The 5 Best Reports on the Future of Public Service Communications

Following on from last week’s From Theory to Practice event, attendee and Westco partner Russell Pask offers up 5 excellent reports on the future of public sector comms:  

The key starting point for communicators wanting to find out more is GCS’s Future of Public Service Communications.  This report sets out many of the key challenges in communications in local government over the coming years. It is directed at creating a more skilled, unified communications profession using strategic communications to deliver great campaigns through behavioural insight, effective implementation and impact evaluation.

This approach is then viewed through the key drivers for change: use of digital, communications trends, building trust and professional capacity, and the game changing tools that will enable this change to happen like the power of new tech and big data.

This report’s conclusions about the future of communications is that it will be focused on building public trust in communications, about communications being much more science than art and keeping pace with technology change.

There are lots of possibilities suggested by this report and it will help communicators begin to frame their thinking about what kind of communications they should be delivering in the future and what kind of team they need to do this.

As a companion piece, the CIPR report Influence for Impact covers some of the same territory but has a much greater focus on the challenges of austerity to communications.  Seen in this context, this report suggests that communications in the future are often going to be delivered by non-specialists in service areas and communicators need to trust staff to communicate directly with audiences through a range of channels.

Consequently, the report emphasizes the importance of engaging with staff throughout the organisation and building partnerships outside the council. Influencing skills are then seen as vitally important for communicators as well as being better trained in offering guidance on communications to others.

This report concludes that there needs to be a new model of communications based on a paradigm of influence: influencing is more important than ever before because digital transformation and reduced resources have disseminated communication activity through the organisation. 

With greater demands and fewer resources, communicators need to prioritise and be practical. They also have to consider providing their services outside the council to other organisations and businesses to generate income. Finally, communicators need to reaffirm the value of communications to their organisational leadership.

If these are the two reports which offer specific thinking around the future of communications, there are several other reports which will set the context for communications in the next few years. Managing Demand Future Public Services (RSA) is an interesting report that looks at the emerging science of demand management along with the developing principles of public service reform with examples of best practice from local councils.

On big data, we would recommend the report by Eddie Copeland Small Pieces Loosely Joined as a good way to start thinking about the challenges for your council of big data, how it could be harnessed and relevant to communications. A key insight from this report is that setting up a team working on big data can provide the motivation to get things happening.

Communicators have an important role to play in behavioural change and an excellent introduction to this area is the Behavioural Insight Team’s EAST: Four Simple Ways to Apply Behavioural Insights.

Each element of the framework is designed around well-established behavioural theory principles and should be embedded in any primary, preliminary research.