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The three big communications challenges facing local government

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A recent report published by the Government Communication Service (GCS) set out in its summary chapter three overarching communications challenges for the public services.

They are:

  1. We need to build public trust through our communications
  2. Communication will be about science not art
  3. Public service communications must keep pace with technology change

The first is a drum I have been beating for a number of years ever since LGcommunications, along with Solace and the LGA, published the Building Trust white paper at the 2013 Solace Summit as the new template for how our communications should be used.

In the intervening time I have come to believe that the T-word (trust) is overused.  Communication alone cannot build trust; behaviours build trust. Good communication that is coherent and honest, however, has a huge role to play.

The defining challenge now facing local government is to renegotiate the contract between local government and local people, so building trust is more important than ever. I like to quote Barry Quirk, the chief executive of Lewisham LBC, who said: “You cannot make anyone trust you; all you can do is behave in a trustworthy fashion.”

Three and a half years ago, when first elected chairman of LGcommunications, I said I wanted to see communications regarded as a science, not an art. So, imagine my joy when I read the concluding chapter of the government report. Over the intervening years, however, I have come to believe the truth is more nuanced. Good communication is more science than art. Council communication teams must have rigour, discipline and good process at the heart of everything they do. Only when we get that right can we afford to be creative. Like the old maxim, it is probably 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration.

On the third point, I am total agreement. Google recently said that technological change will never be as slow as it is today. In local government we must catch up with digital technology and learn to exploit big data if we are to hope to communicate effectively with citizens who are currently embracing these changes faster than we are.

Next week in Coventry the Public Sector Communications Academy, jointly hosted by LGcommunications and the GCS, will bring together some of the best practitioners from local and central government as well as the private sector to help communicators get to grips with these big issues.

Cormac Smith, national chairman, LGcommunications



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