So how can motorists engage in the debate, Tony?

Here’s an interesting exercise for public relations practitioners – deconstructing the “personal”  sent to everyone who completed the anti-road pricing epetition.

Lots of facts are presented in the email to support the government position and attempts are made to counter arguments that have been made against road pricing.  But is there real public engagement, evidence of a willingness to listen, any possibility of two-way symmetric communications? 

Credibility is a big public relations issue here – so why would a long email, simply presenting a one-sided view point influence anyone?

Of course, many other voices have used this petition for their own purposes.  There are a lot of questionable points made by Ray Massey in the Daily Mail’s support for the epetition.  Interestingly reports (via ) that the newspaper was the fourth largest provider of traffic to the epetitions website (4 weeks ending 17/2/07).  The Mail is good at stimulating action in relation to its current “hot issue”. 

But in terms of getting the public involved in politics more widely, what is the value of a simple yes/no question on complex issues?  Action was taken by 1.8 million people who felt sufficiently motivated to register their opinion.  Many more undoubtedly became an “active public” in discussing the topic through personal and public discussion.  But does this mean their opinions matter?

In the email, there is recognition of this is a “complex subject” which requires a debate over the choices faced at local and national levels.  Will we see opportunities for the active publics to be “engaged”?  Where are the requests for the public to make their own suggestions of what can be done?

Well, the chance to “reply” is to submit a question in advance for a  webchat with Dr Stephen Ladyman on the No.10 site on Thursday 22 February.  No time or URL was provided – but it is 1600 GMT;  http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page11046.asp.  I’m sure that will be a carefully managed “debate”.  Further information promoted in the email turns out to be a list of “” and a “range of voices” who all more or less support road pricing.

This week has also seen extention of the despite public opposition expressed during “consultation”.  There is talk that resentment may be expressed in the next Mayoral election against Livingstone – but is a single issue that powerful against other interests?  Some people are defeating the “congestion” beating message by purchasing electric vehicles – which highlights the flaws in the supposed point of the “anti-car” zone.

It is hard to feel that political expressions of participating in social media, public engagement, etc are not simply the usual hot air.  Rather than being active publics, most people are probably apathetic – suffering from learned helplessness.

In Grunig’s situational terms – publics have high problem recognitiion and level of involvement, but increasingly have high constraint recognition, feeling there is little they can do about matters they care about.   

By the way, if you feel there has been too much hype against road pricing – you are invited to complete the “ epetition.  So far 3,337 have registered here.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

10 thoughts on “So how can motorists engage in the debate, Tony?”

  1. Are the 1.8million people who were motivated enough to sign the petition experiencing a rush of high constraint recognition that will deter them from seeking or processing any more information because they now feel their opinion won’t really change anything? How have they all become so disillusioned so quickly?

  2. Well these were the ones who felt motivated to become active – maybe less a little less cynical than others who couldn’t be bothered. Of course, they may still hope their views are taken into account, but a read of the Tony email doesn’t show much promise of that. It is also cumulative – read Ellee’s good comments on the post office situation, which is another one where people power doesn’t seem to count much. See http://elleeseymour.com/2007/02/21/polite-petitions-and-govts-deaf-ears/

  3. It’s going to hit our pockets hard because my husband has a daily commute by road from Ely to Colchester, a 1 1/2 trip. It’s the fact that there are no suitable alternatives, the fact that people feel this is being forced on them. I understand the problem over congestion, that’s why we need excellent public transport in its place, and it is not available, there is no alternative to using a car.

  4. P.S. thanks for the link, I’ve also mentioned the 4 million people who signed the petition about post office closures, how will their views be considered.

  5. Ah yes, I remember you saying that people could launch a use it or lose it campaign when I had asked about what folk could do to save the post offices.

    On the link above you point towards Ellee’s post about Juilan Sturdy actively discovering his constituents views on the post office closures. On the link I can’t see any ref to this.

    I thought it would be good to use Grunig’s situational theory to show how the level of involvement/ constraint recognition of these people might have an effect on the post office outcome in that area.

    I know I have to engage with the folk who object to the 50 mile treck to the new maternity wing in our portfolio and by seeing how Julian Sturdy goes about things might help me understand how Grunig’s theory plays out. I know the outcome for the people in our portfolio is decided but I thought I might find some helpful info.

    Hope this makes sense.

  6. Ellee, PR Week dated 9th Feb said you are a freelance PR consultant and I wondered if this was the same as a press consultant? If so, please can you tell me how you consider the sorts of clients you take on. Is it very different from if you were part of a team in a consultancy say?

    Thanks. I would have posted on your own site but wasn’t sure how to contact you.

  7. There are so many holes in the pay-per-mile via a black box proposal, that I think it will not be introduced anytime soon. As Edmund King of RAC Foundation suggests, a voluntary scheme is most likely initially and no doubt could be developed by the likes of TrafficMaster. Mind you, it might be a little like the Tesco “green points” for reusing carrier bags – I don’t see that many people excited by it.

    We will see congestion zones (although why we can’t have straight pedestrianisation I don’t know) and possibly more toll roads, but they are going to have to be better than what we’ve got and not congested to replicate the French model.

    I’m also not sure the government has thought through the mindset shift – once we are a direct consumer of the roads, we may be even more vocal than at present.

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