G20 bailout too large to imagine

Someone told me a factoid just before the holidays. If every dollar in the $1.1 trillion G20 stimulus package was a second, it would add up to 35,000 years. I did try to check the figure and ran out of zeros on my calculator.

The point is not whether the calculation is right. It is that we are talking about such huge numbers that it is almost impossible for anyone to grasp.

It is not just the recent stimulus package that is too vast to understand. Delivering public services in a country of 70 million or so people involves mega numbers.

If the NHS were a country, for example, its £110bn budget would put it around 50th in a global ranking based on GNP.

The challenge for public service PR professionals is to make these vast figures seem real to people. It is not just about personal stories, or anecdotes to show the difference being made, important though these are at making service improvements tangible. It is about demonstrating how these vast sums create the web of services we depend on and what changes are being made to deal with new challenges.

It seems to be getting harder. Not just because in this economic climate the figures seem to be growing by the minute. It is that the media, struggling like all of us to make sense of mega trends, all too often focus on the anecdotal, the personal, even the trivial, without trying to explain the overarching narrative.

That is not to bash the media. I know how hard it is. I spent 20 years trying to explain the world for Reuters. All too often, I ended the day thinking I had failed to do the story justice and had just reinforced stereotypes about the country I was in.

And there are journalists out there trying to make sense of things - it would be invidious to name my favourites.

However, just because it is hard does not mean it cannot be done. It is a daunting challenge for government PR professionals. But it is a vital one. Paul Mylrea is director of comms at the Department for International Development

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