What I learned from this year’s unconference for public sector communicators

I headed to Birmingham earlier this week to join the conversation at CommsCamp and find out what the big topics are for public sector communicators.

It was the second instalment of the annual unconference event, which allows attendees to set the agenda on the day and share their experience and knowledge to tackle common issues.

There were a few recurring topics which came up throughout the day which chimed with what we’re developing with the Digital Action Plan.


It’s good that everyone’s talking about evaluation this year, it’s nothing new of course, but it proves we’re looking to get results rather than chasing shiny trends or vanity publishing.

In discussions on behaviour change and a session on online newsrooms, people were focused on the audience, how do you get your message to the right audience so that they help you to achieve your goals?

We’ve been developing materials to help people tackle evaluation recently, embedding this in their planning approach and explaining things like the Barcelona Principles and how to use valid metrics. AMEC's recent guidance on measuring social media is also worth a look.


Content was a hot topic too. In the session on behaviour change we talked about iterative content development, using A/B splits and measuring how successful your content is as your campaign progresses.

The discussion of whether the press release is dead was inevitable when discussing online newsrooms. For me, as with others in the room, the press release has its place if your audience is journalists. While news media are still an important audience (and ultimately a means of reaching the people you really need to reach) newsrooms don’t necessarily stop here. They can be used to address misconceptions and provide context. Or even to quickly respond to a story to add your line (in a traditional press office sense).

People were also asking about whether local authorities could share campaign collateral, as was the case Nottingham City Council’s short-lived Portfolio platform.

Collateral is just one part of the campaign mix though and is not always transferable. I’m intrigued but unconvinced and would rather see more sharing of campaign strategy and case studies of what works (or doesn’t work) and why.


Naturally I was very interested in discussions on digital skills as I’ve been doing a lot of work on this with Digital Action Plan.

What’s generally agreed is that people need to sharpen up their skills but they would like to know which skills are required in order for them to do their role.

Questions were raised about when people would have time to develop these skills, but it’s critical people do in order to progress. There’ll be those who make time to develop their skills and get on and those who don’t…

As to what skills people will need to develop I’ve been looking at this in the light of GCS’ competency framework.

Digital Skills Framework

These aren’t just skills that are required for people with ‘communications’ in their job title either and I’d be happy to discuss this more if anyone wants to know what we’re up to at Helpful HQ around ‘learning by doing’.