Pillar 1 of our strategy is about how to foster better collaboration. The big challenges facing the country – levelling up, building our international reputation, meeting our net-zero targets – can only be tackled successfully together. GCS plays an important role in supporting other organisations across government to collaborate better.
To foster and support collaboration GCS requires a clear, shared plan, an ability to overcome institutional barriers to join up campaigns, with a central team designed to support joint working. Collaboration can be achieved by:
- Focussing on audiences, shared outcomes and the benefits we can achieve working together
- Openly sharing audience data and insight so everyone is working with the same information
- Valuing different perspectives and listening to organisational expertise rather than pursuing a top-down approach
- Recognising the need to deliver individual organisational priorities as part of a wider plan
- Creating opportunities for people to connect on a personal level to build trust and joint working
Delivering the Government’s priorities
To be able to collaborate people need shared objectives, a shared understanding of research insight and delivery progress, and policies and processes that support joint working.
Developing the Annual Government Communications Strategy
The annual Government Communications Strategy sets priorities for government communications. Those priorities should be the areas where communications are most able to achieve policy or operational outcomes by changing attitudes or behaviour. Once priorities are agreed, GCS should work to deliver them together.
The strategy will be developed with No10, Permanent Secretaries, and Directors of Communication. It will be agreed by the Prime Minister, which will give Directors of Communication a clear mandate to prioritise work within their team.
We will establish a central strategy and planning function within GCS to help develop and support delivery of that plan. It will be responsible for a planning cycle that gives clarity on what to expect over the year and allows time for collaboration, input and approvals.
The strategy will set clear KPIs with delivery milestones and outcome performance metrics. The strategy and planning function will surface and resolve tensions between different priorities, balancing ambition and feasibility, and fostering collaboration.
The strategy and planning function should develop a common framework and process for delivering campaigns, including standardised approaches to data collection and consistent measurement. This process should give Ministers clear visibility of our confidence in delivery and impact through regular reporting. The function will ensure there is a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for each campaign who has clear responsibilities and is actively supported by Directors of Communication to achieve campaign objectives.
The central strategy and planning function will coordinate and drive the agenda for cross-departmental campaign meetings. These should be focussed on continuous improvement, learning, and collaborative problem solving.
Insight and evaluation
The GCS communications strategy needs to be grounded in and supported by shared audience insights, data analysis, and effective evaluation.
The central GCS function will provide the data, advice and recommendations to facilitate this process; actively listening to citizens as they interact with Government and seeking to understand their views and perspectives as well as the factors influencing their behaviours. Central to the function is a comprehensive research programme, supported by other sources of information including digital data and citizen feedback.
During the pandemic, the behavioural science and data teams played a vital role in informing policy making and communication campaigns across Government. It rapidly shared data, analysis and recommendations across departments helping to set the agenda for debate and decision-making. We are planning to introduce a similar approach for core government priorities, drawing on research and other sources of data to ensure citizens’ voices are heard at every level across Government.
Evaluating the impact of communication activity is as important as providing the insight to inform better policy and communication planning. Central to showcasing impact and learning from what works and what doesn’t, is ensuring that accurate and relevant data is systematically collected from the start and is not considered as an afterthought.
We build on existing standards for best practice communication evaluation across Government, including setting targets and KPIs and calculating return on investment on paid-for campaigns. From 2022/23, this will include revised evaluation standards, improved benchmarking capability and greater clarity on demonstrating value for money, and by March 2024 a GCS data strategy to support best practice measurement, evaluation and adoption of advanced analytical techniques to support the delivery of our shared objectives.
Paid for marketing and spending controls
Funding for communications campaigns generally sits with departmental policy or operations teams. This can make it difficult to reallocate money to new priorities from old. Behavioural change campaigns that are critical to cross-government priorities but which do not fit neatly into an individual departmental programme struggle to secure the funding needed to deliver long-term behavioural change.
We will work with Departments as part of the annual strategy and planning cycle to identify priority campaigns and where we can streamline our messaging. We will be more assertive in using spending controls to improve the quality of campaigns and join up with other departments. We expect collaboration with other departments where appropriate, and will seek assurances that low cost routes are always fully explored.
We will reform the professional assurance process to make it less cumbersome for Departments. This will include digitising the process. We will seek to enforce the use of fewer, trusted government brands, following the model of ‘Skills for Life’ which brings all government training and skills advice under a single brand.
The annual GCS planning cycle can cause campaigns to be concentrated in the last quarter of the financial year. This means we compete with ourselves for the same media space and reduce value for money for taxpayers. Collaboration with external partners in areas such as inbound tourism can be difficult because we have not been able to commit to multi-year funding. From the start of the 2022/23 financial year we will give professional assurance approval for campaigns which run across more than one financial year. The responsibility for ensuring there is funding available to meet commitments entered into for future years will rest with the accounting officer responsible for the campaign expenditure.
Maintaining operational independence
Some Arms Length Bodies (ALBs) are set up to be operationally independent of the government. Sensible collaboration doesn’t mean an end to operational independence. It means coming together where there are shared interests without limiting the ability to pursue individual responsibilities.
The focus of GCS will be on cross-government priorities and objectives which cannot be achieved by any organisation working alone. That partnership should also stretch to partners in the private and third sectors who share our goals, ambitions and values.
Designing a new central GCS operating model
The central GCS team is critical to fostering and supporting collaboration. There are certain things that the central team alone can do. These are the areas where it should focus resources and where it can add the most value to the profession, departments, No10 and the Cabinet Office.
Strategy and coordination
The GCS fulfils a core coordination role – supporting No10 and the Cabinet Office to ensure the Government is speaking with one voice. It sets the cross-government communications priorities that departments and ALBs are expected to deliver. It is responsible for monitoring and driving the delivery of these priorities by other departments and ALBs, centrally overseeing implementation, measuring impact, and holding departments to account.
Standards and assurance
Central GCS drives continuous improvement, promoting the efficiency, effectiveness and reform of government communication. It sets the standards for communications practice across government and its ALBs. It assesses the skills and capabilities of communications professionals across government and provides learning and development to drive improvement. It sets measurable expectations for the management and practice of government communication. The GCS Chief Executive and leadership team advise on appointments to the most senior communications posts in government. Central GCS runs programmes to attract, retain and manage talent. It assures the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing and communications activity, through our professional standards process and spending controls.
Expert and shared services
Central GCS provides services in areas where we can either achieve economies of scale or deliver rare expertise that would otherwise be unavailable to departments individually. It provides shared services in areas such as procuring commercial contracts or delivering apprenticeships. It runs national resilience and major cross-government campaigns involving many Whitehall departments, such as Covid-19, Get Ready for Brexit and GREAT. We provide expert support in specialist areas such as applying behavioural science to change campaigns.
Funding central GCS activities
There are three current sources of funding for central GCS:
Core funding. This covers Cabinet Office core responsibilities and comes directly from the Cabinet Office’s budget. It funds communications staff in No10, the Cabinet Office, and GCS teams responsible for the strategy and co-ordination of government communications activity.
A levy on marketing activity to pay for professional development. There is a levy of 1% on all marketing expenditure above £100,000 spent by Departments and ALBs. This funds activity which is available to all GCS members and benefits the whole profession. It includes work on professional standards, learning and development, and membership of professional organisations such as the PRCA for GCS members. In future years, levy expenditure is expected to decrease as we better consolidate and coordinate marketing spending, but the amount we plan to invest in learning and development and professional accreditation is expected to increase.We will consider a new charging mechanism for those who choose to be part of the new professional accreditation system. This could be funded per FTE, which would help to address the imbalance that sees central government departments account for 30% of GCS’ membership but contribute 60% of levy funding.
Charging for shared or expert services. This covers chargeable activity for discretionary services made available by GCS for departments and ALBs to take advantage of, if they choose. It currently includes charging for shared services such as talent schemes and the apprenticeship programme, and also includes charging for expert services.
Building stronger networks and improving governance
Building stronger networks
GCS is a network of incredible communicators. We have some of the best communicators in the UK, including people who have led communications at major companies including Google, Heathrow, the Premier League, and EDF Energy as well as some of the UK’s top communications agencies. One of the greatest opportunities for GCS is harnessing the power of this network.
We will develop a stronger member offer and create more opportunities for GCS members to collaborate on shared challenges. We will upgrade the GCS website to include a searchable directory. We will create more GCS content for platforms like LinkedIn. We will continue to deliver innovative programmes like Connecting Diverse Voices which puts colleagues from different backgrounds into mutual mentoring relationships.
Collaboration is not limited to within government or the public sector. We already work with a range of commercial suppliers and private and third sector organisations who share our goals and values. We will build further alliances with the private sector and harness its expertise to help us to achieve our goals, quicker.
We will increase dialogue with communications leaders from all sectors to make sure we are spotting and tackling problems together, and exploring new forms of collaboration across campaigns.
Through stronger strategic supplier relationships, we will work to maximise the value, unlock opportunities, and share learnings to support us to thrive. External partners have a mass of training and development programmes that could be made available to GCS members and built into contracts.
We will use ‘red teams’ made up of internal experts, external advisors and secondees to challenge conventional thinking, requiring that major communications campaigns include options showing that alternatives have been evaluated and considered.
GCS Ministerial Board. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies. It is right that our governance includes Ministers and other primary users of the function across government, such as Permanent Secretaries and Chief Operating Officers. They have a role in endorsing functional plans and standards and will be empowered to scrutinise our work and programmes for reform.
External Advisory Board. We will build on the existing GCS Strategy and Evaluation Council to establish a new GCS External Advisory Board. This will make recommendations to GCS senior leadership on strategy, and scrutinise value for money in programmes and effectiveness against published ambitions. External Advisory Board members will be asked to take on discrete projects to help improve GCS. These could include taking part in capability reviews or reviews of functional standards, assessing proposals for major communications campaigns, and reviewing learning and development standards.
Directors of Communication. Directors of Communication for Whitehall Departments will meet weekly to discuss the main cross-government communications issues of the day and to agree proposals for improving the profession. Senior Directors of Communication from ALBs will meet on a monthly basis to discuss how the profession can work together more effectively. This group of experienced communications directors is the key leadership group for the Government Communication Service.
GCS People Board. The GCS People Board is chaired by a Director of Communications and will meet monthly to take forward programmes relating to people, talent, leadership, the curriculum, and learning and development.
GCS Strategy Programme Board. Our programme Board will be made up of GCS leaders, programme directors, and Non-Exec Directors. Its role is to ensure the delivery of the GCS strategy to quality, time and budget.
Improving our crisis planning and response
Collaboration is most important during a crisis. Government needs to work together, speaking with one voice and working to one plan, to maintain public confidence during moments of national stress.
Communicating effectively during a crisis rests on the following capabilities:
- Mature crisis plans, coordination structures, and testing capability
- The ability to horizon scan for potential incidents and mobilise a response, including early mitigating action and testing of plans
- Crisis plan implementation, with well-understood structures, processes, and roles and responsibilities
- Crisis review, with the ability to incorporate learning into plans
GCS has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to quickly stand up resources to respond to a national emergency. We will maintain the best of our GCS Covid-19 response by bringing crisis comms capability into the central strategy and planning function, so that we can ensure lessons learned from Covid-19, Ukraine and other crises are not lost. There is an opportunity to consider what permanent architecture and processes are needed to most effectively plan, implement and learn from a crisis response. We will bring crisis communications capabilities into a central strategy and planning function, responsible for crisis plans, horizon scanning, cross-government crisis coordination, and crisis reviews.
Placing experienced crisis comms professionals within this function will place them at the heart of planning, so they can horizon scan and inject crisis comms thinking into plans. It will build capability in existing teams allowing a flexible approach, with the ability to switch focus as a crisis arises. In crisis response situations, we will have subject matter experts in the team who are able to help, moving into comms delivery roles where needed.