Public Sector: We must seize the opportunity to reconnect with people

Making the case for meeting the cost of public sector comms that can help to narrow the gap between government and the people is a crucial task for 2019.

Now is the time for public sector comms professionals to make the case for investment in communications, argues David Holdstock
Now is the time for public sector comms professionals to make the case for investment in communications, argues David Holdstock

In the coming 12 months, change is likely to be the only constant in public sector communications. Our work with council heads of communication shows that internal change and transformation will dominate the landscape in 2019 as their top priority. Add in a planned Government Spending Review, which will set out its approach to public service spending over the next five years or so, and communicators will have to double their efforts to make the case to invest in communications.

Whether it’s health colleagues making a case for campaign budgets to tackle public health issues, the police on public safety or local government and fire services developing behaviour-change campaigns, expecting investment in comms with no clear purpose, outcomes or public benefit will simply not cut it.

Further developing our approach to evaluation and insight is going to be critical. As well as helping make the case for investment in public services that change lives, when budgets are tight we need to make the case for investing in comms.

The work that has been done across the public sector over recent years to develop a more strategic approach to comms has taken us a considerable way. The best examples in councils, across the Government Communications Service (GCS) and other parts of the public sector have provided clear evidence that strong, strategic communications can change lives.

Over the coming year, we need to ensure everyone is at the same level as the very best. Our FutureComms resource, launched last year, highlights those already doing this.

Attracting new talent and developing our existing people will also be challenging, but I’m confident we have the people who are ready to step up and take public sector comms to the next level. Through programmes such as Future Leaders in local government and Aspire in the GCS, we are seeing our future communications directors emerge. The future looks bright.

However, working with them we need to ensure our sector truly reflects the diverse nature of the communities we serve. And as the communications landscape becomes ever-more demanding, complex and with more flexible and remote working, we will need to ensure mental health and wellbeing are at the top of our agenda for supporting our people.

Finally, technology is set to play a big part in public-sector comms in 2019. We’ve come a long way, but there is a real need for the public sector to embrace newer technologies, such as AI. Much of the work of the public sector is increasingly about behaviour change and ‘nudging’ small changes in behaviour. If tech can help deliver those changes – for example, using apps to self-monitor health or as an alert, voice technology to drive behaviour change, or to develop a more sophisticated approach to insight – it not only provides a better service to our citizens, but it will help lower costs and make our job easier.

At a time when the gap between governments and citizens is widening, this is a real opportunity to reconnect with people.

David Holdstock is director of communications and strategy at the Local Government Association

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