Many authorities are well resourced, but their ratings for resident information and advocacy remain middling. In contrast, smaller authorities are producing tremendous work and high ratings in many areas.
A new analysis of the best value performance data supports the argument that size doesn’t matter. It finds that there are only three authorities where the score for corporate reputation is higher than that for individual services. Two of these councils, Kensington and Chelsea and Wandsworth, have half the communications staff – combined – of the average London authority.
There seem to be five characteristics common to the successful smaller communications teams.
First, they have clear direction. They have an agreement between the leader, chief and head of communications on the story for the council, articulated through the comms strategy.
Wychavon’s ‘good value, good services’ ethos sums up what authorities should deliver, winning it a string of awards.
Second, they don’t sit communications in a silo. Some smaller teams are actually strategy units, combining policy and communications functions to shape the direction of the organisation. At Fenlands Council, effective internal communications is enhanced by a strong corporate team.
Third, it’s about great research, and this is where many well-resourced communications teams fall down; they ‘carry on implementing’ but never establish an evidence baseline.
Fourth, fewer resources is not an argument for skipping evaluation. It’s the route to winning confidence that communications can deliver. Wycombe’s success in demonstrating public satisfaction with their council magazine was critical to maintaining the role of communications.
Finally, smaller authorities learn to work successfully with others. Their lack of resources means that they have to, evidenced by Preston’s A-Z of services which covers all local services. They manage to pool resources while retaining their identity, and demonstrate to the public that government delivers.