Tighter budgets mean we must rethink how we work

Dwindling finances in the public sector has increased pressure on comms practitioners to be collaborative and work across organisations, writes Amanda Coleman.

Communication is facing a huge challenge within the public sector. Around 15 or more years ago, when I first started working in this area, the main battle was to get comms recognised as a key enabler for operational business. It was a fight that we won, and with the arrival of social media the frontline nature of comms has never been more obvious.

The challenge we now face is in being able to demonstrate what we know and show the direct impact that PR and comms activity has in supporting the business.

This is the age-old problem for the industry: being able to provide statistics and evaluation that are relevant to the decision makers. I have been interested to see the development of the Barcelona Principles in recent weeks to see if this helps.

All public sector communicators are in the middle of huge change. Dwindling finances have created the requirement for radical changes. Looking ahead five years, my big concern is that we will lose talented and experienced communicators in the cuts but won’t have transformed what we do.

The next decade needs public sector communicators to have a collaborative approach, which means stepping out of supporting one organisation and into a world where we work across agencies.

In Greater Manchester, devolution could lead us to a position where services are provided on a location basis and where comms can then be shared across organisations. It brings with it the need to invest in communicators so they understand the work of each of the agencies whether that is local authority, police, fire or health. By 2030, we could be in a position where there is a Greater Manchester public sector comms team in place.

One certainty about the future of public sector comms is that the role of digital, social media and online will only become stronger. More services are going to be delivered through digital developments and this also means more comms will go that way.

A few years ago people were still reluctant to do online shopping and banking but now it is more acceptable. This brings with it a demand from the public for organisations to provide access and services this way.

Frontline staff will have to become even more effective communicators. As people are more connected there is more opportunity to connect with service users, and with reduced resources across all agencies this is the only way to continue conversations.

This all may seem quite bleak for public sector communicators who may have been working in their organisation for some years. It should not be seen as a dark day but more as a huge opportunity to develop a new way forward in comms that can build on the achievements so far and create a sustainable future.

Amanda Coleman is director of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police

 

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