Communication Capability Review: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

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1 Communication Capability Review: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills 1

2 1 Management summary 1.1 The Communication Capability Review of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is one of a series across Whitehall. It took place in November and December It is important to note that with a focus on communication capability the reviews have scope for only a brief examination of communication output and outcomes. 1.2 Each review is carried out by a combination of peer and external reviewers. The review methodology is based on interviews and an examination of supplied materials. The reviewers evaluate capability against business requirements using an established assessment framework. This report contains a qualitative capability assessment and recommendations for improvement. 1.3 Communication is a pan organisational responsibility. The review s scope covered the breadth of BIS s external and internal communication, as well as looking specifically at the work of the Communications Directorate. It was not possible to look at the communication capability of BIS s arm s length, Partner bodies in any detail. These are subject to a separate BIS review. 1.4 Interviewees included BIS Communications Directorate staff, BIS officials including Board and Executive Team members, and external critical friends. The latter group included journalists, and stakeholders such as the British Chambers of Commerce, EADS UK, the Engineering Employers' Federation and the CBI. Aims and remit 1.5 BIS is tasked to enable the right conditions for Economic Growth and to remove unnecessary barriers to Growth. This gives BIS a challenging remit. Its breadth of responsibilities include: skills and higher education; innovation and science; business and enterprise; making markets more dynamic and reducing regulation, promoting trade, and helping people to start and grow a business. The Department works closely with other Departments across government to develop and deliver the Growth agenda. A challenging external context 1.6 BIS s agenda is high profile: polling suggests that the economy is seen by citizens as the key political issue. There is a significant political dimension to Growth, both domestically and internationally. The external environment is challenging Growth is low domestically and across many of Britain s key trading nations. In order to have an impact BIS must work with a considerable number of influential stakeholders across its remit. 2

3 Organisational context 1.7 BIS was the product in 2009 of two legacy departments. It went through significant change again in mid 2011 and its headcount reduced by 20% overall. Today BIS is led by seven ministers from both sides of the coalition. 1.8 BIS is supported by 49 Partner organisations, which provide services, information and advice to a wide range of people and organisations. The BIS group shares some services but not communications (with one notable exception, UKTI s press office). The relationship across the BIS group is one of independence but alignment. 1.9 BIS s Communication Directorate encompasses news, marketing, stakeholder, a public enquiries unit and digital communications. Internal communications is now housed in an associated directorate. The communications headcount reduced from FTE in 2010 to 93.6 FTE in , a reduction of approximately one third a greater proportion than the rest of the department. Findings overview 1.10 The challenge of drawing together a cohesive communication strategy for BIS as a whole is considerable. While there is a clear central theme, Growth, the target audience is potentially very broad, the number of departments and public bodies involved in Growth is considerable and one of the four Growth ambitions are not directly owned by BIS Given this challenging context, the review team s assessment is positive overall. BIS s Communications Directorate is operationally sound and well organised. The review team was impressed with the level of commitment to BIS s agenda that participants showed, and with the openness of the respondents it met The review s headline conclusion is that BIS has a significant opportunity to move its communication up a level. In particular there are opportunities to raise performance in strategy and leadership. If implemented, the recommendations in the report would take BIS s communication from good (where it plays an important support and delivery role in the department) to great (where it helps lead the agenda). Given the significance of this agenda and the need for greater clarity on Growth in the wider government narrative this would be beneficial to BIS and to government as a whole. Findings positives 1.13 Communication an important and shared responsibility The review team found a wide consensus in BIS that communication has an important role to play in setting out its plans and reforms, in creating a bridge 1 Data taken from 2012/3 BIS/HMT/DCMS Communication Hub plan 3

4 from policy to delivery, and, in some cases, enabling the delivery of services. In addition, many at BIS see communication as a shared responsibility, and not just the territory of the Communications Directorate. This is particularly the case at a senior level and is welcomed The Communications Directorate has a reputation for professionalism, both within BIS, across government and among those stakeholders and media respondents consulted. Some areas were singled out for praise, in particular: The media relations team s good working relationships with ministers and its reactive media management; The leadership of the digital function; Internal communications. The review team was impressed overall with the work it has been doing following the changes in mid The internal communications function has a better reputation at BIS than in other departments recently reviewed; A range of campaigns, including the Make it in Great Britain campaign, and to a lesser extent, the Business in You campaign; and The Director of Communications, who had a strong reputation overall among those who had worked with him The review team met many committed and motivated communications professionals in the interviews and in the staff workshop. They came across as highly resilient and had a valuable contribution to make to the review. The reviewers also met some high calibre internal policy clients and Special Advisers (SpAds) New strategic bridging role BIS s Communications Directorate is currently recruiting for a forward looking role to act as a bridge between the media relations team and the rest of the Directorate. The role will be based in media relations but should report in to the Director of Communications. The role should give a more strategic focus to the media relations team and boost the Directorate s strategic capability overall. Opportunities for improvement 1.17 The review team identified six main opportunities for improvement Communication strategy, planning and narrative development needs focus and leadership Currently, some key departmental milestones (such as the Autumn Statement) appear to be quite disposable ; the announcements seem to be done and dusted on the day, rather than being the starting point for a narrative about their delivery. This makes it difficult for the Communications Directorate to support Ministers in building a story with a cumulative impact. Seeing policy announcements less in isolation, and 4

5 more as drivers for the broader BIS themes, would start to address this. In addition, BIS does not own the Growth narrative; it is subject to frequent short term initiatives from outside the department too. Despite, or indeed because of these challenges, the review team felt that the role BIS plays in leading the Growth narrative and its communication strategy needs sharpening and simplifying. (This could start with the Industrial strategy.) Communication leadership: influence and visibility The review team heard positive feedback about the leadership and professionalism of the Communications Directorate. It also heard that at present, in part due to new governance structures, the Director of Communications was not having the degree of influence and impact across the department that he could Linked to the above, an over reliance on reactive communication Internal and external respondents described the sheer quantity of work that BIS does. The media relations team works closely with ministers and policy leads to package and communicate much of it in a traditional way. The role that strategic communication can play is often overlooked Communications structure and integration There was positive feedback about each area of the Communications Directorate individually. However the review team s assessment is that it could work in a more integrated and cohesive way. The lack of close integration is a natural consequence of the division into communication specialisms. The Directorate s recent New Ways of Working initiative has had only limited success in its efforts to bring together communications specialists into virtual teams A lack of evidence gathering for communication development and objective setting, and a lack of evaluation As with most other Whitehall departments BIS has curtailed its insight function. BIS carries out evaluation of specific campaigns, runs media analysis and commissions a regular stakeholder attitudes tracking survey. However, the reviewers believe there is much more that the Communications Directorate could do to evaluate activity and, where appropriate, make ongoing improvements A digital communication bottleneck BIS has a stand alone digital team within the BIS Communications Directorate. While this is performing well the structure compartmentalises the use of social media and other forms of engagement. 5

6 Recommendations 1.18 There are five principal recommendations. Recommendation one Sharpen the strategic communication narrative and framework around BIS s priority policy strands, in particular the Industrial Strategy and Growth communications A distilled and focussed narrative would give BIS s policies more cut through and long term impact. It would link speeches, announcements, marketing, stakeholder events and media pieces on each topic around a common theme. This requires clarity and single minded focus in policy making. It also needs appropriate support from No Clear, simple, consistent communication within a common strategic framework demands boldly stated objectives, targets and measurability. They must also entail: a common planning framework to ensure comparability across plans; integration of communications activity around each key narrative strand; and development, in collaboration with policy colleagues, of a simple, high level dashboard of key performance indicators. This should be subject to quarterly review by the Executive Board. These would be signed off by the Executive Team (see Recommendation three). Recommendation two 1.21 The Communications Directorate leadership has the opportunity to take a more visible and influential role across the department. This would galvanise proactive communication to deliver clearer messages on Growth The Director of Communications (DoC) must play a key role in leading this initiative and in working with Ministers, No10 and lead officials to refine and embed it. BIS s DoC is respected across the organisation and beyond, though has a relatively low profile. There is an opportunity for him to galvanise a focussed, single minded communication plan of activity. The DoC will need to switch to a more visible leadership style to drive this through BIS To be effective this narrative will require active support from the Board, Executive team, Ministers and their SpAds. It will require the close working with BIS s partners, and with the No.10 Strategic Communications Team and the Treasury. The DoC and his team should then engage with Partner organisations to ensure alignment and seek areas for enhancement. 6

7 1.24 He should ensure that the right communications resources are deployed against this initiative to deliver the agreed objectives. Recommendation three Elevate conversations and decisions about Growth communication 1.25 A combination of factors result in the communications output appearing quite detached from the senior leadership of the Department: the DoC does not sit on the Executive team; Ministers work closely with their respective Press Office lead but do not look at the overall delivery of Communications; and the Board has never reviewed how effectively communication is supporting the department s aims. The DoC is held to account for the costs and resources, including the third party marketing costs (approximately 20.8m 2 ) of BIS s Partners, but not for communication output The senior leadership of BIS should own a new, tighter Growth narrative and would oversee its performance against key performance indicators. These would include medium term goals to fuel business confidence and growth. The effect of this would be to stitch in the contribution of major policy planks and map the contribution of significant initiatives such as the Industrial Strategy. Recommendation four Develop a Communications Directorate business partnering approach to enable closer working with senior policy leads 1.27 The review team recommend a significant evolution of the current account manager function, to ensure that senior policy colleagues can benefit from trusted and respected communication advice early in the policy development process. The term business partnering encapsulates this relationship but whatever the descriptor, the outcome is more value added collaboration Business partnering performs well at HMRC, where senior communications professionals are dedicated to specific lines of business (each headed by a Director General) and provide advice on and access into the range of communications disciplines and channels. There are different organisation structures to deliver this, but the essential elements of success are: the calibre of the communications business partner (very high quality, senior and with a breadth of experience); and the ability to drive plans from a cross functional team rather than a silo based approach. 2 Data taken from 2012/3 BIS/HMT/DCMS Communication Hub plan 7

8 Recommendation five Drive integration and embed digital within and across the Communications Directorate 1.29 The aim of this recommendation is to improve integration within the Communication Directorate generally, while simultaneously embedding digital practices to obtain: joined up working across communications disciplines; and removal of the current digital communication bottleneck, making digital skills mainstream rather than niche (it is now a normal, mainstream channel). This would empower more staff to use digital engagement techniques across communications tasks The review team recommend deploying the digital team across the Communications Directorate, with a brief to drive up skilling. The team would then report in to the DoC. This approach presents an opportunity to address both issues, through ensuring more integrated working by focussing teams on audience and messaging, rather than discipline. In combination with the business partnership approach described in 1.4 above, and the communication strategy described in 1.3, the Communications Directorate would be able to work in an integrated, channel neutral way. This initiative might require some additional training to ensure colleagues learn, adopt and spread good digital engagement practice. Support and guidance can be obtained from GCN The Communications Directorate's own digital strategy needs to re framed within the overall BIS Digital Strategy and the DoC should develop closer working ties with the relevant Director General to drive this process forward. Further recommendations 1.32 The review team also developed a number of secondary recommendations, which are in the main body of the report. The three most important are below Introduce performance management standards for embedded staff The review met a particularly high performing embedded communications interviewee as part of the review. However, the overall quality of embedded communicators was reported as being very patchy and in general their role, working outside the Communications Directorate s direct sphere of influence, was felt to be a risk. They should become at least part performance managed from within Communication Directorate, assessed against the new GCN competencies and report into the business partner role recommended above. 8

9 Introduce a standard operating model for communications This would have the benefit of creating more rigour and quality control for proactive communications. This is also under development at both DWP and HMRC and these examples should be carefully considered Increase collaboration with partner agencies/strengthen professional leadership This can build on the successful quarterly meetings that the BIS Director of Communications chairs and extend into customer information and channel sharing (along the lines of UCAS and SLC s present collaboration to reach prospective students). This already seems to be happening on the digital and marketing sides. Principal recommendations: suggested actions 1.33 The reviewers have made a number of specific recommended actions and assigned specific deliverables and evidence points to them. The Cabinet Office would be happy to meet with the Director of Communications and the Permanent Secretary and the Director General for People, Communications and Corporate Effectiveness to review improvements in six months and 12 months. Recommended actions Progress in six months Progress in 12 months Develop Growth communication narrative and framework Communications Directorate to assume a more visible and influential role on Growth Elevate conversations about Communications outcomes Develop a business partnering approach to enable closer working with senior policy leads Integrating communications and embedding digital Develop a simpler, clear, focussed narrative and framework to distil and summarise the Government s Growth activity Agree proactive Growth communication plan with Executive team and obtain Board sign off Develop communication reporting mechanisms for the Executive team quarterly Appoint business partners to key communication themes Embed digital experts across the Communications Directorate. Moves reporting line to DoC. Evidence of successful communication as a result of new Growth communication strategy Feedback from BIS Executive team and OGDs that BIS has driven proactive communication on Growth Feedback from the Board and the Executive Team that communication is making a strong strategic contribution Evidence of successful partnering from DoC and from respective DGs. Evidence of integrated communication practices across the Directorate Note: for prioritisation and focus not every section in this report has been given a set of specific time bound actions. 9

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