Happy fifth birthday to the Government Communication Service

Blog post by David Rose, Head of GCS Communications and Governance

Monday 1 April 2019

In 2018 we celebrated 100 years of government communication, marking the founding of the Ministry of Information. This year, we mark the fifth birthday of the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Happy Birthday cake

The new Government Communication Service officially opened its doors to members 1 April 2014. The new GCS launched in January 2014, setting out to move beyond the loose network of the then-Government Communication Network (GCN). The ambition for GCS as a profession and for individual members was to be more unified, less bureaucratic, and more skilled.

Five years ago – read

Earlier this year GCS launched an ambitious ‘Raising our Standards’ programme that brings together the GCS2020, Accelerate and Year of Marketing programmes under a single banner. GCS members can expect to hear a lot more about these in the coming months.

To mark our fifth year we have taken the opportunity to look back at five years of continuous improvement through the GCS Improvement Programme, a truly collective effort that has drawn on the commitment and skills of volunteer GCS members to develop a world-class communications profession.

David Rose who has served as Head of Standards and Secretary of the Ministerial Board over the past five years said: “It’s been exciting seeing the development of a new community, collaboration on campaigns and substantial professional improvement. It’s also true that the demands on government communicators have increased. In 2014 we started with a focus on evaluation and standards, we are now dealing with the digital Accelerate programme and opportunities and threats like AI and disinformation.”

A world-class profession – Five years of continuous improvement

Through the five completed phases of the GCS Improvement Programme, we have succeeded in building and delivering an impressive canon of professional practice which has enhanced the reputation of communications, the profession and Function across government, and in the communications industry both in the UK and internationally.

In November 2017, GCS launched Phase Five of the GCS Improvement Programme which consisted of six project strands:

  • Strategic Purpose of Government Communications: this project aimed to define the strategic role of communications and through Strategic Communication MCOM function guide set out the core functions of a strategic communications team;
  • Business Partnering set out the principles and practice for effective communications business partners operating as critical links between communications teams and the rest of the organisation. See the business partnering guide;
  • Strategic Engagement to External Affairs: moving GCS beyond stakeholder engagement, this created a new definition, principles and External Affairs Operating Model for this essential MCOM discipline; and
  • The Engage programme, a digital transformation workstream which established the Accelerate programme currently being rolled out across GCS;
  • Emergency Planning Communication this project shared lessons learned and best practice from across UK public services, central and local government, health and emergency services; and
  • A project to build on existing platforms (leadershio, campaigns and digital) in order to drive Professional Excellence.

GCS Improvement Programme Phases One, Two, Three and Four

Phase four of the programme consisted of four projects:

  • The GCS Story campaign relaunched the GCS membership offer to all government departments, agencies and arms length bodies, with a new GCS Handbook for all members, a revised professional development offer and networking opportunities;
  • Improving Professional Capability: this project built on evidence obtained through the annual GCS Skills Survey to address skills gaps across the profession. The project introduced a new Professional Development Plan for all members and Professional Development Standards for all departments;
  • Modern Media Operation: this project, led by Heads of News, created the model of best practice for media relations. The \ set out, for the first time, the skills and capabilities required of government media relations teams; and
  • Single Campaign Approach: this project formalised work to identify ways to collectively improve GCS campaign activity by a single approach to audiences, shared campaigns, government brands and partnerships see Delivering Excellence in Partnership Marketing.

Phase Three (September 2015 – August 2016) drew upon the success of the first two phases to bring together a programme of five projects:

  • To create a more unified profession through the ‘single service’ Modern Communications Operating Model (MCOM) and establish firm governance;
  • Internal Change and Engagement – to raise the overall standard of internal communications across all government departments and agencies and helping to improve staff engagement. See ICspace for guidance, tools and resources.
  • Professional and Personal Capabilities – building a capable workforce through recruitment, talent management, employee engagement, and learning and development. Projects focussed on leadership and saw the launch of the GCS Diversity and Inclusion strategy to ensure that GCS becomes a profession that is more representative of the public it serves;
  • Set clear professional standards, published in the GCS Handbook;
  • Public Service Co-operation, through closer working between central government departments and local authorities and their related public services. We continue to work in partnership including the Public Service Communications Joint Council (bringing together the central, local government, health and emergency service communications professions) and the annual Public Service Communications Academy, the UK’s biggest public service communications professional development event – this year’s Academy will be held in Manchester November 2019.

Phase One and Two of the programme saw the foundation of GCS (from the previous Government Communication Network GCN) through the implementation of over 100 improvement actions, including improved evaluation (Evaluation Council and GCS Evaluation Framework 2.0), cost-effective communications, and enhanced internal engagement.