John Shewell: Successful comms requires keen insight

Insight is one of the key ingredients to improving reputation. It also helps local government comms teams devise a genuinely strategic approach to reputation management.

John Shewell:The key is to understand how data improves lives
John Shewell:The key is to understand how data improves lives

However, understanding what data is required and the reasons why is critical. Gone are the days in which metrics simply 'drive performance' – we need to go beyond this approach and understand how data can improve lives.

We need to understand how data can bring organisations closer to their communities - the networks of citizens, partners and stakeholders.

By placing citizens at the centre we can begin to explore how the organisation and communications orient their services to improve the lives of citizens. Comms teams need to understand the personality of the place and people that live there in order to map a path towards the future.

Brighton & Hove City Council is on a journey towards improving its overall reputation by getting closer to citizens. For example, when the 2008 Place Survey was conducted the council's overall satisfaction score was at 45 per cent placing it amongst the bottom quartile; yet satisfaction with services were consistently over 75 per cent and residents overall satisfaction with the city touching 80 per cent.

But to truly understand what motivates people we scratched beneath the surface of this information. We conducted in-depth focus groups asking citizens to share their views of the council and the city. We conducted a similar exercise online - becoming the first council in the country to map the local online community.

The results were astonishing and painful to read. In short, the council was seen as distant both in terms of the values associated with the city and as a service provider. The image of the faceless bureaucrat was at the forefront of most people's minds.

By mapping these issues we could focus policies and communications in the areas that mattered most to citizens - improving the reputation of Brighton & Hove City Council. A new strategy was devised and executed in 2010 with a single mission: connect council with the place. This included re-branding the organisation to more consistently reflect the city based on our research findings. We then benchmarked performance and monitored progress.

Cut to 2012 and overall resident satisfaction with the council is now at 66 per cent and residents acknowledge the council now closely reflects the city’s values. In short, Brighton & Hove City Council is getting closer to the city it serves.

Data has been critical to our mission and purpose in connecting the council with the place, but the real gold-dust is in understanding citizens’ key concerns and patterns of behaviour. This helps us improve services and build the council’s reputation.

Comms is in the business of building relationships – but to do that well we need to understand our audience.

Brighton & Hove City Council now has a quarterly tracker, regular online sentiment and media monitoring and a perceptions survey. All this helps us understand the people we serve. Going from 45 per cent resident satisfaction to 66 per cent in just two years is a clear signal that data helps gives us information, but context gives us insight.

John Shewell is head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council.

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