GW Announces Results of National Government & Public Affairs Communications Study

Government communicators noted a decline in public trust and identified strategies to improve outreach.

March 23, 2023

WASHINGTON (March 23, 2023) - The George Washington University College of Professional Studies (CPS) today announced the results of its inaugural research project to examine government and public affairs communication in the United States. The goal of the research, known as the GW GPA Study (GPA), is to identify factors affecting public trust and suggest opportunities for improving the delivery of public services and information. 

Conducted in November and December of 2022, the study gathered input from communicators at the federal, state and local levels, as well as communications professionals who engage with the government on behalf of private companies and nonprofit associations. 

The research consulting firm Schoen Cooperman Research (SCR) led the research effort, working closely with CPS and the GW Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM). The National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC), PR Daily, and Axios also contributed to the survey.

Key findings of the study include:

  • 56% of communication practitioners surveyed believe the public only “somewhat trusts” government information.
  • 68% of respondents cited disinformation and 58% identified a view that government communications are politically motivated as the key contributors to the decline in trust.
  • Other major reasons cited include a one-size-fits-all approach (31%), the government sharing information too slowly (25%) and an outdated approach to communications strategy (23%).

Lawrence J. Parnell, associate professor and director of the Strategic Public Relations master’s program at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, commented that the study offers actionable insights for government and public affairs professionals to improve their communications.

“We know from industry research, such as the Edelman Trust Barometer and others, that trust in government has been declining for several years,” Parnell said. “We thought it important to examine the reasons for this decline and identify opportunities to narrow that trust gap.”

Asked to identify how government could improve its communications, respondents recommended:

  • Modernizing its approach to reach diverse audiences and more socioeconomic categories.
  • Utilizing social media more effectively – specifically Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
  • Devoting resources to hire and train talent and support continuing education for professionals.

“We recognize that disinformation and politicization are significant challenges that require a systemic response,” Parnell said. “However, we are encouraged that the secondary challenges identified in the study are more in our control than we may have realized. Over time, we feel that improving performance in these areas will chip away at the larger barriers to trust noted in our research.”

“As government communicators, we must always have a pulse on the perception of our profession,” Tabitha Clark, NAGC president and senior communications manager for the city of Perry, Georgia, said. “This helps us more effectively deliver crucial information that impacts the daily lives of the citizens we serve. The GW GPA study is a new, vital resource that we can utilize to improve the delivery of our communication to the public.”

“The curriculum in our programs at the GSPM and across CPS are designed to enable our students and alums to make a difference in society,” CPS Dean Liesl Riddle said. “This study will inform our curriculum and programs and enable us to provide cutting-edge learning for our students.”

“The multi-year research partnership we have formed with NAGC, PR Daily, and Axios represents the best in professional and continuing education, and we are grateful for their support and for the work of our distinguished faculty,” Riddle added.


Partner Organizations

The Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University College of Professional Studies is the first and foremost school of applied politics, advocacy, and communications. For more information, visit Connect with GSPM on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @GSPMgwu. 

The National Association of Government Communicators is a professional membership organization dedicated to advocating, promoting and recognizing excellence in government communication, as well as advancing communication as an essential professional resource at every level of local, state, tribal and national government.

Schoen Cooperman Research is a strategic research consulting firm headquartered in New York, that helps political, corporate, and advocacy partners drive transformative change.

Axios is a major media outlet based in Washington, D.C., focusing on politics, business and the economy, technology, and public policy.

Ragan Communications is a leading resource and publisher of information about corporate communications, internal communication, and employee communications.