Transforming Public Sector Communication

It’s experiential. It’s emotive. It’s provocative. The modern age has brought about a new way of communication. Information and newsfeeds are at our fingertips. The opportunity for anything and everything to go viral across ever expanding social media platforms is faster than the speed it takes to verify the authenticity of the source.

All it takes if for a disgruntled and disapproving social media user to have a bad experience with what you say or your service delivery and you’re finished – both online and off.

This is the real challenge faced by most public-sector organisations and governments of the day. Public expectations need to be met. The public demands for credible responses. They demand accountability, transparency and effective delivery. They want action, not promises.

There is an urgency to cut through the clutter and noise, forming a clear and trusted line of messaging, facilitate participation and buy-in.

The guiding principle is openness

Effective public-sector communication is about dialogue. It’s about engaging with individuals and communities at all levels and providing them a platform to voice their views and opinions. It’s about providing action and delivery to meet their needs.

Public sector communication has to be seen and regarded as a service to the general public. Constant engagement to foster participation is needed to build accountability and trust in the Government. Even more so when a Government is embarking on a national transformation agenda.

In any transformation agenda, communication is essential for effective consultation and engagement, informing policy-making and service design. The Government of Malaysia took on a bold new approach to communication in 2012 when they started their national transformation journey.

They were single-minded in promoting effective communication as a behavioural change from within – from the act of doing or implementation – closer integration of policy development, service delivery and communications functions. This ultimate led to better policies and services.

Getting the public to participate and to be informed was crucial in the communication process. Anchored by BFR Methodology’s 8 steps of Transformation, the Government of Malaysia was able to communicate effectively by being:

  1. Inclusive in identifying the issues to resolve through a series of public labs.
  2. Consultative with the public in finalising the solutions.
  3. Accountable in reporting on the transformation delivery progress via monthly public updates and ultimately, the publication of annual reports every year end since 2010.

Political neutrality is a cornerstone of public sector communications.

While clarity and factual presentation of government policies, intended delivery and achievements are important, what helps complete efforts of building public confidence is trust in neutrality. Political neutrality is a cornerstone of public sector communications.

Real time communication

Effective communication has to thus take on a real-time approach. Public sector and government communications must engage with audiences. 24 hours a day. Clearly. Efficiently. It takes a deep dive into the transformation journey, walking the target audience through the transformation process by sharing measurable positive impacts of the beneficiaries periodically and when it happens.

Modern technology offers many tools for direct, unmediated communications with the public but these need to be used effectively. They should be credible, efficient and prompt disseminators of authoritative information. They should answer questions accurately, honestly and completely.

Be as good as the best in any sector. Be fast. Be accurate. Be concise.

All these are done in the hope that greater trust can be built amongst the public sector, government, general public and the media. Government communication needs to be as good as best in any sector. It needs to be fast. Accurate. Concise. And. To reach the audience wherever they are.

Communication is critical to transformation

At the heat of the policy process and public service development is the element of communication. The general public can and will judge the quality of decision and the delivery of services that affects their lives by means of their sight, feel and hearsay. Clarity and regular engagement is critical. Public sector and government organisations must be accountable for what they do, be prepared to explain and defend decisions, and also to admit mistakes.

Public sector and governmental organisations must develop effective communication strategies and engagements that link communications explicitly to the achievement and delivery of their national transformation outcomes. Only then can positive behavioural change exist and thrive.

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