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NHS database - they're listening

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The NHS has delayed the roll out of its data sharing scheme by six months and the reason is all about communication. Apparently not enough people know about the scheme and so wouldnt be able to exercise their right to opt out.

We should give credit to the NHS for listening to the concerns of stakeholders and acting accordingly. This cant have been an easy decision knowing the press coverage that would follow but it is definitely the right one.

It shows us how important communication on projects is but also how difficult it is to get right. Ive said it before and Ill say it again communication isnt a soft skill.

A number of commentators have said that not enough has been done to explain the benefits. But communication on projects shouldnt be just about selling the benefits. In this NHS case, the project will come up against the publics mistrust of computer-held data that has been built up over several years in the UK following a number of high profile data losses.

I was on the board of my local Primary Care Trust when the NHS National Programme for IT was first conceived. The most powerful piece of communication I experienced was during a presentation by a GP who asked us where we thought our personal data was held at the moment. He proceeded to show us a picture of himself loading a box of paper patient records into the boot of his car!

So selling benefits isnt enough, we need to understand and then address what is concerning our stakeholders. Its only then that stakeholders will be open to messages about benefits.

One of the many roles of the communication function on projects such as this is to ensure that at the outset there is agreement on what the level of awareness and acceptance should be at key stages throughout the lifecycle. Its role is also to put research in place to make sure that these levels are being reached. By measuring at key points, the project will benefit from an early heads up on any problems, enabling strategies to be changed and new communication interventions designed if needed.

BBC News - Giant NHS database rollout delayed


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  1. Ann Pilkington
    Ann Pilkington 28 February 2014, 02:11 PM

    Hi AdamI couldnt agree more.  From a communication perspecive the important thing is also to learn lessons as you go. While it is really valuable to have that lessons learned exercise at the end, on any communication campaign, we need to be checking how we are doing as we go. That way, if we spot things going wrong we can revise our strategy accordingly.  Unfortunately there are a number of things that get in the way of this, for example, measureable objectives arent set and agreed at the start so we dont know what we are trying to achieve by when. OR another potential blocker is a reluctance to admit that something isnt working. A culture of positive reporting isnt helpful and in fact is just plain daft - if you say everything is going fine when it isnt, you will be caught out eventually !Then there is budget. Checking means doing research - including at the start as a benchmark - but even in the work of PR this is something that people are reluctant to spend money on. I would argue that this is false economy because ineffective communication impacts on benefits and may cause substantial delay - and thats expensive! 

  2. Adam Juniper
    Adam Juniper 28 February 2014, 01:46 PM

    Hello Ann. An interesting read. Often when reading articles around high-profile project issues, I think about the Lessons Learned aspect straight away.Every project, no matter how successful, lessons can be learned - there can always be improvements. The London 2012 Olympics; very successful, but some great lessons were highlighted. Im very interested in understanding in the lessons learned in this project. A big blunder, but one where so many of us could learn as a result. If not learn, then at least reiterate the fact that good communication is vital; a skill thats often overlooked.Adam