I was talking to someone about the challenges communicators face in the NHS and they summed up a frustration I had long been unable to put into words, “The problem with communications in the NHS is that if the channel doesn’t include every audience known to man in wholesome, utopian perfection people won’t give it a go.” In other words if it isn’t perfect in all facets we won’t try it.
In my experience in NHS comms much of this stems from three issues:
1. Lack of evaluated work
2. A low understanding by the client of the comms channels on offer
3. The risk averse personality of the NHS.
All are utterly fixable.
Taking the first point. When was the last time you saw a NHS England wide evaluation of a comms channel e.g. billboards? And at a more local level when were you last given access to figures showing how successful posters are in a surgery?
It is my experience that communications activity decisions aren’t made in a evidence based manner – we do what we’ve always done because that’s what we know. How can we help guide colleagues to what we consider to be the best strategy/channel if we have no evidence for it being better than what they’ve done in the past.
On point two, our client’s understanding, I think it comes down to us as educators. I posted about this a year ago or so as #nhssm started growing and I believe the points still stand. Much of it rests on good client relationship management – something which will be more important than ever if the communications function in the NHS becomes an internal agency.
Finally I believe the year on year bashing of the NHS in the press has left us with a staff population who are often worried of trying something new. The absolute fundamental of learning, improving and innovating is the ability to make a mistake. In the clinical world of the NHS this is understandably strongly mitigated against, but in the administrative side too often we’re not given room to fail. It is down to senior NHS comms staff to be the enablers of innovation and I think that excepting failure as an option when trying new ideas would be a fine start.
Forget utopia, pick pragmatism and give that new idea a go. Just make sure you let it fail early if it doesn’t work*.
* unlike the huge NHS IT balls up which has only added to potential future risk adverse decisions and yet more non-standardisation [IMO].