Public sector communications is challenging. In Northern Ireland, it is no less so. It’s also changing. Last year, a group of professionals came together to set up the Northern Ireland Public Sector Communications Forum (NIPSCF).
We have been supported in this journey by the Cabinet Office and Government Communications Services.
We wanted to build a network of well-structured, skilled and unified professionals who communicate effectively, innovatively and speak directly to their audiences through the right channels and in the right ways.
We wanted to share and develop best practice, build skills, develop networks and identify more opportunities for collaboration across sectors.
One year on, the Forum is a rich diversity of practitioners from many disciplines and services, a body of communications professionals from Executive departments, local authorities and arms lengths bodies.
A collegiate approach will ensure that what we do on a daily basis puts citizens at the heart of our communications and will achieve better results.
As part of our work, we have identified three key themes for public sector communications improvement – leadership, common ground and citizen focus.
The leadership group has been identifying best practice in managing communications with leaders outside of the profession; building the reputation of professional communications in the public sector and securing senior level buy-in for the development of effective, strategic communications.
So, next week, we bring communications commissioners, leads and practitioners together at an event in Belfast, where we launch our official guide to modern public sector communications in NI.
The guide is a living document, shaped by our professional experiences, insights, skills and expertise and we are asking leaders across public sector organisations to support us in our work to professionalise, standardise and raise the profile and quality of communications across the sector.
We advocate the core skills of audience insight, media handling, campaigns, creative content, internal communications excellence and evaluation.
We recognise that campaigns will differ from one organisation to the other, yet we have common ground so can build alliances and inspire each other to work together.
Our common ground group has created a register where organisations can share priorities, audiences and campaigns and add to a calendar of key milestones and events.
The citizen focus group has explored how practitioners from across the many disciplines can share knowledge and insight.
They’ve looked at how we collectively use skills and knowledge to test communications messaging, gain better insight and put the audience at the heart of our communications strategies.
Many public sector organisations in Northern Ireland will not have large communications teams or budgets so the Forum can help them achieve their objectives.
This includes free training and support from the Forum and others, networking opportunities and general advice on the development of communication strategies.
Our guide also showcases the great work already happening in public sector comms teams, including examples of the power of planned, strategic modern communications which are helping to change people’s lives for the better.
Michelle Canning is chair of the NIPSCF Leadership Group
This article first appeared in PRWeek