If you stop and think about it, the last 12 months have seen a transformation in government communication.  We now have:

A lot of this is structural.  But there has also been a step change in how we communicate, with even greater focus on the power of digital and even greater emphasis on evaluating what we do.

Recognising this, GCN is updating the professional competencies for government communicators.  We’ll begin rolling them out across Departments and arms-length bodies in the coming weeks and months. The new communication competencies will be used in conjunction with the new Civil Service Competency Framework, which will be introduced in the next few months.

Please: bear with me here.  I know professional competencies aren’t necessarily the most exciting of subjects.  All too often we think of them only when it’s appraisal time or if we’re going for promotion.  But updating the professional competencies is as significant as all of the other changes of the last year.  The competencies will be a critical tool to strengthen the communications profession.  They will help us focus on the skills and knowledge we need and plan how we can develop and build on best practice.

Firstly, we’ve sharpened up what historically was called the Engage framework.  We now cluster what and how we do things into four distinct phases of activity:

  • Insight – Gaining an accurate and deep understanding of the issue(s).  Using insight to identify target audiences and partners and to inform communications objectives, messages and solutions;
  • Ideas – Developing the communications strategy and plan.  Selecting channels and developing key messages and content for target audiences.  Identifying evaluation criteria;
  • Implementation – Developing and implementing effective communication strategies and plans.  Working with stakeholders and partners to deliver communication;
  • Impact – Assessing the impact and effectiveness of communication.  Reviewing the achievement of objectives.  Identifying lessons learnt and sharing feedback.

For each of these four phases, we have identified core skills and knowledge applicable to all communicators.  We’ve also included specialist skills and knowledge specific to the four main roles found within most government Departments:

  • Press and media
  • Campaigns and marketing
  • Internal communication
  • Digital

Other roles exist – and will continue to exist – outside these four.  And everyone will need to get better at using digital and social media, rather than seeing digital as a standalone team role.  But in general it looks like most government communicators will focus their work on one or more of these strands of activity.  But – and this is a big but – regardless of the specialism you work on, we expect you to develop skills in others too, to become an all-round communicator.  For example, if you work in a press office, we expect you to get better at digital.  If you work in digital, we expect you to become better at developing and running integrated campaigns.

We have simplified the competency framework and aligned grade levels to the Civil Service Competency Framework.  The communications competencies focus on three key career ‘phases’:

  • Development and delivery – AO/IO grades where the priority is on developing your skills and your career and delivering world-class communications activity
  • Emerging managers – SIO grade where you’re expected to take responsibility for managing both projects and project teams
  • Leadership – G7/G6 where you’ll be directing larger programmes of work and inspiring and enabling your colleagues to excel

The competencies will become the basis of our profession, alongside the principles of delivery outlined by PEX(ER) last year.  And in case you’ve forgotten, those principles are:

  • Government communicators who deliver, and don’t just procure
  • The use of digital channels prioritised where appropriate
  • Owned and earned channels used before paid-for media
  • Communication activity delivered through partnerships wherever possible
  • Value for money evidenced through effective evaluation
  • Government communicators working transparently and adhering to propriety guidance

There’s a lot to take in here; some of it may seem a distraction from the day job.  But ensuring the continued professionalism of government communication is vital.

We in GCN will be sharing all this and more with you, your Department, Development Adviser and HR team over the coming months. The new framework will be live on the website by the end of February.  In the meantime, if you have any comments, concerns or questions, you can raise them here or contact claire.fieldsend@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk

Image used under Creative Commons from Patti Haskins.