From DWP to the Met: Applying Government planning to internal comms at the UK's largest force

This year will see a major shake-up of the Metropolitan Police's internal comms, with the Government Communication Service's approach to planning and evaluation to be applied to Britain's biggest police force.

Change is coming to the Met's internal comms programme and it will be driven by Yvonne O’Hara
Change is coming to the Met's internal comms programme and it will be driven by Yvonne O’Hara
The move is one of the main priorities for 2017 for Yvonne O’Hara, recently appointed head of internal communications at the police force after more than a decade spent working in large Whitehall departments.

A new campaign methodology is being brought to the planning and delivery of internal comms, and the GCS approach to evaluation of inputs, outputs, outtakes and outcomes is also being introduced.

It is part of a bid to put evaluation at the heart of internal comms and have an "evidence base" to use within the Met "to say this is what’s working, this is what’s not working, and continuously improve, so that’s the single biggest change that I’ll be introducing in 2017," says O’Hara.

She did not set out to pursue a career in communications. The law graduate originally planned to become a solicitor but the lure of storytelling saw her sidetracked into internal comms after a few years working in PR.

O’Hara started out at the Dublin-based consumer agency Kennedy PR, working with brands like Domestos and Persil, which was, says O’Hara, "good in terms of cutting my teeth in communications." 

Several years later, she took on a job as an in-house writer at University College London, which inspired her to specialise in internal comms. "I love stories about real people…it’s those stories and the ability to tell those stories that’s one pillar of internal comms that I really enjoy and I’m very passionate about."

The past decade has seen O'Hara hold a number of senior roles in internal comms in government, including several years at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the then Department of Trade and Industry.
There are many parallels between the government department and the Met, according to the comms chief. She points to them both being public-facing organisations under scrutiny, which are undergoing "massive change programmes."

However, one major difference is the masculine culture at the Met, where a rigid hierarchy exists among staff.

In DWP you have a hierarchy, you know what grade you’re at but its more unspoken, whereas in the Met everybody knows the hierarchy and they know their place in that hierarchy.

Yvonne O’Hara, head of internal communications at the Metropolitan Police
"In DWP you have a hierarchy, you know what grade you’re at but its more unspoken, whereas in the Met everybody knows the hierarchy and they know their place in that hierarchy."

She adds: "You walk into a meeting room and everybody’s in uniform apart from you - it’s a very different feeling…it’s definitely more male…sometimes you’ll be in a room and you and another woman will be the only women in a room of 18 men, so that’s different as well."

As for her biggest challenges in her new role: O’Hara says it is "how change is communicated, how people engage with change and how leaders set the right tone for that change."

While she and her team can help smooth out the bumps, "ultimately it’s the ability of leaders to deliver those messages that will have the greatest impact."

This is why part of her role is to run regular events for senior officers at chief superintendent level or above, and their civilian equivalents.

These comprise ten half-day sessions a year, covering what O’Hara describes as "a combination of a big operational issue, a big change issue, and employee engagement."

Having a dialogue and creating quality content are vital ingredients in good communication, she says. "The greatest myth is that if you pump lots of communications out across lots of different channels, then you have communicated with people."



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