How does government comms impact social behaviour?

A new report by SenateSHJ details the effectiveness of government comms on bringing people together in Australia.

Victorian Deputy Health Officer Allen Chang speaks to the media during a daily briefing in Melbourne (Getty Images)
Victorian Deputy Health Officer Allen Chang speaks to the media during a daily briefing in Melbourne (Getty Images)

SenateSHJ's newly released Togetherness Index shows that government communicators still face significant challenges in an age of mistrust, misinformation, and of course, the pandemic. Almost a quarter of respondents said they do little or nothing to change their behaviour when governments communicate to them and just over half find government comms trustworthy.

Only 64% of those surveyed feel that the government is effective in communicating messages that bring people together. And only half are optimistic when they hear or see messages from state and federal governments; a similar proportion give such communication little or no thought.

On the plus side, there's great awareness of the importance of comms in the first place to drive cooperation with nine in 10 respondents citing that government comms are necessary. In addition, the government is considered more trustworthy and effective than leaders from community organisations such as sports groups and people in the community more broadly. People are more likely to change their behaviour having listened to government than to these other groups. COVID-19 has also inculcated a higher level of of the government among the public.

Overall, over half of respondents find government comms untrustworthy compared to family (78%) and friends (65%). When it comes to driving behaviour change however, it shows we can't just rely on one messenger as mainstream media (31%) and local community leaders (26%) still play influential roles.

"We need to get better at listening to each other," said Jodie Wrigley, head of health and social change at SenateSHJ. "For communication to have maximum impact, there needs to be an uplift in how involved people feel with the community around them. And leaders across all institutions, including Government, need to get better at sharing communication and stories that inspire us."

The online survey has a sample size of 1,031 Australians aged 18+ taken from June 30 to July 7, 2020. See here for the full report. 

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