I attended a small seminar today convened by Cabinet Office civil servants as part of a series on the future of government communications. The theme was public trust and engagement and the learnings for central government from local government and local comms. I broadly said:
one way to garner trust is communications is to put the people you have in your organisation who are trusted into places where people go to seek trusted advice. The long running IPSOS MORI work on trust in professions suggests that for central government it is their staff that are most trusted, their politicians least. Curiously trust in civil servants has doubled since the early 1980s.
a major trusted place where people go for advice is online mutual support forums. Britons make over 100 million comments a year in these. Central and local government have hundreds of thousands of expert public servants sitting in contact centres answering phones who are not allowed to share their knowledge in these forums. I have written a lot about these and when a civil servant as long ago as 2007 commissioned a major review which covered support forums and I wrote for ministers a government response to that review with a set of policy recommendations. Sadly the work wasn’t taken forward by the Central Office of Information who were charged with it and they were thankfully abolished a couple of years later.
people self-provide places where they can find out information and advice – Talk About Local works with many self provided local websites, twitter streams, forums, Facebook pages etc where people have taken the initiative to provide their own communications milieu to meet a need unmet by the market. Despite the odd good example, central and local government still on the whole haven’t got the hang of working with these self-provided outlets.
while better advice and support delivered in a timely way generates trust in itself, all the above puts a more human face on the communication, rather than hiding behind a brand, which helps build trust at an emotional level.
to follow the customer into this complex environment the government communications profession needs to spread communications skills much more widely throughout the workforce to equip them to engage online without basic mistakes set them boundaries and support them when inevitably things go wrong.
The above though is only catching up with what has been self evident over the last five years. A major challenge for all corporate communicators over the next few years will be the rise of algorithm-driven services (the Facebook news feed being the best known if least understood one) and sensor, location and context -driven content being served as cards for instance within a world of apps. Few people have worked this out.
The seminar with austerity coffee was held at Westminster City Hall hosted by Charlie Parker the chief executive and chaired by Alex Aiken head of the government communications service. Also present were people from Reform, the LGS, LGComms, The Campaign Company, Microsoft, Ipsos Mori DWP and Cabinet Office.
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