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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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Introduction

Extract

While the following are anecdotal, three incidents prompted and inspired the research and analysis reported in this book. Unfortunately for organizations and citizens, such incidents are all too often typical of organization-public communication today. In 2010 I wrote to my local council about what a number of residents in the street where I live considered to be mismanagement of an environmental reserve adjacent to our houses. There had been a long history of politics between the local govern- ment body and the federal government over the land and who was responsible for the cost of maintenance of the reserve as well as the verge.1 Noxious weeds were growing in the reserve, undergrowth was creating a fire hazard, and plants and grass on the verge were dying. The local council’s Web site stated that the contact point for residents’ inquiries was the general manager and gave an e-mail address. So I wrote to the council as advised. But no response was received in the following three weeks. So I wrote again. Still no acknowledgement or action followed. Exasperated after writing two letters and leaving a phone message to no avail, I contacted the local newspaper and also wrote a story for an online community news site, with photos of the overgrown reserve and verge. Suddenly, within a day of media reports appearing, the council sprang into action. Council members and officials contacted me and maintenance workers were on the case within a few days. But until bad publicity appeared resulting in...

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