THE LEADERS' REPORT

Influence

Like respect, you don't just get it: you earn it

Our research suggests that the potential of government communication is frequently overlooked or discredited. Respondents cited that they frequently lack access to and influence in critical conversations that shape strategy and policy. They feel they are brought in at the wrong stage of policy development and delivery. As a result, respondents believe they struggle to deliver integrated communication, politicians fail to see the benefit of it, and government leaders insufficiently finance it (because they perceive communication as an expense rather than an investment).

The research reveals a number of possible explanations for this lack of influence including:

  • Skill sets: are government communicators equipped to participate in strategic and complex discussions? Only one in three respondents agree that senior management sufficiently understands social and digital marketing
  • Awareness: do other professions within government recognise the breadth of specialisms that exist within communication? Thirty-five percent of respondents said that a lack of awareness of communication within their organisation inhibits performance
  • Structures: does the communication function operate effectively across government silos? A third of respondents are frustrated by their organisation's hierarchy and lack of collaboration
  • Impact: is the impact of government communication adequately evaluated? Sixty percent of respondents evaluate their performance against communication outcomes rather than policy outcomes

The Detail

Overwhelmingly, participants in this research believe they operate in outdated hierarchies and overly-bureaucratic processes. They cite a lack of risk taking and agility in wider government as limiting their freedom to innovate and improve.

Question. Respondents asked to rank their functions on a scale between opposing cultural attributes:

At a leadership level, 39% of leaders say they do not report into sufficiently senior levels within government. As a result, they are unable to drive a strategic communication agenda within the highest echelons of government. They find it difficult to initiate reform. They also struggle to act as trusted advisors. Indeed, a number of respondents feel they are actively distrusted by ministers and senior officials on the grounds that they engage with the media – despite this being a key tenet of their role. This is particularly the case amongst low performing communication functions where one in four respondents identified a lack of credibility within theIr own organisation as a key challenge to effective communication.

"Somehow we became very expendable. Our influence has to start at the top because, as you know, a lot of difficult conversations need to be had." – Communication Leader, Australasia

"Communication teams follow instructions instead of working as partners." – Communication Leader, South America

What can be done?

The research suggests three key areas for improvement for senior government communicators:

  • The ability to demonstrate the impact of what they do
  • The ability to act as influential experts within their organisations
  • The ability to help governments deliver effective public policy.

Successfully demonstrating impact depends on having the right:

  • Objectives or performance indicators: 40% of respondents say communication is evaluated against communication objectives (such as reach and awareness) and not policy objectives (such as impact, influence and effect)
  • Partners: our research suggests that higher-performing communication functions work in partnership with policy teams to develop objectives that are bespoke to each project, and written into strategic briefs at the outset and assessed continuously rather than solely at the end
  • Skills and tools: the higher-performing teams include research and data specialists and make use of all available data.

We believe that government communication leaders cannot influence effectively without demonstrating how they contribute to the delivery of government policies. Evaluation systems based on logic models can demonstrate the outputs, outcomes and organisational impact of communication. We work to a version of the UK Government Communication Service’s evaluation framework. Few participants in The Leaders’ Report work to such a disciplined model.

Logic Model. For more information, see The Government & Public Sector Practice or UK Government Communication Service

"We know that the communication industry is very poor at both formativeresearch and evaluation. Therein lies one of the big problems: what they dois creative, very creative… but it is not evidence based and built on data.This is one of the big failings of the communications industry… if you havegot enough data you can change even the most hard-headed leader." –Communication Academic, Australasia

Providing evidence of impact however, is only half the solution. What isclear from The Leaders' Report is that government communication leadersmust also improve their own ability to influence. Respondents recognisedthat they need to play a more decisive role in areas including:

  • Managing competing and often contradictory policy issues
  • Enabling stronger cross-government collaboration on policy priorities
  • Improving co-ordination between individual ministries and government as a whole
  • Clarifying the governance and accountability of the communications function
  • Overcoming cultural inhibitors such as risk aversion.

"To be a good communication leader, you need to be able to describe theendstate, what communications can achieve, and that's improvements in society.You need to be professionally at the top of your game because unless you candemonstrate knowledge of your discipline, you have no licence tooperate." –Communication Leader, Western Europe

Tools and approaches that can help

We offer a variety of services that help communication leaders influencewithin and across government. These include:

  • Cutting edge data analytics and campaign evaluation
  • Efficiency and effectiveness modelling
  • Advisory on the digital transformation of public services