Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Information

Major Professor

Elizabeth J. Avery

Committee Members

Candace White, Michael Palenchar, David Houston


One of the current debates in public relations scholarship surrounds how to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of public relations practitioners and programs and the value they add to an organization. Known as the ROI, or return on investment, in public relations, this concept is often hard to define. However, as management demands become stronger for more accountability from public relations departments, the need to effectively address this concern continues to grow. Previous research has shown that a strong indicator of the effectiveness of public relations is the relationship that exists between an organization and its publics.

This study details the relationship between local governments and the citizens they serve. Specifically, it analyzes the different aspects of the relationship and the public relations activities and tactics used to promote and foster relationship development. The research method utilized included the perspectives of both the organization and the public in assessing the organization-public relationship by combining the coorientational approach advocated by Broom (1977) and Broom and Dozier (1990) with the relationship measures proposed by Hon and Grunig (1999) and the tenets of the J.Grunig’s (1989) situational theory of publics.

Using online survey data collected from more than 300 local government officials from municipalities across the United States and more than 300 citizens with various demographic and geographic backgrounds, this research examined the relationship dimensions of control mutuality, trust commitment, and satisfaction. In addition, the study evaluated the communication behaviors of citizens to obtain information to guide local government communicators in message development and strategy and also to determine the issues and tactics that will be most effective.

Results indicate that citizens have a neutral view of the local government-citizen relationship, and local government officials view it more favorably. Furthermore, higher problem recognition, lower constraint recognition, and higher levels of involvement were positively associated with more active communication behaviors of citizens. Findings from the coorientation analysis illustrate that the two groups are in disagreement about the relationship. Dissensus exists between local government officials and citizens; that is, local government officials and citizens are in disagreement, and both parties know they are in disagreement.

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