#FutureComms six months on: measuring our impact and looking ahead

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It’s six months since the launch of #FutureComms – our best practice guide for local government communicators, developed in partnership between LGcomms, the Local Government Association (LGA), Solace and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA). Six months can be a long time in local government and in the spirit of practicing what we preach, the milestone presents a perfect opportunity to look at evaluating its impact, and planning how we can keep strengthening the resource in the future.

To support this work, the LGA included a focus on #FutureComms in our 2018 Heads of Communication Survey, published this week.

To get the vanity metrics out of the way, it was excellent to see that 71 per cent of those surveyed had seen #FutureComms. As a relatively new resource it’s really encouraging to see that the guide is reaching people and that they are finding value in the content. 76 per cent of those surveyed cited the case studies as of most use – illustrating an appetite from our peers to learn from the experiences of others. This was made even clearer by 63 per cent of survey respondents telling us that they would find workshops, events and seminars the most helpful communications support for the year ahead. As the representative body of local government communicators, LGcomms has a key role and responsibility to play in delivering that work.

As an executive committee we will be looking at ways to enhance our already effective seminar programme in the year ahead. With 46 per cent of those surveyed by the LGA telling us that they are already members of LGcomms, we’ve got some strong foundations, but it’s important we continue to develop our work and make signing up an attractive proposition to more authorities.

The heads of communications survey also indicates that some of our wider messages about the value of strategic communications, and the outputs that reflect best practice, are also taking root.

Seventy six per cent of those surveyed by the LGA said that they had a communications strategy aligned to corporate priorities – a key requirement of what good looks like and a vital document for making sure that communication activity reflects the direction of our organisations and the needs of our residents.

The survey also revealed that 74 per cent of respondents meet more often than weekly, or between weekly and monthly, with their chief executive to discuss and plan communications strategy and activity. Sixty three per cent meet their leader with the same regularity. The need to have a close and influential relationship with the leadership of our organisations is a key theme of #FutureComms, and it’s positive to see that so many heads of communications are fostering those links.

It is also great to see the priorities of those surveyed being focused on weighty, strategic priorities such as internal change and transformation programmes (53 per cent), council reputation (53 per cent), or economic development and regeneration (42 per cent) rather than some of the more tactical day-to-day issues.

But there are areas where the results suggest there is more work to do. Only 10 per cent of those surveyed said that they evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their campaigns and channels to a great extent, with 54 per cent saying that they do it to a moderate extent. Sixty per cent of those surveyed do not publish a regular dashboard or report of their activities and evaluation. These statistics needs to change if we want communications to be taken seriously as a strategic, business critical service.

It is clear that people understand this. Sixty six per cent of those surveyed indicated that the most useful future training and professional development sessions for them would be focused on evaluation and insight. Behaviour change (59 per cent) stakeholder engagement (42 per cent) and strategic skills (41 per cent) were also cited as key development needs.

Those are issues we’ll be looking to tackle, not least in our plans to update #FutureComms over the coming months.

While the first version of the resource set out the theory behind what good looks like, and showcased those organisations putting it into practice, we are now looking to develop a diagnostic tool to help councils evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their current approach to communications. We want to help councils across the country better understand how their communications compares to best practice and, most importantly, help colleagues to get the support they need to improve. We’re working with colleagues across the sector to develop the tool but if you would like to get involved in this work, or have ideas of other FutureComms content you would see, do get in touch.

Matt Nicholls is Head of Communications Support and Improvement at the Local Government Association and a member of the LGcomms executive committee.

Posted on 9th January 2019