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Our Professional Standards

GCS continuously focuses on raising standards to ensure we remain a world-class profession. We aim to lead the way in developing innovative practices, adapting to the fast-paced, dynamic communication landscape and consistently delivering high-quality results.

Five GCS staff members during a meeting

Modern Communication Operating Model (MCOM)

Our operating model, MCOM2.0, provides government departments with the proposed structures, skills and capabilities that a high-performing communications directorate or team must have and puts audience understanding at the heart of policy and service design. Here, colleagues from across CS share their experiences of working in the various disciplines:

Internal communications

“In the last 12 months, we have had to completely change the way we communicate: our preference of face-to-face communication is no longer an option. It has been challenging, however new initiatives such as online conferences and live Q&As have paid off: the 2020 People Survey saw an increase across all engagement indicators.”

Helen Card
Deputy Head of Civil Service Communication, Cabinet Office

External affairs

“Over the last year, our team has focused on building relationships with influential partners, such as UK Hospitality, to increase our reach when communicating COVID restrictions, support and guidance to businesses. We worked with policy officials to set up roundtables and a consultation as part of developing the COVID-secure guidance, and secured 25 supportive quotes to publish alongside its launch.”

Alex Oakes
Head of External Affairs, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy


“Working on the Back to School campaign was incredibly challenging but equally rewarding, and showcased the importance of collaborative working across departments. Campaign activity used low-cost and no-cost methods, social media and paid-for and influencer advertising. By focusing our messaging to achieve positive shifts in attitude, around 25% of parents and young people who saw the campaign said it influenced their decision to go back.”

Elspeth Groundwater
Campaign Lead, Department for Education


“This year, our role has focused on getting vital information on COVID support schemes to a wide audience, with emphasis on clarifying what is available when, as circumstances of the pandemic change. We have used a variety of approaches for this: from working with TV presenters such as Martin Lewis, to briefing regional journalists on statistics showing how the government has supported their communities.”

Dan Allen
Senior Press Officer, HMRC

Strategic communication

“Helping UK and EU businesses get to grips with new post-Brexit rules and harness the opportunities of the new global trading environment has been hugely important. Driven by insight, we’ve delivered UK and EU business-facing campaigns to help traders understand new tariffs and trade agreements, supported by a huge range of broad reach and targeted communication, such as live webinars with nearly 10,000 attendees and case studies with our export champions.”

Bethany Teo
Senior Strategic Communication Manager, Department for International Trade

Did you know?

There are 12 essential practices where all government communicators must build capability and skills, whether you’re working in Marketing or External Affairs. Make sure you know them by revisiting MCOM2.0.

A member of GCS working from home

Functional Standard: Upholding Excellent Communication

In August 2019, the Government Communication Functional Standard was published to set clear, measurable expectations for the management and practice of government communication.

Within the standard, we can learn about the principles at the heart of all government communication, ranging from the campaign life cycle to the principles of all MCOM communication functions.

How should I use the Functional Standard?

The standard contains 12 communication practice principles, which are the basis for all our work. These are:

  1. Strategic communication – setting, co-ordinating and guiding the development and implementation of an activity in the right time frame.
  2. Marketing – using cross-channel communication activity to influence behaviour change.
  3. Media relations – explaining governmental activity to media partners to create public understanding and build trust.
  4. External affairs – building and maintaining relationships with external stakeholders.
  5. Internal communication – informing and engaging employees in a way that maximises their performance.
  6. Behaviour change – identifying barriers to desired behaviours and how to address them.
  7. Communication in an emergency or crisis – ensuring the timely flow of reliable, accurate and relevant information during a crisis situation.
  8. Partnership marketing – providing a cost-effective way to reach audiences and increase our impact.
  9. Capability and capacity – balancing the supply and demand for communication resources, including people and facilities.
  10. Brand – complying with HM Government identity guidelines safely and professionally.
  11. Writing style – making sure our communication is clear, concise and consistent.
  12. Learning from experience – evaluating our work to avoid repeating mistakes and develop improved practice.

To read the Functional Standard in full and learn more about all our communication practices, visit the GCS website.

GCS staff member delivering a training session on campaign planning

Do you know your Functional Standard principles?

Test yourself!

  • Who is responsible for all commercial activity for government communication?
  • What does CORE stand for?
  • What are the four elements of a crisis communication plan?

GCS Curriculum

“The skills we need as public sector communicators are rapidly changing…To future-proof our expertise, we need to constantly reinvent and upskill ourselves to use emerging technologies and adapt our practice.”

Alex Aiken, Executive Director, Government Communication

In April, we are extremely pleased to be launching the GCS Curriculum, which will provide training for each MCOM discipline and contain options for communicators at all levels. This brand-new training and development offer will include recorded masterclasses from Directors of Communication, recommended reading lists and end of unit assessments. Each completed course will give you a certain number of ‘points’, which will go towards the total points you should aim to reach each year.

What sort of training will be on offer?

In 2020, GCS ran 106 courses with 3,000 training places. The GCS Curriculum will go much further, aligning with the newly established Government Curriculum and Skills Unit, providing:

  • training in all communication disciplines to suit all levels, with learning journeys and subject matter differentiated by grade
  • new courses within existing disciplines, including ‘Storytelling’, ’Understanding and Presenting Data’, ‘The Anatomy of an Ad’ and many more
  • a brand new Learning Management Platform which will be hosted on the GCS website
  • a dedicated online space to record progress, assess standards (through everything from draft OASIS plans to multiple-choice quizzes), and deliver accreditation
  • a new Curriculum and Standards Board which will uphold excellence and hold GCS to account to make sure that everyone is learning and developing
GCS interns during a training session

How can I get involved?

Visit the GCS website to start planning your learning and development
and set personal development goals for 2021.

Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Science

We apply a behavioural approach to all our communication strategies and campaign planning, using analytical techniques and frameworks such as the COM-B (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, Behaviour) model and Theories of Change.

View a full text description of this COM-B model diagram

The GCS Behavioural Science Team formally launched in 2019 to better support teams to harness the power of behavioural science. The team provides bespoke advice to communicators on campaigns across government, helping to approach problems with a behavioural lens.

As part of this, the team published a new behavioural science guide, The Principles of Behaviour Change Communication, at the start of 2021. This new approach brings together rigorous academic research and existing best practice, as well as providing detailed case studies and a worked example to illustrate how to apply behavioural principles throughout the OASIS campaign planning process.

Last year, the team also produced over 70 original papers on almost all behavioural aspects of COVID-19, with particular focus on identifying barriers to compliance, and understanding how people behave when faced with danger and risk. This gave communicators a simple and intuitive theoretical basis for understanding how the public respond to ‘threat’ messages, which has been applied across national and local campaign assets.

For example, it helped to put an understanding of human behaviour at the heart of the Stay At Home campaign and contributed to its success: messaging in January 2021 reached 91% of all UK adults, with 87% of adults supporting rules for keeping socially distanced from one another.

A still from the TV advert for the COVID-19 Stay At home campaign showing the tagline Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives

This year, the team will continue to lend their expertise to a range of priority campaigns – from countering child sexual abuse and exploitation, to public sector recruitment – to ensure that we achieve the best possible results across government communication.

Did you know?

The team’s new Principles of Behaviour Change Communication offers a handy checklist for each stage of the campaign planning process to use when planning any communication, big or small. Find all their advice on the GCS website.

Digital Innovation

The COVID-19 crisis has meant that digital media has become more important than ever. In an age of disinformation, it is vital that we can reach our audiences directly.

Over the past year:

  • GCS has built a WhatsApp Chatbot tool to minimise opportunities for COVID-19 messages to become diluted or distorted. The service was accessed by more than 375,000 unique users, with more than 3 million messages sent and received on the platform.
  • The new GOV.UK/ask service has offered an unprecedented opportunity for citizens to engage directly with ministers at daily press conferences. This service was created in just five days, has facilitated over 560,000 questions from the public since its launch and has been used to inform a wide range of policy areas.
  • Government advertising has returned to YouTube after a three-year hiatus, resulting in increased reach for government campaigns, from NHS organ donation to teacher recruitment, while remaining 100% brand safe – helped by the new GCS SAFE Framework.

GCS SAFE Framework

Launched in September 2020, the GCS SAFE framework sets out standards and core principles for digital brand safety to ensure government advertising appears online in safe, credible and reputable environments. This will protect the HM Government brand and make sure that government messages continue to be trusted by the public.

Driven by Data

GCS has always put data and evaluation at the heart of communication planning. The GCS Benchmarking Database, a post-campaign library created by our media buying partner OmniGOV, supports analysis across the entire media buying framework. We now hold data on some 250 government campaigns since 2017: insight that is integral for delivering successful campaigns and continuing to ensure public money is spent wisely.

Test yourself…

The GCS Smart Targets tool gives you access to information from the GCS Benchmarking Database to set smarter targets for campaigns.

Delivering Locally

GCS Local is a regionally-based team which specialises in recruiting and account managing local partners and stakeholders. Last year, the team’s work to engage all 343 local authorities across England was crucial in providing communication to tackle COVID-19 and to promote Transition changes. The team also produced over 100 pieces of high-quality content to help SMEs understand rules and access COVID-19 business support schemes. These featured a range of employers: from Belfast Zoo, to a leisure centre in Wigan, to a restaurant in Glasgow, to Wales’ oldest LGBT pub.

This year, GCS Local will continue to forge closer relationships with local and regional partners. It will develop a more formal account management system to build on lessons learnt throughout the COVID-19 period, and create new relationships with regional employers.

David Holdstock, Director of Communication at MHCLG, is seconded from his post at the Local Government Association. He reflects on his experience and suggests three lessons that can be applied to our work.

David Holdstock
David Holdstock

1. Effective, joined-up communication

“By working consistently and closely across the public sector, whether with councils, government departments or arm’s length bodies, we can continue to improve our communication. I am struck by the high-quality communication work that has been delivered across the public sector during the pandemic, but there is always more that can be done. An example of this in practice is the work councils have done to encourage vaccine take-up in particular communities to support wider government messaging.”

2. Making national priorities local priorities

“COVID -19 has highlighted the wealth of connections that councils have with their local area and people, for example through the use of community champions. Government communicators should ensure that these resources are used to their full extent to translate national priorities into local ones.”

3. Learning from one another

“Finally, we can all learn from other parts of our industry. I’ve already learnt a lot from my time in central government, and would recommend that GCS colleagues spend time in a council communication team and vice versa, to truly understand the differences between Whitehall and local government.”

Working Globally

World-leading expertise

Working to priorities set by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, GCS International (GCSI) uses communication to help solve problems facing our international partners and developing nations. Communication professionals from across UK government departments and our network of embassies and high commissions provide strategic advice on how communication interventions can help international governments better communicate with their citizens – dealing with issues ranging from girls’ education to COVID-19 to attracting foreign investment to grow nations’ economies.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab talking at a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council

Setting global standards for best practice

We are working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on a communications project to set global standards for government communication. By surveying over 60 countries across the world, we are building a comprehensive database of evidence, good practices and lessons learned. In the near future, this global evidence base will be a valuable resource to help countries across the globe tackle international challenges, such as COVID-19.

Tackling global issues

We will continue to lead international campaigns which tackle global issues.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech at a lectern in front of a Climate Ambition Summit branded backdrop

Last year, our successes included:

  • Building public resilience against misinformation. Our Stop the Spread campaign, in partnership with the World Health Organization and BBC World Service, enabled 75 million people to be better protected against misinformation. We also partnered with the University of Cambridge to build the GoViral! game, ‘inoculating’ 59,800 people against misinformation with a further 270,000 website visits.
  • Mobilising for equitable access to vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. We led the One19 campaign for equitable access, building a coalition of eight strategic campaign partners – WHO, CEPI, GAVI, FIND, Global Fund, Unitaid, Wellcome Trust, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Raising state-led climate ambition. Our One Year To Go campaign encouraged an increase in state-led climate ambition ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020. The summit saw 45 countries speak about more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions.

Did you know?

GCSI shared lessons learned from the COVID -19 response with government communicators from 15 countries through a series of webinars – how do you share lessons learned within your team? Find out more about GCSI’s work on the GCS website.

Final Word from Alex Chisholm

I am immensely proud of the work that the Government Communication Service (GCS) undertakes to help improve the lives of people across all four nations and internationally. GCS continues to demonstrate its commitment to world-class professional standards as it supports ministerial priorities across government and the efficient delivery of our public services.

This has rarely been more apparent than over the last year, when we have faced some of the greatest challenges in a generation. During this time, communication has helped to save both lives and livelihoods. Colleagues up and down the country – at the centre, across departments and in agencies – have worked tirelessly to ensure the public had the information they needed to stay informed and safe, all while dealing with the effects of the pandemic on their own lives.

This dedication is one of the many reasons that GCS remains one of the shining lights of the UK Civil Service and why our public service often tops global rankings and remains an exemplar for public service across the world. Looking to the future, the ‘Reshaping’ programme will allow GCS to build on its successes and become a more united, efficient and focused profession. This programme is taking place in the context of the wider Civil Service Reform programme, which will ensure we deliver the best and most efficient service possible for the public, and guarantee that all colleagues are rewarded for their successes and fulfil their potential.

I am proud to call the members of the GCS professional community my colleagues. With the development of the Civil Service Reform and the lessons learned this year, I look forward to working together to explore the ways in which we can become an even more modern and ambitious Civil Service.

Alex Chisholm
Alex Chisholm
Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office

Last updated 30 March 2021