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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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2. How organizations say they communicate


· 2 · how organizations say they communicate Public and private sector organizations engage in public communication through a range of practices. As this is not a text on specific disciplinary prac- tices of public communication, these will not be examined in detail. However, a broad overview and general understanding of the ways in which various types of organizations—government, corporate, NGO, institutions, and non-profits—purport to communicate with their publics is necessary in order to identify where and how listening might occur, and then examine those sites to identify the extent to which and how well organizations listen. Research One of the most substantive ways that organizations and industries potentially listen is through research. Research is conducted for a number of reasons and purposes including: • Social research, such as social attitudes studies conducted by govern- ments, institutions, and industry and professional organizations to identify citizens’ awareness, perceptions, concerns, and interests in relation to various issues. These can range from satisfaction with public 74 organizational listening transport and health services to controversial topics such as migration. An example is the British Social Attitudes Survey, which has been conducted annually since 1983; • Market research, which is designed to support marketing through iden- tification of customer needs and preferences in relation to products and services and often informs the development of new products and services; • Customer satisfaction studies, which specifically examine levels of cus- tomer satisfaction with existing products and services; • Employee satisfaction studies, which canvass the views of employees on matters such as...

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