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Organizational Listening

The Missing Essential in Public Communication

Jim Macnamara

Organizations, which are central in contemporary industrialized and post-industrial societies, including government departments and agencies, corporations, and non-government organizations, claim to want and practice two-way communication, dialogue, and engagement with citizens, customers, employees, and other stakeholders and publics. But do they in reality? Voice – speaking up – is recognized as fundamental for democracy, representation, and social equity. But what if governments, corporations, institutions, and NGOs are not listening? This book reports the findings of a two-year, three-continent study that show that public and private sector organizations devote substantial and sometimes massive resources to construct an ‘architecture of speaking’ through advertising, PR, and other public communication practices, but listen poorly, sporadically, and sometimes not at all. Beyond identifying a ‘crisis of listening’ in modern societies, this landmark study proposes and describes how organizations need to create an architecture of listening to regain trust and re-engage people whose voices are unheard or ignored. It presents a compelling case to show that urgent attention to organizational listening is essential for maintaining healthy democracy, organization legitimacy, business sustainability, and social equity. This research is essential reading for all scholars, students, and practitioners involved in politics; government, corporate, marketing, and organizational communication; public relations; and all those interested in democratic participation, media, and society.


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Research and publication of new insights cannot happen without consid- erable time and effort of many people, not only the researcher. I gratefully thank all the organizations that agreed to participate in the research that informed this book, despite knowing that it would include critical analysis. Their openness and concern for their stakeholders, publics, and society are to be commended. In particular, I must acknowledge and thank Alex Aiken, the head of government communication in the UK, who granted me largely unfettered access to senior communication staff in the UK Cabinet Office, Whitehall, and a range of UK government departments and agencies, and Paul Njoku who facilitated these interactions. I also thank Mark Weiner, CEO of Prime Research (North America), Richard Bagnall, CEO of Prime Research (UK), and Frank Ovaitt, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations in the US 2011–2015, who assisted me in gaining access to communication heads in some of the world’s largest corporations. I am indebted also to a number of academic colleagues who provided valuable advice, encouragement, and reviews of drafts of this book, particu- larly Nick Couldry, professor of media, communication and social theory at x acknowledgements the London School of Economics and Political Science; Stephen Coleman, professor of political communication at the University of Leeds; and Anne Gregory, professor of corporate communications at the University of Huddersfield and chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Com- munication Management. As well, I thank colleagues and collaborators at the University...

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