Covid-19 has taught politicians and policymakers two important lessons about government communication. The first is that – when done well – government communication saves lives. The second is that, all of those behaviours that needed to change – like washing and sanitising hands and maintaining a social distance – didn’t change by accident. They were the result of scientists, policymakers and communicators working together to design targeted and tailored behavioural interventions.
Over the last seven years, we’ve taught more than 250 of the world’s brightest policymakers and future leaders how to understand the motivations behind people’s behaviour, and then use those insights to shape messages that can influence their actions. Our executive education programme, Communication for Public Policy Delivery, is delivered in partnership with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. And in a time of significant change and restrictions, we’ve had to change our own behaviour by delivering the programme online for the first time, reshaping content to allow for an examination of campaign development, real-life case studies, and practical group activities to take place virtually.
It’s been as much a learning exercise for us as it has been for the participants, who this year hail from countries as diverse as Singapore, Canada and the Philippines, supported by WPP’s teaching faculty drawn from experts based in the UK, Belgium and Australia. It really is a global programme.
Over eight sessions spread across four weeks, students learned the integral links between behaviour change theory, communications strategy, and policy outcomes. The final week culminated in our very first Virtual Live Challenge where students applied their learnings to develop communication actions around a major policy issue relevant to their country.
We caught up with a couple of the facilitators to hear their take on how it went.
“This year’s group has been brilliant. Their agility, inquisitive and innovative nature provoked much discussion and added nuance to some challenging topics,” said Laure Van Hauwaert, Managing Director of EU Institutions and WPP faculty member. “It’s been a new experience managing the learning process by Zoom, but the group has been phenomenal and I’ve really valued the time and energy each person has put in to make the sessions lively and interactive.”
“This year our course content – and indeed the course structure – have been adapted to reflect the profound challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sean Larkins, Director of Capability and WPP faculty leader. “The pandemic has highlighted, perhaps more evidently than ever before, the crucial role communication plays in shaping citizens’ perceptions and behaviours in a time of unprecedented crisis.
“The challenges governments face are global in nature but the solutions need to be local in implementation. Moving the programme online has made it easier for us to share learning and experience with a global cohort, and I’m excited that we’re going to deliver another programme online early in 2021 to meet demand.”