5 steps to building generational change

It’s been an extraordinary couple of years for public service communicators in Whitehall, agencies, councils and especially in the NHS and our emergency services.  We’ve learnt much and worked together over Brexit and the pandemic.  

Many senior communicators tell me that they are more highly regarded because of the work they have done and the impact that it has had, protecting lives and livelihoods. 

Consolidate a new approach to public service communication

It’s clear that coronavirus (COVID-19) will be with us for some time and we’ll have to continue to communicate behaviours and utilise technology to keep people safe as we  build back better. As communicators, we’ve developed and now need to consolidate a new approach to public service communication based on what we’ve learnt across what went well and less well.

Much of this was set out in the GCS COVID-19 Advisory Panel report, using the best ideas from our leading communication bodies – the PRCA, CIPR, IoIC, Local Government Association and CIM. It set out 8 really clear lessons on use of technology, techniques to influencing behaviour for public good, capable media teams, thoughtful internal communication, better digital application, the power of partnership, countering disinformation and using the whole communication toolkit – proper strategic communication – effectively.   

In essence, it means public service communication as a united profession, a force for good, delivering campaigns that save and improve lives and strengthen the democratic dialogue. We can achieve this because we bring the views of citizens, businesses and communities to the decision-makers, influence effectively and recruit and retain the best people through the quality of our work and strength of our professional development. I believe that we are an essential public service, one that provides the information for people to make informed decisions. As we will see this week, with the renewal of the GREAT campaign, we have a crucial role to help secure jobs, trade and investment for the UK. 

We have achieved much, but I’m concerned that public service communicators, locally and nationally risk losing these advantages unless we do 5 things, urgently. 

1. Strengthen and embed learning

First, strengthen and embed learning. This is why we’ve introduced a new Curriculum for GCS at every grade to practitioner, advanced and expert standard. We must master the skills that enable us to speak expertly in the boardroom when advice is asked for and decisions are taken.  

2. Bind talent together

Second, we need to bind brilliant creative talent together with deep technical and operational skills. At the moment, technical competence from filming to data analysis is underutilised. I’ve recently completed professional development on commercial management, data and how to make better decisions, issues which are now essential for a modern communications leader.

3. Recognise our impact

Third, recognise that communication does have a real impact. It can protect, save and enhance lives but it is still undervalued. So, we have to get better at analysing, presenting and making the case for our outcomes. This means investment in evaluation and insight, econometric analysis and consistently asking whether we have the right budget and whether the campaign is value for money. 

4. Break down silos

Fourth, break down silos and boundaries and work as a single team with shared resources and capabilities and openly with partners for common goals. The communication hubs and shared budgets which lead the cross-government COVID-19 and UK Transition campaign teams have shared capabilities, from research through marketing to media and external affairs and a common understanding of audience needs. These are excellent examples of pooling staff resources from across many departments and agencies. 

5. Work together at every level

Finally, work together at every level from Whitehall to the Town Hall and health service. And ensure that we bring the best and most capable people into the practice of communication – this means a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience. The GCS Summer intern scheme is a model that could be applied to the whole of public service. My team can provide guidance on how to do this effectively if other authorities are keen to embrace this.

Brave, bold and confident

This is why I’m leading Reshaping GCS – to unify, modernise and improve government communication. It’s why we have created a new Leadership Group, Curriculum and united approach to government campaigns. 

The whole industry can work together to deliver a generational change in the quality and practice of communication, similar to that which occurred when we started really understanding the use of digital in the early 2000s.

This year, I’ve seen the power of communication create better public health, support businesses, find people jobs, recruit public servants, defeat 5G conspiracies, build economic confidence and strengthen democracies across the world. 

We should be brave, bold and confident as we use our professional practice to further enhance our public services. 

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