Archive for May, 2010

Handling possible cuts? Why an unsegmented approach could itself send the wrong message?

May 26, 2010

Early public expenditure announcements and the Queen’s Speech have confirmed what we all knew already, the public sector faces tough times for the next few years.

Reductions in expenditure may fall into a number of categories including top-slicing and recruitment freezes. However, assuming programmes like Total Place continue in some form, there will also be opportunities for public bodies to deliver services in a different and innovative way and that may tie that into a Big Society agenda of more empowered communities being more involved and taking more responsibility.

Will everyone welcome this?

Almost certainly no. Poor communications that does not take account of how people with different values may perceive such changes could exacerbate a difficult situation. Where some people will welcome more empowerment, some may fear it and feel insecure. However one can mitigate this situation with more nuanced and segmented communications.

For example, let us use what may be the narrative that some Council’s develop over the coming year to explain how they are protecting services and engaging with people. It’s likely that a traditional single narrative might be developed along the lines of “helping you to help yourself.”

There is nothing wrong with applying this narrative, however it is unlikely to appeal to all. It is just too Outer Directed in terms of value set and would be seen as a threat by those whose values are Sustenance Driven.

The same also applies to many co-production concepts in the way they are currently presented.

An alternative might be to segment by values that might include the following elements:

  • Inner Directed Change Message: “Helping you to help others”
  • Outer Directed Change Message: “Helping you to help yourself”
  • Sustenance Driven Change Message: “Helping your local community to help you”

Therefore a wider initial narrative might initially be:

“xxxxx is a Council with a long history of strong local communities with people in those communities helping each other.The Council understands that some people fear that the sense of community is being lost and as a result we are absolutely determined to show the strong leadership to ensure that does not happen.

The Council recognises it cannot do everything. Strong local communities are also vitally important.

That is why the Council will take action to improve its services to not only to provide the value for money you are entitled to expect, but also to help strengthen local communities to enable them to help you.

By doing that we will also give you the choices to help you to be able to help yourself and also provide the opportunities that allow you to help others.

The Council will over the coming year talk to you, your family and your local community so that we all work together to achieve that.”

Thus the Outer Directed message is still there and then seen at the core part of a wider message, without being seen as the only aspect that is considered important. In other words instead of creating a single message that is not listened to by all, one creates an overarching narrative with a range of messages that talk the same language as various people’s values.

By doing it this way the Council would retain their core campaign element but also provide a narrative text that is broad enough to reach out to a wider range of people. It also contains enough elements that co-evolve as they receive more feedback, through the course of any engagement process.

Thus one might start with a narrative  which has the three messages evenly represented, with the campaign itself, perhaps initially emphasising the core Outer Directed message that a Council wants to promote. This can then be tested and measured. As the diffusion of the messages across values occurs one of the messages may become more accepted – though for different reasons – by each value group.

Multi-value messages within a single narrative are of course not as effective as a fully segmented set of separate messages, however one or  more of the messages above is likely to engage with almost everybody. This approach may be  a much more reassuring text regarding future service change and co-production than the narrow single message approach that is traditionally adopted. That single message approach is likely to build up unnecessary opposition and create unnecessary dividing lines at too early a stage in the review process.

This is part of a wider approach we have developed that comprises:

  • A democratic engagement approach built around narratives and message houses constructed through insight, which lead to the development of congruent narratives that can engage with prevailing narratives in the community
  • Segmented messaging within the core narrative through the use of value based segmentation to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Peer to peer engagement through both trained front-line staff and authentic local resident communities

Effective segmentation is thus part of a wider approach to insight driven, authentic, locally projected communications.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

How well does your organisation talk to Mrs Duffy?

May 24, 2010

Now that the elections are over we can look in more detail at one of the most controversial events of the campaign, for the lessons it might teach us about how to communicate with people who are concerned about unfairness. I refer of course to Gordon Brown’s conversation with Mrs Duffy in Rochdale, and the events that followed.

Much attention has been focused on the Prime Ministerial faux pas involving the Sky TV microphone. However far more interesting is the conversation itself and the immediate reaction.

Mrs Duffy raised a number of concerns relating to the level of the national debt and her fears that her relatives would find it more difficult to access good education than she had. Gordon Brown did listen intently and, as a politician, gave her the facts about what was being done. Mrs Duffy expressed her feeling that she was often not allowed to say what she really thought and, when allowed to continue on these lines, mentioned levels of immigration.

Anyone watching could see that her reference to it was made in a similar spirit to a person saying that bad weather had prevented them from doing something. It was almost an automatic turn of phrase, rather than any unreasonable rant against specific individuals. However, as subsequent events showed, this reference was clearly picked up by the Prime Minister as the key issue from the encounter, when it was not the biggest issue for Mrs Duffy.

During the filmed media interview with Mrs Duffy immediately after Gordon Brown left, she focuses on debt and education, not immigration. Indeed, even though she and he had disagreed, she said she felt she had been listened to and was still intent on supporting the Prime Minister’s party in the elections.

A short while later, when the recording was played back to her, she was then asked for her reaction and replied that what she was most angry about was not being called a bigot, but being called “that woman”. For her, the issue was not about her specific views but the fact that she had been belittled as a human being.

Why is all this important?

Organisations are always happy to give people like Mrs Duffy “the facts”. But what she and many, many others want, first and foremost, is to be listened to and treated like a human being.

The danger of the Mrs Duffy episode is that it will be used as an example of how one should manage communication in terms of avoiding some technical mistake with a microphone, when the real lesson is about how one actually talks to Mrs Duffy and engages in an ongoing conversation with her.

From TCC research into the values and attitudes of people in low cohesion communities, references to immigration are often used as a shorthand for a wider sense of unfair treatment. Focusing on immigration is a way of making sense of a more complex world and the impact of globalisation. We also increasingly believe that it is this shorthand language within such communities that enables people to identify others who hold similar values and might have similar perceptions of unfairness around how they sometimes feel they are treated. In vulnerable communities, identifying people who share similar values makes a lot of sense in a world where external forces are likely to be seen as threatening.

Too often, organisations speak a completely different language built only around facts and rationality rather than warmth and emotion. Moreover, they often use a communications medium that does not connect with people like Mrs Duffy. We know from our work that a comment in a press release from a politician or a senior officer in an organisation is, on its own, no substitute for an empathetic conversation with a well trained and known member of a frontline service, or a conversation with a trusted local person in Mrs Duffy’s own community.

Politicians and public bodies are now debating the need to address the failure to debate immigration issues openly. This is a good thing to do in order to show people like Mrs Duffy that they are seriously being listened to. Class is an important issue here, potentially setting those who can afford to use the services of cheap migrant labour, and do so to save money, against those who feel a sense of fear and unfairness having seen their wages held down through competition with cheaper migrant labour.

Though acknowledging this is a great step forward, there is more. From our primary research and from studying a wide range of indicators of cohesion – some demographic and some political – even some relatively affluent areas indicate similar views regarding unfairness. A detailed socio-economic analysis of communities clearly provides yet more facts, when what is needed in addition is an understanding of values – understanding the why as well as the how of people’s behaviour. Only by understanding values can organisations communicate the warmth and empathy that Mrs Duffy was clearly and rightly expecting when she went out for a loaf of bread and had her unexpected but fateful encounter with a Prime Minister.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

The mutual moment and the case for the “Little Society”?

May 12, 2010

The appointment of a new government clearly means a lot of change in the coming months. It is too early to speculate the detail, as discussions of many manifesto commitments will no doubt take some while and be dependent on the early budget, a spending review in the Autumn and a likely review of local government finance.

Discussions between the coalition partners will need to combine parts of David Cameron’s Big Society and Nick Clegg’s localism. What might be common elements? Some senior Conservative commentators such as Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home have expressed a view about the  Big Society not being clear enough. Was the use of the term “Big”, perhaps a little too conceptual for many voters to grasp and might it have sounded too frightening for some? Perhaps the coalition discussions and wider public debate provide an opportunity for refining this agenda?

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats support less targets, more devolution to the frontline and a commitment to mutual and co-operative provision. Perhaps the eventual coalition compromise here will be for a localised “Little Society” of mutuals?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, there is already an existing model that could be rapidly developed further. NHS Foundation Trusts already have over a million members. TCC know a lot about them having recruited 1 in 6 of them for NHS Trusts. Their members have already made a commitment to local public service provision. Would those members be interested in being the core membership for other local mutual organisations providing other public services? Do we also need to redevelop communications and marketing to reach out to a wider range of people, even those whose values may make them less trusting of big institutions and who may see co-production or the other idea of the “Easy-Council” concept as a threat?

Maybe the “Little Society” could eventually be a “big idea” that emerges from this change of government?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

Community Cohesion matters more than ever

May 10, 2010

What does the General Election tell us about community cohesion? The failure of most smaller parties to win elections might indicate mainstream political debate is completely in the ascendant. However with a post-war record of 12% of voters voting for a range of parties other than the main three, do some communities really feel more cohesive after the elections, despite the actual results this time?

It’s important to recognise that election results are just a snapshot of people’s opinion at the time and that the causes of disaffection and anger that lead to low cohesion are more deep-rooted than the issues raised by politicians seeking votes. In the end those are the symptoms, not the real causes of local disaffection. More crucially some elections may lead to some people now feeling the are completely unrepresented and become even more disengaged. How do those working in public policy tackle that?

The election turnout was also very high at over 65%. Many people voted who would only vote once every five years. An average local election turnout is often in the 30-40% range.  If there are a substantial number of disaffected people, will their disaffection manifest itself far more at local level rather than in a General Election?

In other words if the recent General Election leads you to believe a significant number of people are still disaffected and disengaged, this is not something that can be left for later. It requires early engagement now, through greater insight, better language and more involvement of frontline staff and lay people in communicating emotionally resonant cohesion messages.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

Online Campaigns – Maturity rather than innovation?

May 10, 2010

What did the General Election tell us about the use of online communications? What does it indicate for wider engagement with communities online?

When the last General Election was fought Youtube was three months old and Facebook and Twitter were not around.

There will also be a lot of talk about the photoshopping of political posters. Both Conservatives and Labour had their election posters spoofed heavily in this campaign. In the last few days personalised online videos were circulated by some parties. These were similar to some tools used in the Barack Obama campaign of 2008.

It was clear this time that all these tools were heavily used. But were they mainly used by the highly political and the internet savvy to conduct a conversation amongst themselves? Did much of this really reach out to the less politically committed? Post-election academic surveys and polls will no doubt tell us more

On Polling Day up to a million people used a simple tool on Facebook to simply say they had voted. Did this form of social proof encourage others to also vote? Does this have lessons for other community engagement in future? The Democracy UK on Facebook Page also had a quarter of a million people liking it. These were significant indicators of increased online communications.

What was the perhaps the biggest change in this campaign. Instead of web 2.0 was it  perhaps a far wider usage of web 1.0 tools?

Humble email which has been used in campaigns for the whole of the last decade suddenly seemed to be used as the main tool for public communications. Some candidates reported a far greater number of email sent to them by members of the public than in previous campaigns.

Perhaps we should conclude that, in our rush to look at the latest techniques, do we forget the timescale in the diffusion of innovations. Are the tools some people took for granted in 2000 only now becoming ubiquitous?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

Managing uncertain times

May 10, 2010

It would be foolish to speculate on the outcome of the discussions over the formation of a government over the next few days. Even with a government in place an emergency budget may take longer to debate and also approve. The danger for public bodies is waiting too long for some certainty as to the direction of government policy rather than taking early action now. Some may be used to local authorities with “No overall control” and see this as analogous. That would be a dangerous fallacy. The centralisation of services in the last 30 years means a change of government has far more reaching effects compared to a similar situation in local authorities. At a central government level whole departments or programmes could disappear within two or three months.

At present there are however some certainties that one can start preparing for

1. Budget savings. It goes without saying that there is no change in the likely downward trend in public sector spending in coming year. Whilst it is possible, following CBI announcements over the weekend, that this year will see less change than previously predicted, nevertheless tough decisions are inescapable even in the short-term

2. Managing Change. Apart from budget pressures, technological change and a more localist agenda will also be driving this. Reactive responses will not be enough. In the end taking the lead and taking ownership of the local service transformation will enable one to set the local agenda.

3. Communicating Change. Both the preceding areas will need effective communication. It should never be forgotten that the formation of Governments also leads to the formation of an opposition. The possibility of an early General Election could politicise issues where tough decisions are required. At the same time the election results indicate that there are significant groups of disaffected people in some communities who may feel that they are even less represented by the political process. Many of these are high users of local services and could see change as not representing their values and even more dangerously perceiving them as unfair.

All the above requires thinking through the challenges now and seeking to effectively communicate the changes that will inevitably happen. It can be your change or it can be someone else’s change, but no change is not going to be an option. Managing that change in a sensitive but politically astute way that also takes the local community along with it, will be the biggest challenge in these uncertain times.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

Jeff French writes: Census 2011 – a case for a social marketing campaign?

May 4, 2010

Though the act of postal voting and then voting at the polling station on May 6th there will be substantial public involvement voting for a choice of Government.

Next year comes a less talked-about but massively important example of universal public participation in the shape of the 2011 Census.

This may be the last census in its current form, with the possibilities of new technology, rolling collection and data sharing making huge collection exercise like the Census superfluous.

Whatever it’s future from 2021, the findings of the 2011 Census will nevertheless play a major part in setting the public agenda for the next decade. A glance at most statistical reports produced by local authorities and PCTs reveals many future plans which refer to the 9-year-old 2001 census figures as a baseline for debate and justification for action.

The 2011 census will have a vast impact for years to come on local authorities and NHS bodies. Whilst the Office of National Statistics (ONS) will no doubt promote the Census, some authorities will face greater challenges than others in ensuring that all their residents are registered. Often it’s the most disadvantaged people who are under represented this clearly then impacts on the funding that an authority receives. Ensuring that residents complete the 2011 census will therefore have significant financial implications for local authorities – particularly those with large transient and newly arrived populations – for at least the next decade.

The census is an example of a zero-sum game. If a local authority is under-registered, other authorities are likely to benefit from the distribution of resources at a time when those resources will be particularly under pressure.

Thus, local authorities who may face challenges in registering their residents do have a big financial incentive to raise their game on this issue to protect their communities. The general advertising to promote registration that is planned has an important role, but I do not think that it will be enough and would argue there is a clear basis for a proper social marketing programme to encourage and enable more people to register.

The Challenge

If residents fall through the net, they can’t be accounted for in the budget. According to Local Government Association estimate, census registration in 2001 potentially missed an average of 6,628 people for each of the 172 principal upper tier local authorities in England and Wales – many more in larger authorities. Based on average public expenditure figures, an ineffective census operation could therefore cost a local authority around £30 million per annum – £300 million over the life of the census – as well as profoundly affecting service planning and delivery by underestimating the population of many particularly vulnerable communities. This is not a case of ‘having to do more with less’ but ensuring that every penny needed to deliver services is claimed,

One-size-fits-all national advertising and a traditional census task force approach will only go so far in meeting this challenge. Every council needs to ask itself : Do we have the insight and understanding about the people that we might not be able to register easily?

Local authorities across the country are facing up to the same difficulties:

  • Low levels of census returns in areas of transient populations: students, armed forces, seasonal labour, recent immigrants and multiple-occupied dwellings in both inner cities and smaller districts
  • A lack of enumerators with determination and good local knowledge, particularly in known hard-to-count areas
  • Poor estimates and inadequate population data in hard-to-count areas, with council tax and emigration data poor substitutes for accurate census data
  • Low levels of trust in local authorities leading to a reluctance to provide information
  • No response or even a negative response from groups in the community – not necessarily immediately identifiable groups – to generic messages urging people to register

For many local authorities the stakes could be very high. In an era of budget reductions, missing an opportunity to increase government grants through action now could make a vast difference to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.

A social marketing approach

Evidence from social marketing tells us that not everyone is the same and that different people will respond to different approaches to encourage them to register. Whilst advertising campaigns will work for some, for most people they are just background noise – whilst still others will be turned off by appeals to good citizenship or threats of prosecution.

By understanding the attitudes and values of individuals who are not being counted in a locality, and the particular barriers to census completion that they face, we can develop a social marketing programme that goes beyond the standard social advertising campaigns to engage individuals on their own terms. This could help the ONS and local authorities to understand the narratives and experiences prevailing within different parts of the community and respond in ways that will not be dismissed out of hand.

Social marketing campaigns across a range of public issues have demonstrated that message carriers are crucial: in many cases local people will trust messages from people they already know far more than what their local authority tells them. Peer-to-peer and word-of-mouth communications through the creation of local networks could be quickly established not just for the census, but for other forms of engagement and behavioural change. These could significantly assist in building uptake with hard to reach and hard to engage groups. Research on social marketing projects around the world has also demonstrated that people need to either value something in order to take action or for it to be very easy for them to do, ideally involving no effort, ie default systems. So for some people rewards or incentives might need to be developed , and whatever system is developed it needs to make it easy for people to do the right thing.

So now is the time for every council to begin to draw up a systematic plan to maximize registration with every sub segment of their population. This will involve gathering and analysing insights about what will help and motivate local residents to register and then putting in place a broad range of actions to ensure that an accurate picture of their population is achieved during 2011.

Professor Jeff French is a non-executive Director of The Campaign Company, a professor at Brunel University and a Fellow at Kings College University of London. He founded and established the National Social Marketing Centre in England and currently is chief executive of Strategic Social Marketing Ltd. He will be a keynote speaker at the 2nd World Social Marketing Conference in 2011 in Dublin