A global conversation on communications

Working on voter registration campaigns in the run up to important elections can be challenging but extremely enjoyable. What is more fascinating is that the challenges we face in the UK, is also shared by other Commissions and similar organisations around the world.

Last week a group of us hosted a ‘Google Hangout’ video conference with communications professionals from the New Zealand and Australian Electoral Commissions.

The early start for us and late finish over the other side of the world was well worth the effort as the conversation flowed around the different communications challenges we all faced, and how we dealt with them.

For the Kiwis, one of their challenges is finding authentic ways to motivate people to turn up on polling day. They know they’ve been doing a good job of telling people about the when and where of voting, as lack of knowledge isn’t a barrier for people; it’s apathy that’s making declining turnout a big issue for them. For their campaign ahead of the 2014 general election they used footage of real New Zealanders talking about why voting matters. This prompted a good discussion about how you communicate this type of message while maintaining independence from the political debate.

The Aussies have a focus on community engagement and are looking at ways to expand and strengthen the work they do with government agencies and stakeholders to reach indigenous communities. A key issue they face with this is managing stakeholders’ expectations about what the Commission is able to give back in return. This was of great interest to us, as our research has found that people in the BME community are among those people least likely to register to vote in the UK.

One of our challenges is around how to reach people who have moved home recently which led to a discussion about when is the best time to do this – just after someone has moved or in the lead up to an election?

One universal challenge we all face is the challenge of demonstrating value for money, whilst at the same time fulfilling our statutory duties. We shared our approach to this which includes being transparent about what we’re doing, focussing on being communications experts (as opposed to being good at democratic communications only) and following government endorsed best practice guidelines. It was really interesting to see the difference between the allocations of resources for communication projects.

The conversation confirmed my view that working collaboratively with our colleagues internationally can be of real benefit to our work here in the UK, Hopefully they found the conversation just as worthwhile! We plan to talk to our Kiwi and Aussie counterparts regularly and hope to include people from Elections Canada next time.

Emma Hartley
Partnerships and Voter Materials Manager

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