UK Government Communication Service model for modern communication teams

UK Government Communication Service model for modern communication teams

The UK Government has published a framework for best practice public engagement. Practical information about how modern communications teams are organised is hard to come by.

Skills, structures and workflow vary widely in agencies and organisations depending on the role of the team. The reality is that wherever you work the organisational structure of your team will be a work in progress as media and means of engagement continue to change.

The Government Communication Service (GCS) has taken a bold step by publishing a Modern Communications Operating Model (opens as PDF, 1MB).

The document, in beta, outlines the principals for improving communications team capability, structures, and skills. It was prepared for GCS by the UK Department for Work and Pension's Selvin Brown.

The operating model is one of nine projects created by executive director Alex Aiken in November 2014, with the purpose of modernising government communication.

GCS supports the effective operation of public services, and delivers responsive and informative communications 24 hours a day. It employs 3,650 practitioners in the UK in central government and 85 related agencies.



Communication team leaders should be committed to the highest levels of professionalism and continual learning. They should inspire and empower teams, and be able to translate business objectives into planned communication activity and business outcomes.

GCS recruits public relations practitioners with skills in four competency areas:

  • data analysis to understand publics,
  • content creation,
  • theory and practice of behaviour change; and
  • building alliances to make a case.

Team roles

The operating model sets out four skill areas for modern communication teams. Structures and grades are also outlined.

Strategic communications

Horizon scanning or monitoring of public engagement, intelligence gathering communication planning, and evaluation.

Media and campaigns

As media changes public sector communicators are shifting from press releases to other content formats, and from media engagement to direct public engagement via owned media.

Strategic engagement

Development of relationship with partners and stakeholders to disseminate messages and share content.

Internal communications

Leadership and staff engagement to deliver Government and department priorities, and supporting organisational and cultural change.

Operating principals

The Modern Communications Operating Model sets out operating principals for public service communications.

#1 Intelligence – GCS is creating an insight centre to deliver intelligence to all government communication departments and related organisations.

#2 Campaigns – activity should continually iterate in response to realtime data, feedback and evaluation.

#3 Marketing expertise – GCS is establishing a specialist team of experts for deployment across departments for large-scale campaigns.

#4 Media – each department should have a media function that sets an agenda or narrative through leadership and planning.

#5 Content – GCS has set out a clear ambition for each communication team to have a fully fledged production team that is able to create content for any channel.

#6 Publics or audiences – campaigns must be based on audience (in work, international, young people, families, older business and business - see diagram) rather than policy.


#7 Skills – GCS is recruiting based on a competency-framework that recognises the shift from direct media, to direct to public communication and engagement.

#8 Evaluation – an evaluation framework helps teams select the appropriate measurement criterion based on the updated Barcelona Principals (see GCS Evaluation Framework, opens as PDF, 1.1MB).

#9 Structure – modern teams are based on the following, so-called power house functions: insight and evaluation, horizon scanning, partnerships and stakeholders, internal communications, and media and digital.

#10 Transparency – every pound spent on government communication is subject to rigorous scrutiny.

#11 Closer group working – where teams work as a cluster, duplication should be removed. Opportunities should be sought for shared services.

Blueprint for modern communication teams

The Modern Communications Operating Model is a useful contribution to best practice communication for public and private sector communicators. Its open publication means that it is a helpful tool to the broader communications community both in the UK and internationally.

There are two opportunities for further development in my view.

Scale – the framework makes a distinction between a large (100 people) and medium/small team (15). The key roles and levels are described in each instance. Although outside of the scope of the GCS the document could be usefully extended to describe the make-up of teams of fewer than 10 that is typical of many local government and public sector teams outside of London.

Tools and workflow – a description of recommended digital marketing and public relations tools for each areas of a communication teams’ workflow would be helpful. #PRstack was created to tackle this issue and describe the third-party tool market. There’s a clear opportunity for GCS to take a leadership position and describe its own stack of tools.

Further information

The GCS website contains news, best practice guidance, a practitioner blog, case studies and job information, @UKgovcomms is a must-follow account on Twitter.

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