Talking a language people understand

Times journalist, Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times today, writes about how politicians are failing to get their message across. However this is not just a problem for politicians. It is also a problem for public bodies in how they communicate. As Finkelstein observes in the second half of his article:

Just as bad is that politics is seen as irrelevant. Voters are angry that there aren’t any bollards that prevent the fishmonger’s delivery van from ruining their lawn. Or that their next door neighbour cooks smelly food. Or that they can’t get their child into the school that they want. Or that the nursing staff on ward 7E are rude.

The issue is not that politicians or public bodies can fix these issues straight away, but that they actually show some interest in them, listen to people’s concerns and talk about them to show recognition that these issues are very important to some segments of the public . It is the failure to do this over a number of years that has led to a decline in trust in institutions, that is well known nationally, but also has an impact locally as the 2008 local authority Place Survey showed. And Finkelstein also makes this clear:

Most of politics and most political coverage proceeds as if there was still a reasonable degree of trust. As if the messages were still getting through, still being listened to, still being weighed up. I suppose it would be hard to carry on if the truth were faced.

However there is an alternative that is developing around:

  • Understanding the local narrative and effective values based segmentation of message.
  • Empowering local staff to act as positive advocates of the organisations they work for and able to listen and converse with local people’s concerns
  • Developing local peer to peer communications and advocacy – especially in those communities where word of mouth and locally trusted sources is a powerful medium.

Danny Finkelstein writes about national politicians, but his arguments equally apply to the communications of all public bodies.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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