A few years back, I worked closely on a project with an officer who had a famous two-word catchphrase: ‘So what?’
The work was a burglary reduction initiative with a forcewide project team, and in its early stages no idea or task could be presented without the officer’s customary quip in response.
‘Ma’am – we’re going to identify a number of long-term hotspot areas across the county.’
– ‘So what?’
‘Ma’am – we have conducted engagement sessions in the streets where recent spikes have been identified.’
– ‘So what?’
The officer’s point was that, without evidence on which to base our decision-making, and evaluation to assess the effectiveness of those decisions, there was little point in doing anything at all.
It was this ‘so what’ mentality which permeated the room at APComm’s recent evaluation workshop.
We’ve all been there: a senior officer suddenly demands a multi-platform ‘awareness’ campaign about a particular topic. Often, the objective is simply to ‘get the message out there’ with no thought for its impact on the audience or on the organisation as a result.
This, as we reminded ourselves at the APComm workshop, is not SMART.
Communication objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound – surely this is common sense?
But when we quickly pull together an ‘awareness’ campaign, can we really say without doubt we have achieved a rise in awareness levels across the entirety of the general public? And even if we could, so what?
We heard from AMEC, the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, who showed us the benefit of setting SMART objectives that would provide not only a non-negotiable answer as to whether we achieved our goal, but also allow us to be focused and targeted in our activity.
Of course it’s not all bad in the public sector, as Ben seemed pretty astounded by the responses from our group discussions which showed we really can be SMART when we think about it.
He also appeared impressed by the amount we collectively achieve, and the real-life operational impact we can have, with little budget and resource.
We also heard from Cambridgeshire Constabulary who are regularly putting AMEC’s evaluation framework into practice.
So what was the ‘so what’ from the workshop?
We work in policing – evidence is our bread and butter. So why don’t we make it a focus of communications?
The big ‘so what’ takeaway for me was to go away and set baselines.
If we can’t benchmark what a ‘good’ result looks like, or who our audiences on each channel are, how will we know if our campaigns succeed?
And if we can apply an evaluation framework at the start of our campaign planning, and build in time for review and reflection both during and after said campaign, then we’ll really have the evidence to take back to our senior officers and demonstrate the value and effectiveness of communications.
And surely, that’s the SMART thing to do.
Victoria Cusack, Senior Communications Officer, Bedfordshire Police