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The Government CommsPlan – why everyone in public affairs should read it

The release of plans and programmes across government do not always make much impact. But it would be foolish to ignore the release of the 2016/17 Government Communications Plan.Writing in the foreword to the plan, Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, says that:

‘powerful public communication helps explain and deliver our key priorities’

He goes on to say that the Government will use ‘commercial partnerships’ to ‘extend our reach and obtain the best value possible form our communications’. The Minister is making it quite clear from the outset that the old ways of centrally imposed communications have gone. Instead, the approach is to work closely with the private sector, and all the modern technologies available, to make communications effective.But what, in particular, should those in public affairs take from the plan?

  • Collaboration – the commitment to working with others, across public and private, across departments and between central and local government runs throughout the plan. This tells us that whilst there is a plan in place, that the detail campaigns will be worked on by a range organisations. It also says that the chances of one body wandering off and doing completely its own thing is minimal. That helps to provide certainty and also involves the careful consideration of relevant stakeholders as well.
  • Department priorities – the priorities for each department are clearly set out in the plan. Of course, we are talking about politics as well so new or different priorities can emerge. Events do have a habit of getting in the way. But the plan sets out in very precise terms what is expected of each department in its communications and contains some specific campaigns as well. Again, all useful when thinking about engagement.
  • Campaigns – the plan provides clarity on the major campaigns coming forward in 2016/17 which can be used to help support your own public affairs campaigns and decide on timings. It may be that your campaigning priorities may not be the priorities of the Government. That is useful too and can be built into the tactics that you may need to employ.
  • A commitment to learning and development – the plan provides a few useful hints and tips about boosting the skills and expertise of your team. This includes peer-to-peer learning, mentoring and accelerated learning. All this is against a background of a high level of professional standards
  • The improvement agenda – the opening statement related to this agenda can be applied to any of us working in public affairs as much as across the Government Communication Service (GCS) so is worth repeating in full:

‘Our goal is to build an ever-more skilled, productive and unified Government Communication Service; one that is always seeking to innovate and adopt global best practice and is committed to relentless evaluation, accountability and improvement.’

The plan claims that this approach has already delivered benefits.

  • Measurement and evaluation – all the help that public affairs can get where it comes to this seems to be valuable. The table outlining the evaluation framework is particularly important. The framework sets out a recommended core set of measures (across inputs, outputs, outtakes, outcomes and organisation impact). There is no reason why this cannot be applied to public affairs as well.
It is a document rich in content so whether it is discussing the Modern Communications Operating Model or the OASIS guide to campaign planning, the plan is worth reading around as well.There is no doubt that since becoming the Executive Director of Government Communication, Alex Aiken, has made a massive impact. This latest Plan shows that progress continues to be made.

To dismiss it simply as just another report from Government would be to miss out on the practical advice it has to offer as well as the tactical implications it may have for your campaigns.

It is well worth spending some time with.

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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