December 2009: WSD Pilot Update: Newham - Communications

The importance of communications in the Newham WSD Trial

Sheena Hobbs

In today’s environment, every business knows the importance of good communications. But not many organisations realise the opportunities that are available to them when it comes to special projects or services.

Communications is not just about writing press releases or producing a flyer – it’s about a whole lot more. And communications is not just down to the marketing and communications departments or the PR people – it’s a vital role for every employee of an organisation. Every time people attend a business meeting, give a presentation or write an email or letter, they are communicating both their and their company’s ethos.

Good communications will ensure that the desired outcomes of the communications piece will occur, and those receiving the message are more likely to respond favourably if the message appears to be reasonable and fair to both the receiver and the business.

Bad communications will have exactly the opposite effect. It’s not only what you say or write but how you say it that’s important.

In the Newham Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) trial, we looked at all aspects of communications – both external and internal. During the recruitment phase of the project, we produced a product catalogue as well as various materials giving step-by-step guidance and additional information about the trial for the recruiters to discuss with potential users. In addition, during this phase, we ran an awareness campaign with all health and social care staff to encourage them to refer their clients onto the trial. This included email updates, incentives and a progress chart.

We currently produce a regular WSD Update newsletter (770 kb) [pdf] that goes to adult services staff and health and social care workers in both Newham Council and NHS, and all local GPs. We have also submitted numerous articles to the local media and contributed to internal publications of the council and NHS. Once we’ve gone further into the evaluation phase of the project, we’ll be able to submit more ‘newsy’ stories.

An important factor to keep in mind to get your articles actually published (which is obviously the ultimate aim) is that you have to give the stories an ‘angle’. For instance, in the case of the trial, the local media published articles we gave them that included a case study, describing how the new technology had changed one person’s life.

In addition to the above, we ensured that we kept our ‘ears to the ground’ and knew about what was happening in telehealthcare in the UK and internationally. We tried to have a presence at as many events as possible, either to network with other colleagues or to present Newham’s experience to an audience of peers. We’ve hosted specialist events for stakeholders, carers, staff and patients where we’ve given them up-to-date information on progress and answered any questions or concerns they might have. The user involvement groups, which we host in partnership with the local Age Concern, have proved to be very popular events. In these groups, existing, new and potential users control the sessions and can share their experiences – both good and bad.

The internet, which links millions of computer users, is the most rapidly growing means of global communications and is a vital element in an organisation’s communications agenda – and the Newham WSD trial is no exception. The website has gone through a number of growth phases, responding to new requirements as the project has evolved. We operate on the principle that it is important to share as much information as possible with the reader and have therefore included information from other sources – thereby hopefully making Newham one of the primary sources of information in the telecare and telehealth arena. 

In discussions with various stakeholders we discovered that case study stories were the most popular form of communication and the most likely to get key decision-makers behind the project. With that in mind, we decided to produce a series of podcast videos of our users telling their stories in their own words. These have proven hugely popular and although we are still in the process of filming, we have already had a number of requests from all over the country to share these videos.

Whatever method of communication you choose, always keep in mind the desired outcome before you decide on the final route. Whether you’re aiming for a return on investment (in either monetary terms or numbers) or whether you want to influence change, always be clear about what you want – that way you’re more likely to be successful. And always, always – REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE!

 Sheena Hobbs is Newham WSD Communications Manager