What’s the policy on social policy?
“We have a saying in government: you can make a good policy great with communication,” said Kevin Finnerty of the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, “but there’s no way to communicate a bad policy well.”
In his talk, entitled The Dance Between Communications and Policy, Finnerty aimed to open the proverbial silos that so often separate the seemingly disparate departments of policy and communications. It was Finnerty’s contention that, to a certain extent, successful social policy requires the input of communications people.
Initially, the idea that marketers on some level, influence public policy may seem distasteful to some. Isn’t government elected to enact policy based on the electorate’s will and not the possibly trendy whimsy of some communications department? If the product is policy, aren’t communications people there to build interest in that product? Surely it isn’t their job to design the product too?
One lonely pair of shoes please…
Okay, I’m going to get a little abstract here for a moment. Bear with me.
The product isn’t policy; the product isn’t even information about policy. The product is the “conversion”, which is behavioral change.
If your job is to market a pair of sneakers, those sneakers will still exist on a real shelf in the real world even if no one buys them. If your job is to promote behavioral change, there is no product until there is behavioral change. It’s an all-or-nothing sale. And achieving behavioral change benefits from the wisdom of communications people, who understand how to engage the public.
Bottom line: you can’t separate social policy driven to promote behavioral change from communications, they work in fluid tandem.
(An aside: this bodes well for a world, where, increasingly, ordinary people are taking on the roles of communicators. This relates to some ideas that emerged in Justin Trudeau’s talk, where we described a connected world as one where the individual has both more value, and responsibility, but I’ll get to that later…)
For now, let’s take a quick look at some of the work Kevin Finnerty came to showcase, all examples of policy and communications people dancing in graceful, lock step.
Self-Administered Colon Cancer Screening Campaign
The Policy: In 2006, the Ontario government decided to launch a province-wide colon cancer screening program called ColonCancerCheck, which uses the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) to allow Ontarians to self-screen for colon cancer.
The Challenge: The test requires the user to scoop their poop up with a stick and smear the sample on a card, for three days. Apparently, people are somewhat queasy about this. Who knew?
Further, the test was going to be distributed by mail, to everyone over 50.
The Research: People were generally unfamiliar with the early symptoms and risk factors for colon cancer. The idea that a cancerous polyp could grow to substantial size (golf-ball size, apparently) without an afflicted person experiencing symptoms was a motivator for early screening. Finally, the research showed that 80% of people over 50 were much more likely to take the test if their healthcare provider recommended it.
The Solution was a campaign based on building awareness around colon cancer and the importance of early screening, using the insight accrued in the research that colon cancer could be growing inside you without your knowledge was a major motivator for screening. Further, since most people said that they’d take the test if their health-care provider told them to, the notion of mailing the tests was scrapped, in favor of distributing them via doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
The Creative was developed by BBDO, the concept being simply: you’re not see-through, so get your insides checked out. Check out a TV Spot below:
The Result: Nearly 1 million Ontarians used the kit. Now those are numbers we can all get behind…
Mumps Vaccination Program
The Policy: Like many other Ontarians, I was under the false impression that mumps is an extinct, archaic affliction, like scurvy. Apparently not. In fact, those of us vaccinated between 1970-1990 require a second shot. The policy objective here is getting young people to get their mumps shot.
The Challenge: Isn’t mumps an archaic affliction, like scurvy? Also, didn’t I already get my mumps shot?
The Research: People don’t realize the disease can have serious consequences. The target group, young-adults are highly mobile and thus difficult to reach sometimes. Qualitative research pointed to the fact that once young adults are made aware of the symptoms, and resulting social consequences of nine days of isolation, they’re more motivated to take action.
The Solution: Take the message to the schools, where the target is and play up the social consequences. Nine days! That’s two whole weekends! Work with public health units to get vaccination clinics happening on campus.
The Creative was developed by Rain43 and deployed in-campus by Hill & Knowlton. Here’s a sample video that went viral online:
And this one was named one of the year’s wackiest PSAs by The Huffinton Post:
The Result was over 30,000 vaccinations in 3 short mumps… I mean, months.
Low Income Dental Program
The Policy: Designed specifically for the working poor, who historically did not have access to government dental programs or private plans, preventative dental care will be offered free of charge to children under 17 for those families earning less than $20K (net) per annum.
The Challenge: “Dental care is expensive. I’d like to take my kids to the dentist but it’s either dental or food.” Further, the target is a hard-working and proud group, not typically interested in “handouts”.
The Research pointed to the fact that most people wanted to maintain a relationship with a single dentist, akin to their relationship with their doctor, and not seek dental care at a public health unit. Further, the research noted that people in this category don’t typically plan for dental visits (they wait for emergencies) and they don’t correlate good dental health with good overall health.
Finally, the research indicated that most people viewed government programs as extremely complicated to access and that the bureaucratic rigamarole involved was demoralizing.
The Solution: This case, more so perhaps than the two above, demonstrates who communications practices influence policy. The research noted that people want to establish relationships with their dentist, so the program was altered to include a client card, which families could use to easily pay their participating dentist.
To make adoption simpler, a single, easy-to-use 1-800 number and website were deployed as the coordinated points of entry. The 1-800 provided help to those with eligibility questions.
And because no one wants to be referred to as “low-income”, a positive campaign was established, that avoided stigmatization:
The Result: The program is just getting underway, so far, several hundred children who didn’t have access to regular care now do.
Thanks for reading,