a failure to effectively analyse and gain insights and understanding from social and market research, public consultations, public relations, stakeholder engagement, complaints, and correspondence. Even interactive social media are primarily used by organisations as part of an ‘architecture of speaking’ to disseminate their messages. The study concludes that organisations need to apply an architecture of listening to their public communication functions, and identifies key components required for effective listening and engagement.

The two-stage study included in-depth analysis of the communication and engagement functions of 36 corporations, government agencies, and non-government organisations in Australia, the UK, and USA (case studies), followed by an intensive six-month ethnographic and action research project working inside the UK Government Communication Service headquartered in the Cabinet Office, Whitehall and Number 10 Downing Street, as well interviews and content analysis of communication plans and evaluation reports in the European Commission in Brussels.

Listen to Prof Macnamara's LSE public lecture The Lost Art of Listening: the missing key to democratic and civil society participation.