Thinking big … Staff development in a changing communication environment.

We live in interesting times … interesting times that we don’t fully understand.

Most of the seismic political and societal earthquakes that have occurred over the last few years have been, to a large degree, orchestrated through the power of communication. From cultural schisms to national disasters, the old methodologies of communication have been torn to shreds. Centres of power have shifted from traditional media and PR agencies to new information brokers and those who can navigate and manipulate the online and digital media economies and ecologies.

And major organisations, public and private, are struggling to keep up and adapt to the new informational reality. Further, the pace of change in accelerating.

Our contention is that all staff members, not just communications officers, need to reboot their understanding of this reality in order to carry out their functions in achieving policy goals and communicate effectively in times of uncertainty and crisis. This requires the acquisition of a serious depth of knowledge which is largely missing from staff development programmes, leading to at best, operational inefficiencies, and at worst, strategic failures.

Our mission is to bridge the gap between intuitive, heuristic knowledge and vital and visceral understanding and application of today’s communication spaces and modes. In the fields of development, diplomacy and defence the need is considerable, as seen in the need for effective behavioural change in development programmes, through the waxing and waning of soft power to the countering of violent extremism and state propaganda. Equally, those operating in challenging circumstances, either mired in deep and divisive politics through to genuine crises threatening public safety, now have to account for an increasingly noisy and complex communication ecology.

Filter bubbles, fake news, computational propaganda, salient messaging, behavioural communication, digital strategy, information ecology, campaign planning — the understanding and application of these should no longer be the purview of experts or ‘gurus’. These are areas of knowledge and understanding that should be, to coin a phrase, ‘for the many, not the few’. This requires organisations to think comprehensively, break out of silos and recognise new realities. It’s time for all to think big.

Are we crying wolf? Of course, this talk of new paradigms, of a sense of urgency, is nothing new but after taking a sober and considered view of the world around us over the last few years bring us to the conclusion that maybe this time it’s for real. Organisations and governments — local, national and global — can continue to communicate as they have done before, can ignore powerful counter-forces in communication, can pay lip service to true engagement, can kid themselves that communication has been accomplished. But doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is a sure sign of madness. The time for a serious rethink is way overdue. The time to prepare all staff, communicators or other-wise, for a new approach is now.

Simply put, today’s information and media environment is changing rapidly. Are you and your staff? And more importantly, can you and they afford not to?