7 ways governments can improve citizen communication

Sara Ana Cemazar
November 7, 2023
min read

Effective government-citizen communication is crucial to promote participatory governance and informed decision-making.

In today's world, governments must re-imagine the way they connect with citizens. The nature of communication and participation is moving online, just as a lot of public services do. For example, Germany made all public services accessible online in 2022 through a federal Online Access Act.

Since governments often lack funds for non-essential projects and are subject to rigorous law standards, it's not always easy to successfully run projects in the realm of citizen engagement and communication.

In this article, we propose seven ways for governments to improve communication with citizens to increase participation, improve the decision-making process, and deliver on critical services.

Government-citizen communication in a nutshell

In a democratic government, it becomes crucial to inform citizens of the public policy decisions and seek feedback. A robust government-citizen communication strategy helps promote seamless exchange of information and offers a platform for collaborative governance. Doing so helps the government make informed, impactful decisions.

From a citizen’s perspective, a reliable government communication channel helps to effectively utilize public services. For instance, communicating the eligibility, application procedure, and key benefits of a particular service to its citizens helps ensure that the services reach the right beneficiaries. 

On another hand, communication with citizens can have a beneficial impact on the government as a whole by improving the trust in public service institutions.

government citizen communication

Different communication methods utilized to reach citizens

While governments across the world work out different strategies to reach their citizens, some public organizations have leveraged the best practices followed in customer-facing industries. For instance, several government institutions have a live chat widget on their portals, imitating commercial websites. Such features allow citizens to reach out to the government when needed, often while using public services.

An effective citizen communication channel improves the accountability of public servants and the efficiency of public services. Citizen engagement can be one-way or two-way, depending on the purpose. 

1. One-way communication for alerts and announcements

One-way communication encompasses the alerts and other information flowing from the government to the citizens. In this case, the government does not expect immediate feedback or participation. 

Such communication includes:

  • alerts: can be sent out via special apps or SMS, for example evacuation notices during hurricane season
  • promotional messages: can be presented on government web or social media to promote events of different kinds
  • announcements: can be published in the form of press releases to let public know about important changes that require citizen actions.

➡️ Learn how Rocket.Chat helps streamline public safety communications in the US.

2. Two-way communication for service assistance and participatory governance

Two-way communication allows relevant stakeholders, citizens, and communities to exchange crucial information, offer feedback, or participate in a dialogue. Citizens can participate in different policy-making stages, including agenda-setting, decision-making, execution, monitoring, or feedback collection,. 

The government employs different channels, like public consultations, town hall meetings, online forums, and citizen engagement platforms to encourage citizens' participation. Such channels help bridge the gap between the citizens and government and lead the way for participatory governance

Privacy challenges in the public sector domain

Government-citizen communication is specific in another area: it needs to uphold the highest data security criteria.

Gartner estimates that around 65% of the World's population has their personal data covered under modern privacy regulations. Such regulations are highly complex, like GDPR in the EU.

Organizations in the public sector need to find a way to enable citizen communication on digital channels, but without risking data exposure or breaching data privacy regulations.

This presents a major challenge to organizations that need to carefully navigate the legal area while trying to catch up with the communication best practices that keep evolving in a digital world.

How to communicate with citizens effectively?

With a robust citizen engagement channel, citizens can voice their opinions and participate in government decision-making. It helps foster transparency and trust in the process. 

Following are some of the best practices for citizen communication. 

1. Enable omnichannel communication

Governments must invest in omnichannel communication channels, including websites, emails, social media and popular consumer chat apps to allow citizens to reach out to government institutions through their preferred medium. 

For instance, WhatsApp has around 2 billion active users. Having a reliable WhatsApp channel allows government institutions to reach out to a wide audience and engage in dialogue. Such channels also allow citizens to communicate using different modes, including text, images, videos, infographics, and more. 

On the other hand, an omnichannel approach streamlines communication in a single inbox, so public officials can prioritize urgent requests no matter the channel they come from.

citizen communication

2. Offer in-app support while using digital public services

Implementing a live chat or chatbot feature helps citizens seek real-time support and assistance while accessing digital public services. Governments can also automate responses to frequently asked questions so citizens get timely assistance without straining government resources. 

Robust in-app chat features also allow citizens to attach screenshots or screen recordings that help troubleshoot. This improves citizen satisfaction, and a McKinsey study shows that satisfied citizens are 9 times more likely to trust the government agency. 

3. Be mindful of regulatory compliance

Government communication is subject to legal compliance depending on the type of information and region. When it comes to citizen engagement, government agencies must have an exhaustive understanding of regulatory compliance, including data protection laws and freedom of information acts prevailing in the region. 

For instance, GDPR governs the public sector in the EU region. It requires the implementation of robust security measures, the appointment of a Data Protection Officer, and consent on data transfers among other methods. For example, Microsoft 365 products have been banned from use in German schools due to non-compliance with GDPR.

In all areas of the world, governments must follow compliance in record-keeping, information dissemination, curating and archiving citizen’s feedback, and more. They must follow a strict no-discrimination approach and protect sensitive data like gender, age, race, and other.

IT specialists in government agencies often choose to run on-premise software to keep high data sovereignty and control access to highly sensitive citizen data.

4. Leverage customer engagement best practices from other industries

Government agencies must leverage businesses' best practices to withstand competitive marketplaces. Some of them include: 

Businesses also customize their communication strategy to cater to their customer’s preferences. Similarly, government agencies must tailor the communication strategy based on the citizen’s location, demographics, and other preferences

5. Send out timely, accurate, and clear communications

While regular citizen communication is important, government agencies must not swamp citizens with information. There are chances that crucial messages may slip through the cracks. 

So, it is important to segment the audience based on demographics like age, location, gender, interest, and send targeted messages. When governments segment citizens based on their interests and demographics, they get to speak directly to the audience. 

6. Make citizens feel heard and their ideas valued

As explained earlier, two-way communication channels help strengthen citizens' participation in the process. Government institutions should schedule public consultations and put forth robust feedback mechanisms. They should acknowledge citizens’ efforts and offer periodic updates about the actions taken on their feedback. 

citizen communication

When governments conduct consultations on key decisions, citizens feel heard and valued, increasing their trust in the process. For instance, in a study on trust and government outreach, people contacted by outreach programs tended to exhibit stronger trust in the government than others

7. Offer user-friendly tools to facilitate effective citizen communication

Similar to businesses, governments must leverage emerging technological tools to forge seamless citizen engagement. They must create citizen-friendly websites and mobile applications to promote accessibility. 

Government institutions must integrate live chat widgets and chatbots to offer timely assistance to citizens. Presenting the analytical information in the form of dashboards and analytical reports on the websites offers hassle-free visualization of important data and metrics.  

While user-friendliness is important, citizen communication tools must not compromise on security aspects as the process involves sensitive information. Striking the right balance between the two is the key.

Sovereign citizen communication tool for government agencies

To improve their digital services and gain citizens' trust, government agencies must provide the right tools: the ones that will facilitate easy communication, but also keep personal citizen data private and protected.

A customizable, embeddable chat created with government institutions in mind is a preferred choice in such cases. Built on open source - which comes with its own set of benefits for the public sector - Rocket.Chat is a secure choice for government institutions that want to open up to citizens while maintaining the highest data security standards.

Rocket.Chat has been listed as an ideal platform for the public sector by Swedish government and has been used by City of Cologne for secure and compliant digital collaboration. Learn more about us or click below to get in touch with our team:

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Sara is an SEO Strategist at Rocket.Chat. She is passionate about topics around digital transformation, workplace experience, open source, and data privacy and security.
Sara Ana Cemazar
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