Internal comms in the public sector

Blog by Elizabeth Skeels, internal communications manager for Essex Police

Given the frenetic pace of work over the last five months, I feel like I’ve gained a lifetime’s worth of experience.

Elizabeth Skeels, internal communications manager, Essex Police

It’s so tempting to use words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘historic’ when talking about these ‘current times’ (another ubiquitous phrase at the moment), but I’m sure I’m not alone amongst internal communications professionals when I say that alongside a seismic shift in society, we’ve also seen a once-in-a-career shift in the appreciation for our industry.

I was recently invited by CIPR East Anglia to join a Q&A session alongside Mel Atkinson, corporate external comms manager, for Norfolk County Council, to talk about what I’ve learned whilst being the Internal Communications Manager for Essex Police during the coronavirus pandemic.

I think many of us have emerged with very similar scars from battling the challenges that the pandemic presented. Whether it’s having to support an organisation to adapt to an entirely new way of working overnight or keeping up with the pace of societal and legislative change or desperately trying to understand the latest public health messaging.

To create some kind of structure and consistency during the crazy months of March and April, I used some tried and tested internal communications tactics, including:

  • a resource hub of Covid-19 information and policy on our intranet
  • a weekly, virtual leadership briefing for strategic messages to be shared and cascaded
  • a visible ‘lead’ in force who published regular updates that immediately followed and translated the key messages from the briefings from Number 10
  • a daily briefing document for police officers which collated all the latest operational guidance

We also published regular media briefings on our external messaging, to maximise the opportunities around employee advocacy. This was so important because in times of crisis or uncertainty, the public looks to the police to help and protect them. By providing our employees with direction on our external communications strategy we were able to amplify our messaging and reinforce our policing approach to engage with our communities, building trust and confidence.

Not everything worked – anecdotal feedback from officers is that we over-communicated and the volume of information was too much to absorb. I can completely take that on board. But there were some impressive results:

  • of the new COVID-19 internal channels, we evaluated that our Coronavirus info page had 126% more views than a comparable page for the month of March 2020.
  • 75% of the public surveyed think that Essex Police is doing a good or excellent job policing during the Coronavirus pandemic
  • 82% of the public fully support the approach Essex Police has taken during the pandemic

Most internal communications professionals would love to be able to find a direct, measurable link between internal engagement and external impact. In our case, there’s a definite causal link between the consistent messaging that we used within the organisation and the consistent policing approach our communities experienced and supported in such overwhelming numbers.

During the Comms: inside and out webinar I was asked what I considered to be the greatest success for our communications activities during the last five months of the coronavirus. My answer: getting through it! It’s been incredibly tough and it would be really rewarding to be able to measure everything that we’d done, but I take comfort in the thought that we did our best and we contributed something positive during this devastating global crisis.   

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