‘Whether Australians are accessing government services digitally, in person or over the phone, in the future I want Services Australia to deliver a similar experience to what Australians are used to when dealing with everyday services, such as banking and shopping”.*
– The Hon Stuart Robert MP, July 2019
The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the world of government communications in Australia. While thousands of hours have been spent chasing “digital transformation”, research shows that even in the days before COVID-19, public sector communications professionals everywhere were experiencing a total transformation in the
the way they work and communicate.
Where previously external messaging had to be approved at the highest level and speaking to journalists was an issue for the Code of Conduct, there is increasing evidence of public sector communications teams nowadays being encouraged to be proactive in their work as the days of Big Brother style Government “monologues” are slowly being replaced by something approaching a dialogue.
The onset of the digital age has also seen departments starting to augment the use of traditional media by publishing announcements and news on social media and Government-owned websites that in some cases enjoy more than a million monthly views. After a troublesome start, internal social media style tools are now widely used to promote collaboration and to build organisational culture.
Meanwhile, online public engagement tools and dedicated websites allowing citizens across Australia to “Have Their Say” are proving an attractive and cost-effective alternative to poorly attended focus groups on wet Wednesdays in North Sydney and Fitzroy.
As Government departments talk with passion about the importance of the “customer”, this White Paper finds evidence that communications departments are shifting their focus from solely managing media enquiries and correspondence towards becoming innovators, content creators, forum moderators, online publishers, and experts across all digital communication channels.
Internal communications messages are being augmented and improved, with some departments now using live streaming video to reach staff in remote and dispersed locations. The common theme of discussions with public sector communications experts is that these changes are here to stay.
This White Paper traces the effects of the arrival of the digital age on Government communications and seeks to identify the trends and opportunities that may lie ahead in a post-COVID-19 world.
Alun Probert is a former Executive, Director of Strategic Communications in the NSW Government and now Head of the GovCom Group, independent specialists in Australian Public Sector communications strategy and delivery.