Spreading the word

I woke up this morning to the news that a website for the MOD and RAF project managed by my colleagues in the office and delivered by one of our appointed agencies, LIDA, had won Best Website at the CIPD Recruitment Marketing awards.

Naturally, I first heard this from Twitter – by way of the Director of Digital Engagement’s post as it happens – and there were some lovely details once I got into the office about how the host of the event, John Barrowman, handed over the award to Group Captain Gordon Bruce whose rank insignia is the same as that which Barrowman wears as his Torchwood character “Captain” Jack Harkness.

It’s nice to hear about COI successes, because for the most part we’re very low key. The spotlight usually goes to the client (MOD/RAF in this case) and/or the agency (LIDA), and the work that COI puts into it gets lost in the background. There are good reasons for this which I’ll go into, but it’s sometimes more than a little annoying to see others take sole credit for a piece of work that you know the team at COI has also spent many hours working hard on.

This segued into some thoughts I had a few days ago reading Emma Mulqueeney’s post about what the Home Office is doing with respect to digital engagement. It’s a great post, a real insight into what goes into pulling off such transformational projects; the irony is that Emma didn’t seem particularly wild about the post herself prior to posting it, and seemed to think many would find it dull, obvious or just not interesting. Far from it, as I think has been proved by the very positive response.

The moral of that story is how important that it is we should be getting the message out, talking about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and carrying people along as we do so. Emma’s been great at doing that and long may she lead by example. She’s fortunate that she’s speaking of projects being done by her own Home Office team; COI on the other hand almost only ever gets to do projects that are commissioned through us by government departments and agencies. They’re not “ours” in the same way.

So how can COI do more to get the message out about what we do and how? How much of the visible leadership role should we be seen to take? Should COI be doing more along those lines? Is that seeking to take the credit too much and aggrandize COI at the expense of the message and the client? Or should we be more of the backroom boys making our clients (the government departments and agencies who pay our bills) look good and shying away from taking the credit ourselves?

Another example to illustrate the dilemma is COI’s News Distribution Service (NDS) which aggregates press releases from across government and makes them available either on individual departments’ websites, on the NDS website or via RSS. One developer, Dave Cole, picked up the RSS feeds and made them into Twitter streams (a very welcome development as far as COI was concerned); in his blog comment he noted that “the Central Office of Information run a rather good website called the News Distribution Service … Unfortunately, no-one knows about it as the COI doesn’t do much to promote it despite being ‘the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications’.”

That irked me at the time, probably because there’s some truth to the barb: COI doesn’t promote its services and successes outside government. But again, for good reason: we’re providing a service to the government departments and getting their press releases out; that it’s done by COI or that there is an NDS site is rather beside the point and a distraction from the central message we’re being paid to get out there.

The few examples we’ve had of work which has been COI-generated have included the Improving Government Online initiative and the Usability toolkit, and it’s been good to have something that we can unreservedly promote. The team behind those two initiatives, the Digital Policy Team, are looking into blogging on a more regular basis in future to keep people up to speed on what’s happening with their work.

But the Digital Policy team are a relatively tiny and atypical part of COI: the rest of us work on client campaigns, procuring and project managing agencies for research, design, film, radio, publications and websites. A lot of that is frankly rather dull and routine – albeit vital – project management work. It’s hard to believe that anyone would find that interesting, even if we could find things to talk about that didn’t affect client and agency confidentiality. So what would work?

I’m interested to find out if anyone has any thoughts on this – what COI should be outspoken about, or whether it’s best left in the background. So what frustrates people about what they do and don’t hear from organisations like COI – how can we do better, in other words?


  1. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the link.

    I didn’t mean to have a go at the COI. I found the NDS (when it was GNN) when I was working in public affairs. I know it’s not your core audience, but I’ve kept following the NDS RSS feeds for areas of interest, both personal and professional. I put them on Twitter to try and promote them a bit more. There’s a real

    You say that the COI only works when commissioned by a government department – I guess it’s like working for an agency with a limited set of potential clients – and I think that’s part of the issue. From the point of view of the average person, it doesn’t matter whether a service is provided or a survey conducted by department x, council y or region z. Something that the COI might do that would both be useful and raise the organisation’s profile would be a service that allowed you to choose certain areas and or subjects or combination of the two to be updated on what’s going on, perhaps delivered by email or RSS. For instance, you might want to know about all transport within a couple of miles of postcode X, major transport projects anywhere in the country and crime within twenty miles of postcode y. Although that’s all ‘transport’, it covers the Highways Agency, local authorities, Network Rail, TOCs etc.. COI would be well placed, as it presumably can get in touch with every public body more easily than (say) me! Hope that makes some sort of sense.


  2. andrewlewin

    Don’t worry, never thought you were “having a go” – there was perfectly good reason to what you wrote. I was irked by the situation that leaves us open to this misapprehension, but that’s not your fault!

    Great ideas for improvements to the service, and I’ll certainly pass them up to NDS. Of course, it still comes down to the fact that it’s not our information and we don’t get to make those calls, we’re operating under license if you like to the originating departments and only get to do what they want us to and what they fund. (You may see press stories about how much money COI has, but it’s not true. We’re a not-for-profit organisation that breaks even on what departments pay us for specific work, so we don’t really have any funds for own-sourced projects sadly.)

    And genuinely, thanks again for setting up those Twitter feeds, it was much appreciated and helped prove the concept. I guess they might do something “official” along those lines in the future if Twitter’s profile continues to increase in leaps and bounds; I’m sure some if not all departments will want to see it as part of the NDS offering in future.

  3. Hi Andrew,

    I might drop the Cabinet Office a line and see what they think. There’s something that could be done there, I’m sure.

    Glad the Twitter feeds are useful. I spoke to someone at NDS the other day and I think they might take them over at some point, which would be terrific. I’d love to see them on the NDS website 🙂


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