Eight challenges for the Government Communication Service in 2018

Enhancing two-way comms to build trust is one of several challenges for the GCS in 2018, says Alex Aiken
Enhancing two-way comms to build trust is one of several challenges for the GCS in 2018, says Alex Aiken

At the start of 2018 public service communication needs to redouble its efforts to raise standards, deliver timely digital communication and built trust in public institutions.

I am proud that Government Communication Service (GCS) campaigns demonstrated impact and professional excellence in 2017. 

We saw substantial progress on Brexit communication, the national launch of the Industrial Strategy; successful prison officer recruitment; a record number of electors registered to vote; and award-winning public health work. 

These achievements were enabled through improvements made by the profession over several years – for instance a new Modern Media Operation Guide was produced, which sets out for the first time the skills and capabilities required by government media relations teams. 

Our ‘Inspire’ and ‘Early Talent’ training schemes helped 70 colleagues develop their skills to enable them to lead the profession in the future.

However, with a new year comes a new focus. 

We must learn from what we have achieved, push ourselves further and strive to apply our skills to new challenges. 

2018 will no doubt present continued and fresh challenges – many of which will be common across the profession. 

We are seeing changes in the way information is being processed and shared – a tech savvy but disparate audience hungry for information and influenced by a small number of dominant opinion formers in the public eye.

The real test for government communications is being nimble enough to respond to the many challenges thrown at it while remaining a reliable source of information. 

In order to be prepared for this, I have set eight professional challenges for GCS, which could be applicable across the profession:

1. Enhance two-way communications, using active listening to build trust and to better all major government campaigns;

2. Build a rapid response social media capability to deal quickly with disinformation and reclaim a fact-based public debate with a new team to lead this work in the Cabinet Office; 

3. Raise standards by ending opaque digital marketing, with a focus on value, safety and transparency, creating greater accountability for the Government – this will be at the heart of the new Media Buying Contract we’ll implement by the end of the year;

4. Maximise the role of government comms in challenging declining trust in institutions through honest, relevant and responsive campaigns, which will be a theme of the 2018 Government Communications Plan;

5. Demonstrate the role of communication as a valuable strategic tool that can deliver cost-effective public policy solutions; partly through a new approach to strategic communication that we will be implementing from June and is part of our GCS Improvement programme;

6. Work harder to master the techniques of behavioural science and start considering audiences by personality as well as demographic - we’ll be updating our guidance in this area early in the year, publishing a new guide in Liverpool in March;

7. Create engaging content that will be shared and owned by audiences - pictures, videos and facts; and

8. Transform the mass of data we have about audiences into actionable insight, which will be used to improve government campaigns. We’re already analysing data from our campaigns to improve our content and make it relevant to our audiences. 

Over the coming months, the 2018-19 Communications Plan will be published, detailing approximately 140 campaigns, including the provision of vitally important public information for people and businesses as we leave the European Union. 

These eight New Year’s resolutions for 2018 will no doubt be an asset to GCS in the face of the challenges of geopolitical, societal and technological change that this year will bring. 

Alex Aiken executive director of the GCS

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