The government’s Covid plan for autumn and winter is written to inspire confidence. It opens with a reminder that hospital admissions and deaths remain well below the levels of previous waves, points to the success of the UK’s vaccine programme and highlights the investment heading to the NHS. It majors on “Plan A” to manage the disease, which boils down to further vaccine roll out, ongoing isolation of positive cases, more support for the NHS and social care, clearer advice and some continuing border controls.

Everyone will of course hope that this confidence is well placed. Covid cases and deaths over the summer were not as bad as some feared, and to head back into a dark winter would be devastating. Which is why the occasional warnings in the plan of continuing uncertainty should be taken seriously. Dangerous new ‘variants of concern’ or significant waning immunity could knock everything off course. The experience of the last 18 months vindicates the sobering judgement that “scenarios which place the NHS under extreme and unsustainable pressure remain plausible”.

While the government’s plan does a fair job of describing how it hopes to manage the pandemic, it is vague on how it might reintroduce new measures if necessary. There is also the possibility that the further interventions it describes as a “Plan B” may not be sufficient, and it is silent on what any Plan C might look like.

Plan A is a good description but a poor guide to future action

The combination of measures in Plan A is a fairly convincing summary of how ministers are managing the virus at the moment – though the government should not set too much store by still-shaky border controls or the Test and Trace system. More detail on how the NHS will be configured to respond to Covid as an endemic disease is needed, as is more action on how to alleviate staff vacancies in social care. But the plan reasonably describes how the government will respond to the best-case scenario winter conditions.

Importantly the plan also briefly recognises the critical task of doing more to vaccinate the rest of the world through vaccine sharing and capability building – though these are drowned out by the prospect of third ‘booster’ shots for UK citizens aged 50+.

But the plan remains largely a description of existing or recently announced activity, like the booster shots and jabs for 12–15 year olds, not a guide to action. There is no framework for ministers to explain how they will weigh up economic, health and social factors, and no equivalent of the “data not dates” mantra that we were told guided ministerial decisions through the spring and summer.

The fallback Plan B does not add up to a credible set of Covid interventions

The government has settled on a familiar trigger for tightening measures, its Plan B. Ministers will consider this “if the data suggests the NHS is likely to come under unsustainable pressure”. That makes sense, but unlike the February ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown there is no further detail and no explanation of how ministers and their advisers will assess this danger, or the warning signs that will prompt action. If the government directs the NHS to make another massive redeployment towards Covid activity and again delay elective procedures, for example, then the threshold will be high. If it wants to catch up on the health backlog it will be much lower.

The three interventions contemplated in Plan B are to require mandatory vaccine passports in a small number of settings, to legally mandate face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, and to consider advising more people to work from home. Even these are put forward tentatively, which jars with scientific warnings about “the potential for another large wave of hospitalisations” over the autumn.

If the NHS is on the verge of being put under unsustainable pressure, it is not credible to think that such changes – which some other countries include as part of their ‘Plan As’ – will turn the tide of infections sharply enough to sustain the service through the winter months. Johnson will need more tools in his toolbox like movement restrictions, cancelling large events or further income support for self-isolation to rapidly deploy to reduce hospitalisations and deaths.

The government should tell the public what a worst-case scenario Plan C looks like

The prime minister is treading a fine line between the advice he will be getting from his chief medical officer – notably cautious in recent media appearances – and from his chief whip who has to deal with political pressure from cabinet ministers and increasingly restive government backbenchers. It is the latter consideration that stops Johnson setting out a more comprehensive suite of fallback measures.

Rebellious MPs, and perhaps the prime minister himself, fear that if the government shares a Plan C then it is more likely that such a plan will be deployed, so the closest the prime minister can get to levelling with the public is that “it is not possible to give guarantees” and that “more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort”.

Part of the prime minister’s job is to point the way to his vision of an optimistic future, and the success of the vaccine programme gives the government good reason to focus on the positives. The government’s reluctance to promote draconian measures is a reason to be encouraged, but after 18 months of painful restrictions Johnson should spend more time describing what his government would do if the worst happened than assuring his party about what it won’t. The plans announced this week could collapse quickly if the pandemic once again races ahead of the government’s capacity to respond.

Original source – The Institute for Government

In the age of digital first, the use of paper forms is a problem. These forms are often designed to be printed out and filled in by hand, not completed on a screen. When we make them available on GOV.UK as PDFs, they are​​ harder to use, less accessible, and take more time than a digital form to complete and process. As a department, we continue to rely on these types of forms for a lot of our business. 

But it’s not a simple task to transform a paper form. Typically, it would take a full multi-disciplinary team to research, design, and build. A digital form might also mean new ways of working for the people who manage it. 

Making it easier to build forms

Over the last 3 years, we have been working on a new approach to reduce the time and resources needed to create digital forms. First with the Form Builder platform, and now MoJ Forms, we have already supported the streamlined delivery of 18 digital forms across the department and our agencies.

MoJ Forms is designed for digital professionals but a lot of paper forms are owned by teams who lack this expertise. We have worked with these teams to design, build and support their forms for them, but this model is not scalable.  

Understanding the additional support required

If we want to accelerate the transformation of paper forms across MoJ, we need to be able to support form owners in a more sustainable way. However, we didn’t have a clear understanding of the problem – how many paper forms are there across MoJ and what kind of support might their form owners require?

A team was established in April to run a discovery to investigate the types and levels of support needed and to understand the size of the problem. 

Over the course of five sprints, we ran four phases of user research with participants across MoJ, LAA, OPG, HMCTS and CCRC. We also did a lot of research to understand how many paper forms exist across MoJ. This wasn’t a straightforward question to answer and required a lot of chasing and spreadsheet crunching.

During the discovery we defined and tested three support models:

  1. Self service – we give you the tools (default model)
  2. Supported – our team helps you 
  3. Full transformation – we do it for you

Our expectation is that most teams will follow the self-service model. The support team will offer additional levels of support as and when needed.

We also designed and tested an assessment framework to help our team and operational teams assess the level of support they might require. We think these models and the assessment framework are a strong foundation for supporting non-digital teams.

What we learned

We found that teams across MoJ are eager to transform their paper forms but lack the confidence and expertise to do this without specialist support. Some limited level of support could be provided by the MoJ Forms team, but we lack the capacity to do this at scale without a dedicated support team.

The discovery highlighted the scale of opportunity for MoJ Forms. We identified around 260 paper forms across MoJ and nearly 900 forms across HMCTS that require transformation. HMCTS are establishing their own team of user-centred design professionals to tackle their forms but are keen to continue to use MoJ Forms.

In addition to these existing paper forms, there is a growing number of teams looking to create new forms but who lack digital specialists.

The discovery also validated some of the work we were planning to do in the team already, including:

  • redefining the product support offering
  • clarifying the product proposition 
  • improving the support content and new user experience
  • creating a demo video 
  • continuing to engage closely with HMCTS

What’s next?

To enable this work to continue we recommend establishing a team of 4 digital specialists. This additional team would:

  • further develop the support models and assessment framework
  • engage from the beginning of a form’s transformation
  • create guidance on how to approach user research, project roadmaps and development checklists
  • establish a support forum
  • continue focused research with non-digital teams

We plan to introduce the support team later in the year after we have had time to lay the groundwork and expand MoJ Forms’ capabilities. We know there are a few high-value features that will enable many more teams to use the platform, such as being able to route users around questions depending on their previous answers and helping users with their answers through autocomplete and select features. You can follow our progress on the MoJ Forms product site.

Original source – MOJ Digital & Technology

In the age of digital first, the use of paper forms is a problem. These forms are often designed to be printed out and filled in by hand, not completed on a screen. When we make them available on GOV.UK as PDFs, they are​​ harder to use, less accessible, and take more time than a digital form to complete and process. As a department, we continue to rely on these types of forms for a lot of our business. 

But it’s not a simple task to transform a paper form. Typically, it would take a full multi-disciplinary team to research, design, and build. A digital form might also mean new ways of working for the people who manage it. 

Making it easier to build forms

Over the last 3 years, we have been working on a new approach to reduce the time and resources needed to create digital forms. First with the Form Builder platform, and now MoJ Forms, we have already supported the streamlined delivery of 18 digital forms across the department and our agencies.

MoJ Forms is designed for digital professionals but a lot of paper forms are owned by teams who lack this expertise. We have worked with these teams to design, build and support their forms for them, but this model is not scalable.  

Understanding the additional support required

If we want to accelerate the transformation of paper forms across MoJ, we need to be able to support form owners in a more sustainable way. However, we didn’t have a clear understanding of the problem – how many paper forms are there across MoJ and what kind of support might their form owners require?

A team was established in April to run a discovery to investigate the types and levels of support needed and to understand the size of the problem. 

Over the course of five sprints, we ran four phases of user research with participants across MoJ, LAA, OPG, HMCTS and CCRC. We also did a lot of research to understand how many paper forms exist across MoJ. This wasn’t a straightforward question to answer and required a lot of chasing and spreadsheet crunching.

During the discovery we defined and tested three support models:

  1. Self service – we give you the tools (default model)
  2. Supported – our team helps you 
  3. Full transformation – we do it for you

Our expectation is that most teams will follow the self-service model. The support team will offer additional levels of support as and when needed.

We also designed and tested an assessment framework to help our team and operational teams assess the level of support they might require. We think these models and the assessment framework are a strong foundation for supporting non-digital teams.

What we learned

We found that teams across MoJ are eager to transform their paper forms but lack the confidence and expertise to do this without specialist support. Some limited level of support could be provided by the MoJ Forms team, but we lack the capacity to do this at scale without a dedicated support team.

The discovery highlighted the scale of opportunity for MoJ Forms. We identified around 260 paper forms across MoJ and nearly 900 forms across HMCTS that require transformation. HMCTS are establishing their own team of user-centred design professionals to tackle their forms but are keen to continue to use MoJ Forms.

In addition to these existing paper forms, there is a growing number of teams looking to create new forms but who lack digital specialists.

The discovery also validated some of the work we were planning to do in the team already, including:

  • redefining the product support offering
  • clarifying the product proposition 
  • improving the support content and new user experience
  • creating a demo video 
  • continuing to engage closely with HMCTS

What’s next?

To enable this work to continue we recommend establishing a team of 4 digital specialists. This additional team would:

  • further develop the support models and assessment framework
  • engage from the beginning of a form’s transformation
  • create guidance on how to approach user research, project roadmaps and development checklists
  • establish a support forum
  • continue focused research with non-digital teams

We plan to introduce the support team later in the year after we have had time to lay the groundwork and expand MoJ Forms’ capabilities. We know there are a few high-value features that will enable many more teams to use the platform, such as being able to route users around questions depending on their previous answers and helping users with their answers through autocomplete and select features. You can follow our progress on the MoJ Forms product site.

Original source – MOJ Digital & Technology

Any currency choice for a newly independent Scotland would require its government to bring borrowing down to a sustainable level and commit to low and stable inflation.

This report, published alongside a second paper on how an independent Scotland would borrow, sets out how currency choice and needing to borrow from international markets would affect an independent Scotland’s monetary and fiscal policy, economic and financial stability, and trade opportunities. 

It explains how three currency options – a formal currency union with the rest of the UK, joining the euro, and ‘pegging’ a new Scottish currency to the value of another – are not initially viable.

Whatever currency arrangement it chose, Scotland’s ability to borrow would be restricted by what international investors were willing to lend. The implicit Scottish deficit was over 8% of GDP before coronavirus. No advanced economy – especially no small, advanced economy – has consistently borrowed anything like that much in normal times. A sustainable medium-term deficit would be closer to 3%. But this gap cannot be closed by spending less on defence or – at least initially – through higher growth, so some tax increases or spending cuts would be necessary.

Even a deficit of around 3% per year would see Scotland pay higher interest on its debt than the UK does. In the current low interest rate environment, the IfG estimates that Scotland’s premium over UK rates would be 0.4 to 0.9 percentage points. Initially, this borrowing premium would reflect a lack of a track record of repaying debts. In the medium term, it would mainly be because all smaller countries tend to pay more to borrow than large ones, and because Scotland’s tax base would be more volatile than the UK’s due to its greater reliance on oil and financial services. Scotland would therefore need to spend more on debt interest, requiring lower spending elsewhere or higher taxes.  

Higher borrowing costs and concerns about currency stability could be minimised – though not eliminated – by an independent Scotland putting in place strong, independent institutions (including a new monetary authority and expanding the role of the Scottish Fiscal Commission) and demonstrating a commitment to low and stable inflation and to sustainable fiscal policy.

Original source – The Institute for Government

Any currency choice for a newly independent Scotland would require its government to bring borrowing down to a sustainable level and commit to low and stable inflation.

This report, published alongside a second paper on currency options for an independent Scotland, sets out how currency choice and needing to borrow from international markets would affect an independent Scotland’s monetary and fiscal policy, economic and financial stability, and trade opportunities. 

It explains how three currency options – a formal currency union with the rest of the UK, joining the euro, and ‘pegging’ a new Scottish currency to the value of another – are not initially viable.

Whatever currency arrangement it chose, Scotland’s ability to borrow would be restricted by what international investors were willing to lend. The implicit Scottish deficit was over 8% of GDP before coronavirus. No advanced economy – especially no small, advanced economy – has consistently borrowed anything like that much in normal times. A sustainable medium-term deficit would be closer to 3%. But this gap cannot be closed by spending less on defence or – at least initially – through higher growth, so some tax increases or spending cuts would be necessary.

Even a deficit of around 3% per year would see Scotland pay higher interest on its debt than the UK does. In the current low interest rate environment, the IfG estimates that Scotland’s premium over UK rates would be 0.4 to 0.9 percentage points. Initially, this borrowing premium would reflect a lack of a track record of repaying debts. In the medium term, it would mainly be because all smaller countries tend to pay more to borrow than large ones, and because Scotland’s tax base would be more volatile than the UK’s due to its greater reliance on oil and financial services. Scotland would therefore need to spend more on debt interest, requiring lower spending elsewhere or higher taxes.  

Higher borrowing costs and concerns about currency stability could be minimised – though not eliminated – by an independent Scotland putting in place strong, independent institutions (including a new monetary authority and expanding the role of the Scottish Fiscal Commission) and demonstrating a commitment to low and stable inflation and to sustainable fiscal policy.

Original source – The Institute for Government

Over the past few months I’ve been delving into research on social media algorithms to keep my training deck updated.

Like mystical golden fleeces these evolving rules are secret codes locked in Mark Zuckerburg’s golden throne.

So powerful are they that they can dictate what is rewarded and overlooked on social media. Each platform has one. They are unique and complex. But there are some common themes that run through them all that I’d like to share.

Please remember, the algorithm doesn’t care about what that that middle manager wants. It’s going to tickle the tummy of people doing the things IT likes.  

Don’t repeat yourself. I repeat, don’t repeat yourself

Nobody likes a bore. That same story repeated over and over. But what if the same thing is what you are being asked to do over and over? If you are bored creating it you can bet your audience is too.

Well, for one, think of a variety of ways to tell the tale. Video, an image with text added. But don’t use the same image over and over. When briefing a freelance photographer ask them to take a spray of images moving the camera or the subject so there is some motion. This way the algorithm can work out that this is a different image.

Use a different type face or choice of colours.

Don’t link

All the algorithms HATE, HATE, HATE it when you link away from their site.

They want you to stay and never leave. Why? Becuiase the longer you stay the more attractive you are to advertisers. So, Mark wants you to put your holiday snaps, jokes, events, fundraising, video sharing and messaging of your Gran all in the one place and never leave. So, basically, do the other platforms. Twitter rewards threads and LinkedIn encourages long form posts.  Everyone rewards video.

Tell real human stories

Think of your audience, who are you trying to connect with? New parents? The Edelman Trust barometer every year confirms that ‘someone like yourself’ is trusted higher than the chief executive for routine matters.

So, a homeowner talking about their experience to another homeowner connects and will get more engagement.

The additional benefit of this is that those real people will also have social media accounts where they share your content with friends and family. Make a point of enlisting their help when sharing it and telling them what time you’re posting.

Enlist supporters offline to go online

When you post can you call on a tribe of supporters?

The family who are warning people against swimming in the reservoir because their son drowned have their own network of friends and relatives. So does the staff member who has won an award. Ask them to share the contact with them and tell them what time you’ll look to post, too.

Birmingham City Council have a network where they alert residents when they post COVID-19 information. They ask them to share with their friends, families and communities. That’s such a good idea.

There is no number, there is just quality

Don’t fall into a trap of making yourself post only twice, five time or ten times a day to a particular channel.

The truth is that quality is the benchmark. If its fresh content that will chime with your audience then you’ve got a chance.

If you engage then others will engage

Another consistent trend amongst algorithms is that it encourages and rewards you for engaging with people.

In other words, that may include asking them questions they’re likely to respond to. Answer their questions. Like their Instagram post. Comment on their answer. This stuff isn’t hard. Before the internet it used to be known as manners.

Avoid catch-all studies and look at YOUR data

You can find them if you look online, the ‘best time to post to Twitter’ studies that crunch tens of thousands of tweets. Avoid them. Your audience is your audience and if it’s 18 to 24 Afro Caribbean men think about what time they are likely to be online.

Look at your insights and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Each algorithm has differences

I’ve written about the generalities. If you really want to dig into a platform you need to dig into the research. TikTok, for example, likes it when you use existing video trends. Twitter likes threads. Get to know them.

I’ll go into more detail into soicial media algorithms at the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops here.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

Over the past few months I’ve been delving into research on social media algorithms to keep my training deck updated.

Like mystical golden fleeces these evolving rules are secret codes locked in Mark Zuckerburg’s golden throne.

So powerful are they that they can dictate what is rewarded and overlooked on social media. Each platform has one. They are unique and complex. But there are some common themes that run through them all that I’d like to share.

Please remember, the algorithm doesn’t care about what that that middle manager wants. It’s going to tickle the tummy of people doing the things IT likes.  

Don’t repeat yourself. I repeat, don’t repeat yourself

Nobody likes a bore. That same story repeated over and over. But what if the same thing is what you are being asked to do over and over? If you are bored creating it you can bet your audience is too.

Well, for one, think of a variety of ways to tell the tale. Video, an image with text added. But don’t use the same image over and over. When briefing a freelance photographer ask them to take a spray of images moving the camera or the subject so there is some motion. This way the algorithm can work out that this is a different image.

Use a different type face or choice of colours.

Don’t link

All the algorithms HATE, HATE, HATE it when you link away from their site.

They want you to stay and never leave. Why? Becuiase the longer you stay the more attractive you are to advertisers. So, Mark wants you to put your holiday snaps, jokes, events, fundraising, video sharing and messaging of your Gran all in the one place and never leave. So, basically, do the other platforms. Twitter rewards threads and LinkedIn encourages long form posts.  Everyone rewards video.

Tell real human stories

Think of your audience, who are you trying to connect with? New parents? The Edelman Trust barometer every year confirms that ‘someone like yourself’ is trusted higher than the chief executive for routine matters.

So, a homeowner talking about their experience to another homeowner connects and will get more engagement.

The additional benefit of this is that those real people will also have social media accounts where they share your content with friends and family. Make a point of enlisting their help when sharing it and telling them what time you’re posting.

Enlist supporters offline to go online

When you post can you call on a tribe of supporters?

The family who are warning people against swimming in the reservoir because their son drowned have their own network of friends and relatives. So does the staff member who has won an award. Ask them to share the contact with them and tell them what time you’ll look to post, too.

Birmingham City Council have a network where they alert residents when they post COVID-19 information. They ask them to share with their friends, families and communities. That’s such a good idea.

There is no number, there is just quality

Don’t fall into a trap of making yourself post only twice, five time or ten times a day to a particular channel.

The truth is that quality is the benchmark. If its fresh content that will chime with your audience then you’ve got a chance.

If you engage then others will engage

Another consistent trend amongst algorithms is that it encourages and rewards you for engaging with people.

In other words, that may include asking them questions they’re likely to respond to. Answer their questions. Like their Instagram post. Comment on their answer. This stuff isn’t hard. Before the internet it used to be known as manners.

Avoid catch-all studies and look at YOUR data

You can find them if you look online, the ‘best time to post to Twitter’ studies that crunch tens of thousands of tweets. Avoid them. Your audience is your audience and if it’s 18 to 24 Afro Caribbean men think about what time they are likely to be online.

Look at your insights and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Each algorithm has differences

I’ve written about the generalities. If you really want to dig into a platform you need to dig into the research. TikTok, for example, likes it when you use existing video trends. Twitter likes threads. Get to know them.

I’ll go into more detail into soicial media algorithms at the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops here.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

After months of rumours, Boris Johnson has reshuffled his cabinet to remove some of the most criticised ministers and elevate his allies. In public terms, it may prove underwhelming. He has indeed demoted or sacked the prime targets of public fury and derision – Dominic Raab and Gavin Williamson – but after much delay. That may have stemmed from a reluctance to be told what to do by public clamour. But even though he has broadly chosen to reward competence and penalise failure, he has paid a price in the perception that he would tolerate incompetence for long stretches. The reshuffle also suggests he has put popularity with the Conservative Party first – hence the jettisoning of Robert Buckland, thought to have done well at the Ministry of Justice but lacking much love from members.

What is more, the reshuffle does not obviously advance the priorities of the government – indeed, hinders some of them. The budget and spending review on 27 October are not helped by moving a key Treasury minister although the chancellor stays in place. Civil service reform, a cause to which the government claimed to be wedded, is almost certainly weakened with the moving of Michael Gove. And the standing of foreign policy and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office within the government is in question not so much because of Liz Truss’s arrival there – she did a competent job in International Trade – but because of the way the Afghanistan exit showed how its Whitehall clout had diminished.

This short paper looks at some of the main casualties of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle, and at some of the key questions it poses.

Read our IfG reshuffle live-blog for all the changes to Boris Johnson’s government.

Original source – The Institute for Government

how to write key messages and a strategic narrative.png

Crafting key messages and forming strategic narratives is an essential skill for a communicator, but just where do you begin? Can you really get a compelling message into just 27 words and why should you start why?

by Andy Kirby and Jude Tipper

It turns out that co-authored blogs are kind of tricky to start. 

Two people speaking as one is always a comms minefield, isn’t it? How many times have you been asked to quote two people in a press release or article and you fight it down in your best comms professional voice: “Well, you’d never speak in unison so we can’t write you in unison”.

And yet, here we are trying to do just that.

Our work at NHS Digital on this topic has been a genuine partnership so we figured we’d write this together. But how? 

Would you divide this post up and say who’s writing what bit? Would you bang it out magazine style, as a supposed contrived conversation?

Or should we do that thing where you bracket a particular thought with the name of the author thinking it (Andy) or where you clearly attribute a particularly hilarious pun (Jude). (Oi! I do hilarious puns too! (Andy)). 

See, this is rubbish isn’t it? Hard to write and even harder to read. 

So we’re just going to go with a simple “we”. We hope that’s ok with you.

To be honest, when it comes to this topic we’ve kind of got used to jinxing and finishing each other’s sentences anyway – in a Frozen style (we both have six year old girls so apologies if this reference is lost on some readers. But we doubt anyone has been able to escape that Disney phenomenon).

Anyway, without further ado, we’ll crack on with what you’re here for: our tips and tricks when it comes to key messages and strategic narrative.

Storytelling

We’re storytellers. Chances are, if you’re reading this then you’re a professional public sector communicator. Which makes you a storyteller too.

Who else have you got in your organisation? Nurses, police officers, councillors, firefighters, housing officers, techies, social workers, doctors, traffic wardens, administrators, managers, volunteers, chief execs, receptionists, directors. The list is endless.

They’re storytellers too – in fact they’re the most powerful storytellers you’ve got.

And all good storytellers need a good framework, a decent formula. Pixar are famous for theirs. Shakespeare had one. Tarantino’s got one. Isn’t it about time you had a formula for storytelling too?

Strategic narrative has become a bit of a buzzword lately. It’s reached the ears of boardrooms across the land who are asking for strat narratives as fervently as they’re welcoming the return of the QR code.

Don’t freak out if that request comes to you. All a strategic narrative really is is a solid structure for telling the story you want to be heard by your well-defined audience. It’s key message scaffolding – on which you can build a story – and the creativity comes with how you tell that story.

Creative storytelling isn’t (just!) about sitting around on beanbags coming up with your very best ideas. It can often be a bit more scientific than that and needs a structure – or dare we say, a formula.

But is that going to dampen your creativity? To have a structure for storytelling? Is it going to make your stories a bit repetitive, a bit formulaic?

We’re not sure that’s how any of us would describe a Pixar movie, a Shakespeare play or a Tarantino epic.

Formulas and structures for storytelling work. But we’ve found that you have to nail your key messages and your narrative before you can get creative with it.

Start with why

Let’s say you’re starting a new campaign, project, strategy, rebrand, whatever it is you need to achieve in your day job. Why do you even need a narrative?

Because consistency and repetition matters: it’s how you embed key messages in the minds of your target audience. We need to say it simply and say it often.

In today’s noisy, frenetic, competing surroundings, it’s really important to keep to a consistent message. After all, repetition means retention – that’s what all the research tells us. Political consultant Frank Lutz sums it up perfectly:

“There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.”

You don’t have to listen to us

There are loads of different ways to approach key message development and strategic narratives. We’re not pretending our way is the right way, or indeed the only way. But it’s something we’ve refined and iterated and it’s worked for us.

What we’ve learnt through hours of research into different ways of doing it and even more hours of practical sessions putting tools into practice is this: communications is most certainly an art, but it’s also a science.

We’ve also learnt you don’t have to start from scratch – there are far cleverer people who have done the legwork and produced great theories and models. We’ve based our approach on two of these, that we’ll happily now share.

Key messages in the 27 9 3 format

Key messaging helps create perception in the minds of our target. Here are our golden key message rules:

•   Concise – hence the 27 9 3, more on that below

•   Clear – plain English, avoiding jargon and acronyms

•   Consistent – messages must be repeated if they are to sink in

•   Compelling – meaningful to stimulate action

•   Relevant – balance what we need to communicate with what people actually need/want to know

•   Respectful – never patronising and always inclusive

•   Memorable – easy to recall and repeat

If you’ve heard us speak on this topic then a) you’ll have been delighted by our witty repartee, you lucky thing and b) you’ll have heard us bang on about these magic numbers.

27 9 3 is a way of producing key messages that originated from research in the US: and let’s face it, when you look at their political campaigns – the Americans know a thing or two about the strength of repetition.

With this model the aim is that each set of key messages are no more than 27 words, which can be said in nine seconds and contain three messages.

This was based on research that found:

•   the average length of a quote in print media is 27 words

•   the duration of a sound bite in broadcast media is nine seconds and

•   the average number of messages carried is three.

This discipline of sticking to 27 words is really hard BUT it really helps get you to the very heart of what needs to be heard. And it stops non-comms muggles from turning it into 27,000 words. We’re sure you routinely have that issue too.

Here’s the blank grid you’ll start with:

jude andy 1.png

You have three columns that each have a key message and, going from left to right those are the three messages you’ll use the most often, your elevator pitch. In 27 words.

Beneath those are your supporting messages, your evidence and proof points. They back up your top key message and, again, form up to 27 words.

This 27 9 3 method was used in South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s HSJ award-winning wellbeing campaign, #alloufus. Evaluation from that campaign showed very high levels of message recall and the structure put in place played a significant role.

This same structure was also used in NHS Digital’s NHS App campaign which had an original download target of one million people and now boasts 20 million downloads. (That was, by the way, totally down to this 27 9 3 message structure and absolutely nothing at all to do with a global pandemic.)

You can use this method of producing key messages not only in campaigns but also anywhere you need to have your key message clear, memorable and succinct – for example, it works great for media interview prep.

It’s a tried and tested model but when we started looking at strategic narratives for NHS Digital we took it a step further by introducing another model.

The golden circle

Our strategic narrative work set out to explain what our organisation does, as well as each of our key directorates. So it quickly felt more complex than just banging together a 27 9 3 message grid.

As we said before, some super clever people had done the hard work for us and we just needed to work out how to apply their theories. Enter Simon Sinek, stage left.

Have you heard of Simon Sinek’s ‘golden circle’? If you haven’t then we very strongly suggest you watch his amazing TED talk – it’s one of the most watched of all time.

The golden circle is based on the principle that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. This taps into the bit of our brain, the limbic bit, that’s responsible for emotions and feelings. And it’s a part of the brain that also processes decision-making.

That’s why it’s so powerful when messages communicate with that bit of someone’s brain first, before they engage their rational bit of the brain. Get them feeling something first and it’s this feeling that will influence decision making or a response to a call to action.

We used this model extensively when talking to our colleagues about what they, or our organisation, is here for.

jude andy 2 circles.png

So, we begin in the centre with WHY, our purpose. What’s our motivation and what do we believe in?

Then we move on to HOW, the process. These are the actions we take to achieve our why.

And only then, finally, do we say WHAT we do. The result of our why.

Always remember the theory that too many companies – and people – start with what they do, as opposed to why they do it. But people don’t buy what you do, they use their limbic brain to buy why you do it.

It was fascinating when working with colleagues how many people dive straight into what, as opposed to why. A very powerful and simple question is “why do you exist?” (Not, you as in you, the person. We’re not going all existential here.) Just try asking the people who make up an organisation, a service, project or programme and see what sort of conversation it leads to.

In fact, take a look at your own organisational ‘about us’. Is it full of ‘the what’? Or does it start with why? Try playing around with it and see how quickly and easily you can transform it into copy that makes people feel something, rather than just being informed by it.

Put it together

So, when you overlay the golden circle theory onto the 27 9 3 grid, you get this:

jude andy 3.png

Put it all together, column by column, and ta-daaa! you’ve got yourself a narrative. A narrative that starts with why, takes in the how and only then, finally, gives the what. What a narrative it is! Oh, the places you’ll go!

If you’ve defined your audience, caried out insight, sorted objectives, worked out positioning, brand, sentiment, measurement and all those other wonderful commsy type things then, congratulations, you can also call it strategic.

See, not that big and scary after all?

Of course, we’re being flippant. We know just how much work goes into creating simple and compelling messaging.

You’re never done

And, of course, like the good communicators you are you haven’t sat in a dark room and done this in isolation. No siree, you’ve worked alongside your people, you’ve held workshops, you’ve counted up your 27 words and bartered over what to add in and what to exclude. You’ve involved people every step of the way so they feel as if they own it, they haven’t been done-to, they’ve done-with and are now far more likely to buy in to the next stage of actually using your carefully crafted words.

That’s the thing with comms, the end point can look disarmingly simple but we all know the hard graft, blood, sweat and tears that go into great comms.

And, of course, we don’t need to tell you this…you’re never done when you think you’re done.

Good narratives and messages continually iterate and are under constant review, shifting with the landscapes you’re working in. And your evaluation will tell you how you’re getting on, whether it worked. And it’s this evaluation you use to inform the next phase, to gain your place at the decision-making table, to fly the flag for the complexity of comms quicker than someone can ask you to sprinkle your magic…

We haven’t even got on to the next part of all this which is taking your structure, your formula, and then getting creative with how you tell your stories, to really make them resonate and make them memorable. Which is going to, obviously, depend on your well-defined audience and what you want them to think, feel or do.

Too often, we think formulas and structures will dampen this creativity or stifle our storytelling when, in fact, it’s the very basis on which you must build. Just like Pixar, Shakespeare and Tarantino.

Let’s leave it there, eh? If we get on to the art of bringing your key messages and narratives to life we’ll never stop. We’ll save that for a future blog post.

An offer and thank you

Thanks for reading, we hope it’s helpful. What we haven’t done in this post is include examples of key messages and resulting narratives – because by the time they’re published it’s probably moved on already. But if you’d like any real-life examples, just give us a shout.

What we’ve shown you won’t work for everyone – it’s just a method we’ve developed between us, using some models that were already out there.  And that’s the whole point of creativity: take something, learn from it, develop it and improve it.

It’s been fun playing around with process, we laughed as much as we’ve groaned. Too often, people view creative comms as only the resulting output and don’t consider the process. Which can be fun too!

If we’ve introduced you to models you haven’t heard of before, we hope you like them as much as we do. 27/9/3 and the golden circle are the perfect double act, a bit like the blog authors.

So, there we are. A blog post in perfect unison. Did it work for you? We’d love to know, and we’d love to know how you get on with the techniques we’ve shared.

Back to Frozen. Just in case you were wondering which characters we are…Andy’s the princess with freaky magical powers and Jude is the spunky but kind of annoying one.  (Oi! Leave it out. (Andy) Shut it. You started it! (Jude)).

Andy and Jude work in strategic communications for NHS Digital. You can say hello to them on Twitter at @andrew_kirby1 and @judetipper

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Original source – comms2point0

With recent events resulting in the NHS being pushed to breaking point, the stakes have never been higher for a service that so many of us rely on. Having prioritised responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS Trusts across the UK now have a backlog of referrals which have been delayed or escalated over the past 18 months.

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust saw that it was about time to focus on how the urgent referral service is currently working and explore how it might be improved.

So, the Trust appointed dxw and CCD, a human-centred design agency, to discover how referrals requesting urgent and emergency care result in patients receiving the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

This project not only produced some fascinating insights but shone a light on the power of collaboration to enhance and improve this life-changing service.

The goals of the project, while a challenge, were:

  • to map the Trust’s current urgent referrals service, including what works well, and any problems and pain points
  • to envision a future service including recommendations, concept designs, and prototypes for the highest value improvement ideas

A unique partnership

Although CCD and dxw have previous experience working in healthcare, this project was a unique experience for both companies as it focused more on clinical decision making.

Together, with our team of Trust stakeholders, we had to consider the tense, pressurised decision making processes that are unique to urgent care. We also drilled down into some of the culture of the Trust and explored the collaboration blockers which can arise, both across primary and secondary care, as well as within the hospitals themselves.

Our partnership had to respond to the mixed physical and digital needs of the project. This was unusual, as dxw primarily works with the digital aspect of services while CCD have more involvement with the built environment and physical, on-the-ground experience. Working to our strengths, we took a mixed team of CCD and dxw representatives on a site visit to both Scarborough and York hospitals. This was invaluable to our understanding of the problem area and influenced the proposed solutions but it also helped us uncover and truly understand the human impact and physical and emotional stressors that flow through the process. ​​

dxw and CCD used a user-centered service design approach, incorporating a design sprint to learn and meet the goals of this discovery project. While this was a first for the Trust, and an area they were keen to be a part of and learn from, both dxw and CCD are well versed in adapting these methodologies to meet the needs of projects.

We felt humbled by working with medical experts and the cooperative way in which they treated the project alongside their patient duties, as well as carefully and clearly explaining the reasons behind care and medical decisions.

The challenge: availability and time

With hindsight, the timeline was quite tight and made more challenging due to the complexity of the broad and loosely defined area of urgent referrals.

There was a core team from the Trust, including clinical leads and nurses as well as representatives from digital and information teams, who attended most of the project meetings like planning sessions, standups, and show and tells. However, due to the demanding nature of their work, it was difficult on occasions to get everyone together at the same time.

We overcame this by being flexible in our methods and approach and being open in our communications, sharing our progress, and plans with all members of the core Trust team. We held regular drop-in standups for those of the Trust core team who were available to keep them updated. By adapting the sprint to meet the needs of the project and the limitations of time/availability of the team, we made sure we had as many of the Trust team contributing as possible.

Defining urgent referrals

It became clear quite early on that there are many varying definitions of what urgent referrals are, why they exist, and what happens when patients get referred there. It was challenging enough to understand it to be able to then analyse it and make recommendations.

We decided to make the challenge of defining “urgent referrals” a central part of our interviews with clinical and administrative staff across the Trust asking, “How did each department and each individual think of urgent referrals?”

During user research, we were frequently directed by interviewees to other people and groups who could add to our understanding of urgent referrals. The challenge here was knowing when to stop. If time and resource permitted, we would have explored as many leads as possible, however with the already limited project timeline, the team had to conduct live gap analysis and prioritisation tasks to agree what areas were a must-have-now and which were more appropriate for a future stage of research. For those on the team we were unable to meet with, we generated a full and detailed list of other parties and representatives that the Trust should engage with to continue this area of work.

The scope of the project

Another component of the project was how to align the areas we were looking into, across all of the urgent referral pathways and the Trust itself, to other ongoing or developing areas of work happening at hospital level, Trust level, and the wider NHS.

We were anticipating this to be a challenge, however we weren’t prepared for how difficult it would be to identify these workstreams in the first instance. With so many departments working with their own funding streams and no direct point of contact who oversees these projects. We now recognise how this initial obstacle was actually a real opportunity for improvement.

Learning to transform referrals

What was overwhelmingly clear from the outset is that no one challenge with the referrals process is ever isolated. Each area, department, or opportunity within the Trust will impact another. Many pathways and processes in a single Trust are interwoven from years of delivery and incremental evolution. We learned that you can never just focus on “urgent referrals” because the nature of it impacts Accident & Emergency, Diagnostics, bed management, and discharge. They’re all interdependent and interlinked.

We learned that all departments feel pressure to care for patients and discharge them as soon as possible. This pressure can get passed on from one department to another and can cause conflict, while the varying ward discharge processes add additional complexity.

There are tangible opportunities to improve referrals but it needs buy-in from all parties, including executive teams and budget holders. In addition, technical integration into existing digital infrastructure and reducing steps and handoffs need to be central to any potential solutions for them to be adopted.

The Trust is open to the use of service design and more will need to be done to continue to use design thinking and service design approaches, to go beyond the discovery phase and actually really integrate a solution – not just add another one. This would need buy-in from across the Trust and all those who’ll be using it. It’s evident that the capacity for the necessary level of engagement in a service design process is not necessarily available due to the massive operational pressures.

This was a genuine and successful partnership delivery between dxw and CCD and the Trust who we’re currently in talks to address how they deliver on the recommendations.

The post How to improve urgent referrals? The power of collaboration and a service design approach appeared first on dxw.

Original source – dxw