The many benefits of a coordinated communications response to COVID-19
Cross-agency cooperation and effective communication were key to the NSW Government’s COVID-19 response.
Photo courtesy of NSW Police.
When COVID-19 emerged in NSW, Leah Barone – Manager for Digital Capability and Engagement in the Department of Customer Service (DCS) Digital Channels team – worked alongside communications specialists from across NSW Government and the Public Information Functional Area Coordinator (PIFAC) to distribute fast and accurate information to the public. Here’s how a meaningful collaboration ensured consistent public messaging during a pandemic.
Our COVID-19 response – what happened
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leah was the strategic contact between Digital Channels (the DCS team responsible for the NSW Government’s social media and nsw.gov.au website), and PIFAC.
The PIFAC coordinates the government’s public information response between the different NSW Government agencies during natural disasters and other crises. During this pandemic, PIFAC assembled a team of representatives from across NSW Government.
NSW Government departments and agencies sometimes work in silos during business as usual. But never was there a more critical moment than during a pandemic to break the silos and work together as one government. COVID-19 affected every citizen of NSW in some way. This highlighted the need for a fast, accurate, coordinated approach to public communication.
The PIFAC was based at the State Emergency Operations Centre (SEOC) in Homebush for the COVID-19 response, along with representatives from the following departments or agencies:
- Premier and Cabinet
- Customer Service
- NSW Health
- Multicultural NSW
- NSW Police Force
- Office of Sport
- Transport for NSW
These representatives worked at SEOC daily. The central location allowed for an efficient working relationship in a COVID-safe environment. Every morning, staff lined up for temperature checks and other COVID-safe screening. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian held press conferences at SEOC on most days, so her staff and the media also went through daily COVID screening.
Consistent and clear communication achieved through collaboration
Even though many of us hadn’t worked together before, we managed to establish a rhythm. We began with daily stand-up meetings for media and communications updates. And we communicated our activities to our PIFAC Tarek Al Issawi, who reported back to the State Emergency Operation Controller (SEOCON) and NSW Police Deputy Commissioner, Gary Worboys.
The unpredictable nature of the virus required a dynamic response. Priorities kept shifting between different sectors of the community, so our efforts comprised information sharing, transparency, collaboration, and problem-solving at every opportunity. We submitted all COVID-related content for publishing online to the PIFAC for approval.
Clarity and consistency were our key strengths during COVID-19. Our communications, comprising timely, consistent, and accurate messaging, gave NSW an advantage.
Communication that places the customer at the centre
Community feedback drove our communications response. So, listening to the people of NSW was vital. Real-time feedback ensured we kept our customers at the centre of everything we did.
When the information and restrictions changed, new issues and concerns would arise. Therefore, we adjusted our communications when appropriate. For example, we learned that many of the CALD communities didn’t understand the changes in place.
We worked with Multicultural NSW through their own community channels and community stakeholders. They translated our COVID safety rules and information with a priority given to translating from English to the most often spoken languages in NSW.
What we learnt from the COVID-19 response
Here’s what we learnt when coordinating communications for COVID-19 response:
- the power of cross-agency collaboration during a pandemic response
- the importance of sharing information in real-time
- COVID-19 was more than an opportunity to collaborate – working together improved the customer experience
While we focus on providing customer solutions – whether these solutions come from one agency, eight agencies, five clusters, or one cluster, is irrelevant. What's important is that we deliver the right information at the right time to NSW citizens.
This comes back to the essence of the OneCX program. Through a collaborative all-of-government response, we solidified a united, customer-centric and innovative experience for the people of NSW.