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New nationwide poll identifies credibility gap between individuals and companies
November 30, 2010 @ 04:15PM
TORONTO, Ontario – According to a recent national public opinion survey, nearly
half of all Canadians (48 percent) do not believe companies can be counted on to behave responsibly. This finding is discouraging news for organizations looking to tap into public sentiment when moving forward new projects that require public buy-in.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining: Canadians trust each other. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians agree with the statement “my fellow Canadians are people I can trust.” This stark difference between Canadians’ attitudes towards individuals versus companies shed important insight on how organizations can successfully engage their stakeholders.
In the face of growing regulatory requirements and increased interest in public consultation and participation, NATIONAL Public Relations, Canada’s largest public relations firm, and Harris/Decima commissioned a survey of 4,000 Canadians across the country to examine when, why and how Canadians want to be consulted on matters impacting them.1
In an environment where public sentiment is impacting projects large and small – from infrastructure to resource extraction and new energy sources – even the best efforts of many public and private organizations to engage communities to encounter challenges.
“In this increasingly complex environment, the spirit and the means in which an organization enters into the public consultation and participation process is vital to a successful outcome for all participants,” said John Crean, National Managing Partner, NATIONAL Public Relations. “Building trust is a bidirectional process. Just as members of the public need to trust that organizations will behave responsibly, organizations also need to trust that members of the public can provide valuable insight and input into the decision-making process.”
The survey reveals major implications for the design of public consultation programs with time-pressed Canadians preferring organizations use outreach methods to reach them, versus requiring Canadians to reach out to organizations for information. For example, while public information centres and formal public hearings are among the most accepted methods required by law to engage the public, just 18 percent of Canadians said they would attend a public hearing; 21 percent would visit a public information centre and only 12 percent would join a community advisory panel to discuss local issues.
Most Canadians prefer informal engagement versus participating in more formal public hearings and workshops on an issue. The method of engagement preferred by the majority of Canadians when engaging on an issue is talking with family and friends (65 percent), followed by visiting a website of an organization involved in the issue (45 percent) or participating in a public opinion survey on the issue (43 percent).
Community issues trump both provincial and national issues and are the critical driver in getting people involved. Sixty-one percent of Canadians say they prefer to engage in community issues – proving that the closer an issue is to home the more likely members of the public are to get involved.
So how should companies approach a public that is more inclined to engage on an issue impacting their community? And how can companies engage a public that is more likely to express and form their opinion amongst fellow community members?
When it comes time to engage, the survey paints a picture of two drastically different types of Canadians: a majority group (70 percent) of uninvolved Canadians who usually choose not to engage on any given issue; and, a minority group (30 percent) of involved Canadians who, while smaller in numbers, are those most likely to provide and set the public voice on issue.2
“There is a minority of the population who are tuned in and participatory and another larger group who care about issues that affect their communities and society as a whole, but tend not to invest themselves in the processes made available,” said Doug Anderson, Senior Vice President, Harris/Decima. “This smaller group of involved Canadians will be more inclined to actively participate in the formal aspects of the consultative process, but our data tells us that their influence extends beyond the public forum to their kitchen tables. Successfully delivering a message to these involved Canadians and having them engage informally with family and friends is among the best ways to reach a much broader cross-section of the public.”
This is extremely valuable information for organizations looking to gain public support via consultation, providing an opportunity to rethink their consultative process.
1. Methodology: The data were gathered through teleVox, Harris/Decima’s national telephone omnibus survey. The data were gathered between August 26 and September 19, 2010, for 4,042 completed interviews. During this four week period, we asked Canadians a series of different questions about engagement. This series of questions was used to determine involvement and makes up the 4,042 completes, while each weekly module was asked of just over 1,000 respondents. The margin of error of the weekly modules is +/- 3.1% 19 times out of 20.
2. Respondents were identified as “Involved” through a proprietary segmentation based on responses to a list of various sorts of activities. This list was asked to all respondents, and thus all 4,042 people interviewed were identified as either being involved or not.
About NATIONAL Public Relations
NATIONAL Public Relations (www.national.ca) is the largest public relations consultancy in Canada and was chosen among the top 10 public relations firms in the world for corporate and social responsibility.
Recognized experts in the area of public consultation and participation, NATIONAL consultants across the country hold certificates in Public Participation from the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2). The firm’s unique approach to public consultation through its “Dialogue powered by a handshake” methodology promotes the importance of organizations entering into public consultation and participation with a spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and a willingness to engage.
NATIONAL has offices in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, New York and London, as well as an interest in MT&L/NATIONAL in Halifax and Saint John. The Firm offers corporate communications, investor relations, public affairs, public consultation and participation, marketing communications, technology, healthcare communications, digital communications and employee engagement services to a broad range of leading corporate, government and institutional clients. Internationally, the Firm is affiliated with Burson-Marsteller.
Harris/Decima is one of the largest marketing research organizations in Canada. Harris/Decima offers a full slate of custom and syndicated research services, including telephone and on-site interviewing, self-administered mail back and online surveys, as well as qualitative one-on-one executive interviewing and focus groups.
Harris/Decima conducts research on public and social policy, program evaluation, employee satisfaction, issue management, marketing, advertising and communications testing and evaluation for a wide range of clients in the public, private, and third sectors.