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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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3. The crisis of listening in organizations and society


· 3 · the crisis of listening in organizations and society Informed by the critical review of literature summarized in the previous chap- ters and concern expressed by a number of writers such as Couldry (2010), Coleman (2013a), Dobson (2014), Dreher (2009), and others in relation to specific areas of organization-public interaction, a research project was launched in 2013 that involved a two-year exploration of how, and the extent to which, organizations listen to their stakeholders and publics. The Organizational Listening Project The Organizational Listening Project was prompted in part by The Listen- ing Project (, a research collaboration involving Australian and international media and cultural studies scholars that focussed attention to the importance of listening for social equity and representation of diversity in a series of events and publications produced between 2008 and 2011—albeit this project did not investigate organizational listening. More specifically, this research grew out of a 2012 study of how organizations are using social media. This found that the interactive features of Web 2.0–based social media are not being used in most cases and that, instead, most are using social media primarily for information transmission—a finding confirmed by 116 organizational listening many other studies before and since (Gibson & Cantijoch, 2011; Gibson, Williamson, & Ward, 2010; Macnamara, 2010, 2011, 2014a; Macnamara & Kenning, 2011, 2014; Macnamara & Zerfass, 2012; McCorkindale, 2010; Rosenstiel & Mitchell, 2012; Wright & Hinson, 2012). The research par- ticularly looked at social media use for engagement and public consultation (e-consultation) and found a lack of two-way interaction...

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