Handling possible cuts? Why an unsegmented approach could itself send the wrong message?

Early public expenditure announcements and the Queen’s Speech have confirmed what we all knew already, the public sector faces tough times for the next few years.

Reductions in expenditure may fall into a number of categories including top-slicing and recruitment freezes. However, assuming programmes like Total Place continue in some form, there will also be opportunities for public bodies to deliver services in a different and innovative way and that may tie that into a Big Society agenda of more empowered communities being more involved and taking more responsibility.

Will everyone welcome this?

Almost certainly no. Poor communications that does not take account of how people with different values may perceive such changes could exacerbate a difficult situation. Where some people will welcome more empowerment, some may fear it and feel insecure. However one can mitigate this situation with more nuanced and segmented communications.

For example, let us use what may be the narrative that some Council’s develop over the coming year to explain how they are protecting services and engaging with people. It’s likely that a traditional single narrative might be developed along the lines of “helping you to help yourself.”

There is nothing wrong with applying this narrative, however it is unlikely to appeal to all. It is just too Outer Directed in terms of value set and would be seen as a threat by those whose values are Sustenance Driven.

The same also applies to many co-production concepts in the way they are currently presented.

An alternative might be to segment by values that might include the following elements:

  • Inner Directed Change Message: “Helping you to help others”
  • Outer Directed Change Message: “Helping you to help yourself”
  • Sustenance Driven Change Message: “Helping your local community to help you”

Therefore a wider initial narrative might initially be:

“xxxxx is a Council with a long history of strong local communities with people in those communities helping each other.The Council understands that some people fear that the sense of community is being lost and as a result we are absolutely determined to show the strong leadership to ensure that does not happen.

The Council recognises it cannot do everything. Strong local communities are also vitally important.

That is why the Council will take action to improve its services to not only to provide the value for money you are entitled to expect, but also to help strengthen local communities to enable them to help you.

By doing that we will also give you the choices to help you to be able to help yourself and also provide the opportunities that allow you to help others.

The Council will over the coming year talk to you, your family and your local community so that we all work together to achieve that.”

Thus the Outer Directed message is still there and then seen at the core part of a wider message, without being seen as the only aspect that is considered important. In other words instead of creating a single message that is not listened to by all, one creates an overarching narrative with a range of messages that talk the same language as various people’s values.

By doing it this way the Council would retain their core campaign element but also provide a narrative text that is broad enough to reach out to a wider range of people. It also contains enough elements that co-evolve as they receive more feedback, through the course of any engagement process.

Thus one might start with a narrative  which has the three messages evenly represented, with the campaign itself, perhaps initially emphasising the core Outer Directed message that a Council wants to promote. This can then be tested and measured. As the diffusion of the messages across values occurs one of the messages may become more accepted – though for different reasons – by each value group.

Multi-value messages within a single narrative are of course not as effective as a fully segmented set of separate messages, however one or  more of the messages above is likely to engage with almost everybody. This approach may be  a much more reassuring text regarding future service change and co-production than the narrow single message approach that is traditionally adopted. That single message approach is likely to build up unnecessary opposition and create unnecessary dividing lines at too early a stage in the review process.

This is part of a wider approach we have developed that comprises:

  • A democratic engagement approach built around narratives and message houses constructed through insight, which lead to the development of congruent narratives that can engage with prevailing narratives in the community
  • Segmented messaging within the core narrative through the use of value based segmentation to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Peer to peer engagement through both trained front-line staff and authentic local resident communities

Effective segmentation is thus part of a wider approach to insight driven, authentic, locally projected communications.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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