Moving towards consistently professional communications across Whitehall

Blog post by Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communication

Friday 20 February 2015

In the communications profession, we hear a lot about the need to innovate and ‘keep up’ with the latest initiatives and the need to define what we do. For most of us in GCS, to be effective communicators is also to be innovators.

In the communications profession, we hear a lot about the need to innovate and ‘keep up’ with the latest initiatives and the need to define what we do. For most of us in GCS, to be effective communicators is also to be innovators.

In my last blog I made reference to work being done to improve government communications and, through a series of departmental visits conducted over the past 6 weeks, I’ve been looking to our teams to see where else we can learn from each other and adapt to the new challenges of the current communications environment.

RESERVES OF ENERGY - FITNESS PROGRAMMEAmongst the exceptional examples of innovation I came across was the MoD digital media team’s HM Forces ‘Reserves of Energy: 8 Weeks To Get Fighting Fit’ initiative. This expertly researched weekly call to action on Facebook combines graphics and audience engagement to drive interest and take-up of reserve places, whilst encouraging behaviour change through a fitness regime.

Also of note is the the new Married Couple’s Allowance calculator – use this calculator to work out if you qualify for Married Couple’s Allowance, and how much you might get. You need to be married or in a civil partnership to claim.

Initiatives like these help to secure our reputation as world-class innovators, as well as communicators, and go hand-in-glove with the recent achievements we’ve seen in measuring impact. Efforts made across the GCS to ensure that sound evaluation underpins all of our campaigns are paying dividends, and these efforts are getting noticed. That’s a huge tribute to the work of all professional government communicators – thank you.

With most campaigns now implementing as standard the common components which we recognise as best practice – using Insight, Evaluation, Digital innovation, a Strategic approach, and Partnership working – we can have confidence that the improvements to government communications are working, and most importantly, are delivering successful results for citizens, through campaigns such as Department for Business, Innovation and Skills BIS Business is GREAT  (under the GREAT campaign banner) and @MoJGovUK efforts to support victims of crime The shorthand for this is OASIS – which you can find explained on the GCS website

There’s also been some great cross government working in 2014-15, across Coalition priorities and specific issues – to mention just a few – on the Economy, on Fairness, on Ebola, the Scotland campaign, Wales, and on National Security. And, through our training offer and an increased emphasis on professional development, it’s clear that our teams across GCS are becoming better equipped to answer the demands of the modern communications team.

But, more can be done.

While some teams are adapting at a faster success rate than others, the challenge for us now is to ensure that every team has consistently exceptional levels of strategy, operations and professionalism. Much of this is about communicating changes and best practice to our own staff. I was particularly impressed to see the inroads that Department for Communities and Local Government DCLG had made in their approach to internal communications and their hugely improved People Survey scores. Additionally, we’re doing some great work to help champion leadership across the GCS, through the work of our excellent Inspire cohorts and with a series of roadshows and a conference planned for April.

But what more can we do together to improve and raise standards? Here are a few of my thoughts based on recent Departmental visits:

1. Leadership must improve and should not be top down. The new Civil Service Leadership statement should be embedded into departmental planning and internal comms to ensure we get better at encouraging leaders across all levels. Some teams are already there – the DH and HMRC comms management teams are models of professional leadership.

2. A Common approach to campaigns is still a work in progress – OASIS is used but not universally. This is a challenge for us all to ensure communications has both strategic purpose as well as impact across GCS. It can be done routinely – look at the Home Office Chinese Visas campaign.

3. Closer integration with digital teams is vital – we all need to be following MoD’s lead to move to ‘digital by default’ communications. We all need to be better champions of digital and social media. DFID are excellent in this area as their moving ‘Married at Three, Divorced at Seven’ story of how the UK is improving the prospects for women in Africa shows.

4. Evaluation is now in place but done differently in different departments – while we can now show robust evidence of impact, we need to move to one model for doing so across GCS.

5. We need to develop more effective stakeholder communication. This has been done effectively to date in the Department of Health DH, Department for Transport DfT and Department for Work and Pensions DWP – but the rest of us can learn from their experience.

6. There is a clear challenge in internal communications IC and professional development. Many departments are getting to grips with IC operations but have not yet implemented the IC Excellence model. How can we help to standardise the approach across teams and are we applying the lessons? The Department for Culture, Media and Sport DCMS along with DCLG have shown how improvement can be delivered quickly.

These are my perceptions of what needs to be achieved, but we want to hear your thoughts too. We recently asked staff for comments on how we can better communicate with you as part of the GCS Your Views survey and will be acting on the findings. Meanwhile, you can read more about the GCS Improvement Programme on our website and look out for news of the Conference in April where we hope to explore these lessons further.