In the past, a great deal of public programme communication strategies have relied on ‘push’ techniques that evolved to market consumer products.
Cutting through the noise in the mass media, communicating relevance and motivating desired behaviours (like buying a particular brand of cold drink on a hot day) came at a high price.
WHH has been a pioneer at partnering Commonwealth entities in collaborations with stakeholders to develop more targeted, engaging channels to reach people and influence behaviours that are more complex than making a discretionary purchase. Targeting and burden-sharing are typically much more cost-effective than mass media campaigns—although TV spots are much cheaper now that so many eyeballs have migrated to the internet!
The theory of stable collaborative arrangements is simple. These arrangements are negotiated between the parties. They serve a set of compatible interests discovered through reciprocal disclosures. They are structured to reduce incentives for any of the parties to game the others. The burden-sharing arrangements are regarded by all parties as equitable, and their own responsibilities are sustainable.
These collaborative approaches combine both communication and adult learning methods. The gold standard in effective learning is achieving a desired change in behaviour. That implies situated learning by individuals and groups.
Social situations in the 21st century tend to involve a mix of digital and face-to-face interactions. Effective, economic access to these situations may be much more available to community or business organisation partners than to Commonwealth entities.
In the not-so-distant past civil society seemed content for a few easily understood bits of information outsiders could understand to be let outdoors, and to stand in queues to talk to people who knew better or could find out; and for massive accruals of information that insiders could understand, if only they could find it, to sit on pins in paper files.
That doesn’t seem to be good enough now. The ethos of the digital world—particularly the small screen mobile world—is that the end user is entitled to expect relevance and interactive ease.
Digital publishing and social media provide context and opportunities to learn how to obtain public services digitally.
Of course, there is still a gap between secured enterprise architectures and the anarchic digital world that is morphing around them. One of the challenges over the next few years will be to develop information architectures, business processes and work flows that enable trusted traffic between those domains.
The re-invention of public programme communication has become critical. Addressing the need involves teaming with people from outside the APS who bring complementary expertise and skills in digital; and people from stakeholder organisations who bring insights into the situations of end users who interact with the programme.
In the new paradigm, public programme managers may be more effective communicators if they work with people in other sectors who have already earned the trust of influencers in their target populations. In the 21st Century, elected government won’t be able to talk over the top of these influencers: they can chat right back.