How to integrate policy and communications

There are a number of key steps to ensure that a successful partnership is formed between communication and policy teams

Be committed to the whole process

To be successful, the communications team needs to:

  • be aware of long-term activity, issues and ongoing policy development, so that communications can be actively involved in the development of policy from the outset
  • be represented on the core project team and understand the detail and nuances of what the policy development is aiming to achieve
  • be aware of how different parts of the communications team can add value
  • be responsible for a workstream
  • bring together cross-disciplinary communications teams at key points
  • be involved in weekly stocktake meetings
  • have a senior communications specialist on the steering board, this is essential for very big projects

Be an ambassador for excellent communications

Providing policy teams with practical information on how they can work most effectively with communication colleagues is vital if the partnership is to work successfully.

  • Do you have a portfolio of case studies to demonstrate the value of communications in policy delivery?

Compile as wide-ranging a portfolio as possible. In particular, include case studies that demonstrate how insight into a target audience has influenced policy development, delivery or communications approaches.

  • Do you share success across the department?

Regular articles, blog and case studies on your intranet reporting on success, on how a problem was tackled and what the results were, can be a good way of spreading information. Make sure there is a communications element to any face-to-face briefings on major policy developments.

Understand policy good practice

It is important to understand how policy is developed and the daily challenges that policy teams face. Without this knowledge, you risk delivering communications solutions that fail to acknowledge the subtleties of the policy you are communicating.

Do you understand why and how the policy you are communicating has been developed?

  • Have you or any other communications colleagues been involved?
  • Are you familiar with the business case and strategy?
  • Do you know what insight has been gained into the target audiences?
  • Are you aware of the wider political significance of the initiative?

Are there any sensitivities around communicating a specific policy?

This is particularly important if you intend to work with an external agency, which won’t have been party to internal discussions. For example, has a minister given a specific steer on the direction they would like to see an initiative take? Has a policy been worded in a particular way, to avoid over-committing resources or setting unrealistic expectations?

Does your department facilitate secondments to a policy team?

Secondments are a particularly effective way of experiencing the challenges that policy colleagues face in their work. A shorter-term solution could be to spend a day working with your policy contact and offer policy officials the same opportunity to see how the communications team works.

Work to joint plans and procedures

Even when communications are considered alongside policy from the start of a project, you still need to ensure that you work very closely with policy colleagues on a daily basis.

Do policy and communications teams meet regularly to prioritise joint objectives?

This enables forward planning and helps ensure that communications are not seen as an add-on, but as integral to the policy forward plan. Communications strategies should always be linked to HM Government priorities and the overall departmental strategies.

Do your procedures involve policy officials in communications processes?

  • Do you have mechanisms in place to allow policy officials to contribute to the development and approval of briefs?
  • Do you include policy officials in the evaluation of solutions and communications initiatives?

What opportunities are there for you to contribute to policy development processes?

  • Do you share research or insight into the target audiences that will help inform the policy and how it may be delivered?
  • Do you routinely circulate relevant media and campaign evaluation reports?

Do you work with policy teams to find new ways of working together?

Can you identify cost savings and benefits that will improve the way you work and help make policy development, delivery and communication more efficient?

Maintain the partnership

Building and sustaining an effective partnership with a policy team to deliver excellent communications can take time. Policy and communications teams both have essential roles to play and different expertise.

Excellent communicators will help policy teams to understand the value that communications can add. They will also be accessible and respect differing views – even if they disagree.

Are you accessible and visible to policy officials?

  • Do they know what you and your team do and who you are?
  • Do they understand the different roles played by different parts of the communications team, for example MCOM: strategic communications, digital, media and campaigns, strategic engagement/external affairs and internal communications?
  • Do you make time to talk to policy officials and understand their role?

Put yourself in the policy officials’ shoes

They may have spent months developing a single policy, gaining buy-in from lots of stakeholders, and they will want you to be aware of the political sensitivities behind it when communicating it to different audiences.

Are you aware of a policy colleague’s communications experience?

Some will have years of experience of working with communications, and may have experience of delivering communication themselves; others might need more guidance or information about how it works in your department. Take time to help their understanding and learn from their expertise.