Alex Aiken introduces GCS 2020

Blog post by Alex Aiken

Thursday 7 February 2019

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting departments and agencies to assess the quality of communication and leadership across the GCS. I’ve been extremely impressed by the exceptional work I’ve seen and inspired to consider where we can improve further to use our skills to explain policy and help deliver services.

Alex Aiken

I want to see the best practice used by everyone. Examples like HMRC’s ‘Tax Ducks’ Self Assessment campaign, which helped collect more than £32 billion for our public services in 2018. The successful Foreign Office-led Global Coalition against Daesh. DITs Invest in GREAT campaign, expertly using LinkedIn to drive inward investment project leads, with an estimated benefit of over £165m to date. HSE’s healthy working led to estimated savings of up to £25 million through reducing working days lost by approximately 74,000.

As a profession we can’t afford to stand still. The GCS Skills Survey findings identified the significant progress we have made in a few short years as a profession but showed there was more to do in addressing digital skills and leadership across the profession. The results of the latest Function Survey across the Civil Service showed our average quality rating in 2018 slipped in some areas. While we remain a leading function and profession to me these results highlight the importance of not only maintaining the high standards we have achieved to date in the Government Communication Service but surpassing them as we face a raft of new communications challenges ahead.

These include the need to drive continuous improvement, address structural inefficiencies, streamline recruitment, retain staff and improve the skills of every communicator. At the same time there are major external challenges: Artificial Intelligence, rapid social media, the growing presence of online influencers and disinformation which we need to meet and master, hence the creation of the Rapid Response Unit and the RESIST counter-disinformation toolkit. I summarised these challenges at the start of the year as the need to improve standards, defend our democracy and reassure communities through the effective use of public communication.

In this context we need to step up our efforts to ensure our government communicators are fully motivated, educated and equipped to listen, use behavioural science techniques to respond at pace, manage reputation and public trust in government and tackle disinformation.

That’s why the Directors of Communication have agreed a new programme of improvement called GCS 2020. Our goal is to build the most effective profession in government delivering communication that enables citizens to make the most of their public services.

GCS 2020 is an ambitious portfolio of improvement projects that will be central to raising standards across the profession and ensuring the Government Communication Service is fit for the future – 2020 and beyond.

Directors of Communications have identified four strands for improvement within the Government Communication Service:

  • Leading the GCS Way – articulating our collective expectations for the future direction, leadership & culture of our profession and building leadership capability for those below grade 7;
  • Raising the bar – boosting standards, quality & effectiveness by refreshing our approaches to capability reviews, Talent Management and career progression;
  • Right people, right place, right time – implementing a profession-wide, metrics based workforce strategy that ensures the best use of our skills, abilities and experience;
  • Maximising our scale – enabling greater effectiveness in sharing of best practice, resources and budget on core activities across the Government Communication Service.

These areas of improvement will be delivered through products and interventions as part of a wider GCS continuous improvement portfolio for 19/20 and includes:

  • Accelerate – our ambitious two year programme working with industry leaders to upskill and build world-class digital capability across GCS;
  • Communications Functions Standard – creating a communications standard to set out clear and consistent expectations of the communications function for all public service organisations (one of a suite of Standards including Project Delivery, Commercial, HR and Digital);
  • MCOM2 – revising The Modern Communications Operating Model (MCOM) to set out a refreshed blueprint for core communications disciplines and bring together guidance for professional practice and career development within a single resource;
  • Year of Marketing – GCS will run a series of activities to highlight the evolving role and value of marketing in government and improve the capability and effectiveness of government marketers, including a new approach to buying advertising;
  • Consolidating our existing ‘canon of professional practice’ – embedding the excellent guides and products from our previous improvement programmes and driving excellence using our new Knowledge Hub;
  • The IC Space –our programme of professional development for internal communicators

I believe that together – with your active engagement, this approach will help transform the Government Communication Service, creating positive changes for the profession and our members, helping them to build challenging and fulfilling careers at all levels and disciplines.

The body of work included in GCS 2020 is currently being finalised by the Directors of Communications with support from a project team. It’s an innovative programme that will need input from communicators across government departments, agencies and ALBs to aid it’s development and delivery.

GCS operates to the highest standards of governance from the monthly GCS Ministerial Board, through the monthly Directors of Communications and regular Heads of (news, internal communications, marketing) meetings. To ensure we maintain these standards I’ll be chairing the GCS Improvement Board to support the implementation of GCS 2020, ensuring there’s robust governance in place to deliver it.

There will be more information about how the improvement projects will be implemented in the coming months. Government communicators will have a range of opportunities to get involved and support GCS 2020 – including sharing expertise, joining working groups, attending a range of events and providing feedback.

As I continue on my visits to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and across England I know I will continue to see outstanding work. The GCS 2020 programme will ensure our work continues to be remarkable and the Government Communication Service is prepared to serve our country and meet the demands of the future.

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